If there was ever a better manifestation of how quickly a man’s illusions and fantasies about a particular woman can be decimated, it was Leonora Rojas. She was, at first glance, the picture of that timeless archetype of the sexy woman: hourglass figure, long, well-coiffed blonde hair (albeit bleached, not natural), draped always in form-fitting dresses and perpetual red lipstick. When she walked down the street, there would inevitably come at least one to five catcalls–maybe ten depending on the density of the block. She had been accustomed to this sort of attention since she first hit puberty, which she qualified as the time she got her period, at the rather early age of twelve. Fortunately, her mother, Magdalena, who taught at the community college in Flatbush, had had the good sense to equip her with Lolita around this time, which she took as her gospel immediately upon reading the first sentence: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” With the absorption of these words, Leonora suddenly apprehended the sickness of all men: an unquenchable sexual appetite that was only enhanced by unattainability. This was, mind you, in the New York of 1983, a year drenched with the pre-AIDS scare lust that saturated the streets. She finished the book by the end of the summer, keeping herself entertained on the fire escape of their non-air conditioned apartment while Magdalena taught summer school.
Magdalena was so tired by the end of the day that she didn’t even seem to concern herself over Leonora’s sudden donning of heart-shaped sunglasses and the disinterested occasional licking of a lollipop–albeit not a heart-shaped one, thereby somewhat detracting from an authentic re-creation. Even if Magdalena did have the good maternal sense to worry about her daughter’s sudden change in image, it wouldn’t have mattered. For just as quickly as Leonora became aware of her sex appeal, so too, did she realize her inability to properly wield it. This happened at approximately 2:34 p.m. on September 8th, when, dressed in one of her mother’s red dresses, which looked incongruously oversized, she traipsed down their block near the 4th Avenue stretch in Sunset Park to test the powers of sexuality. At first, they were potent, or was it merely the sight of a nubile girl in a sea of thirsty middle-aged men that made these powers appear more powerful than they really were? The ill-fitting black kitten heels didn’t exactly help her first foray either. And yet, the magnanimousness of her aesthetic was there regardless. But just at that moment of truth when a girl passes a lascivious male–when he’s about to let out a whistle or a holler or an inane comment resembling God bless you mami–Leonora tripped on a raised part of the sidewalk she couldn’t possibly have anticipated. Then again, it was as though all those so-called “raised” parts of the sidewalk would raise just a little higher every time she walked on them for the rest of her life.
So it was that she could never really enjoy the satisfaction and clout of being an attractive woman. As she grew more comfortably into her body, she ambled in public more uncomfortably. Magdalena, meanwhile, offered no source of consolation, her aging status causing problems at her job, the kind that the politically correct anti-ageism activists couldn’t save her from at this point in 1989, when Leonora was at the height of perfect youth–eighteen years old. Further, with no father figure (a song, incidentally, that she hated when it came out in 1987) to guide her either, Leonora was left very much to deal with the curse in resigned isolation.
She started to think she would be better off being ugly–that she would even prefer it, if only it meant that she could jaunt through town like a normal human being. On the plus side, however, whenever she tripped, she managed to consistently avoid a full-fledged fall down, thereby at least sparing her knees the unsightly scars that might mar her beauty. For, you see, even the most unjust of curses have hidden blessings contained within them, if one is willing to adjust her perspective on said bane. And Leonora had been forced to do just that for the purposes of survival and self-preservation. The determination to live life as normally as she could. To minimize the amount of time she had to spend on her feet, Leonora applied to college, where sitting down most of the day was one’s norm. Had she not been bequeathed with this stigma, she would likely have bypassed higher education altogether, coasted on her looks to marry someone who could take her away or at least “keep” her. Months into Leonora’s starting date at Hunter, Magdalena was officially “released” from her post. It was, apart from tripping every five steps, the worst thing that could have happened to Leonora, so used to having their apartment to herself for the majority of the day. But with Magdalena moping around at all hours, the space had been infected with a dark pall. Leonora knew she ought to feel some compassion for Magdalena’s situation–she who had supported Leonora all her life, was even helping her to pay for this foray into extended education. Yet she couldn’t handle anymore sadness infiltrating her darkened enough aura. Men were already off-put enough by a klutz, she didn’t need the added disadvantage of being a “negative Nelly” to pile on to her lack of allure.
Magdalena couldn’t see it from this standpoint though. For even as old school as she was, as believing in the idea that a girl must meet a boy and progress to marriage from there, her jadedness on the matter remained unquenchable as a result of her own experience as a wife, abandoned. So she used her powers of Catholic guilt to cajole Leonora into staying, promising to look for a new job, to be better. Promises that, in short, Leonora knew could never be fulfilled at Magdalena’s advanced age. And yet, staying in the apartment, cooped up like two cats in a sack, remained preferable to the scary notion of truly breaking out on her own. Of having to face the fact that no one was going to take her as she was, with her humiliating foible.
She couldn’t even make friends let alone secure lovers as a result of this increasingly hard to manage idiosyncrasy. Wearing orthopedic sneakers and kneepads only further ostracized her while she pursued her study of English Literature. The only person that felt obliged to talk to her outside of classes was a Robert Smith-looking fellow named Danzig. Or so he said his name was Danzig. She didn’t know how much of that was part of his self-made lore. One day after class, as the persisted in having their debate over the homosexuality of Heathcliff, they took their conversation to Serendipity III, an establishment Leonora had still never been to in all her time living in New York City until now. It always seems that those born in New York never manage to accomplish or see even a fragment of what the tourists are capable of. Leonora explained this phenomenon to Danzig, himself only just arrived in the city for the very purpose of attending college. He was from Amherst, and accordingly hated David Foster Wallace for the legend he cast over the town and corresponding university. So it was that on this day, Leonora made the first real friend she ever had. A pale goth with a passion for the Brontë sisters.
As their tradition went on over the next four years, Leonora seemed to shed some of her insecurities, gain confidence from being seen by Danzig as a “regular,” rather than a “deformity.” Her gradual assurance augmented, influencing how she carried herself–those seeming “raised sidewalks” somehow less daunting than before. By now it was 1993, she had reached the age of twenty-two. Magdalena’s health was, in contrast, waning as she aged at an alarming rate from the disuse of her brain. She began to forget Leonora’s name and other basic information that we so often take for granted with our naturally “healthy” minds. Leonora’s job search in a field even mildly pertaining to English literature was thus put on the back burner as she cared for Magdalena during the day and found herself totally drained of all energy both mental and physical at night.
The one thing she did persist in making time for was her weekly date at Serendipity III with Danzig, an appointment that, as he was about to inform her, would soon be defunct thanks to his securing of a position Computerworld, a magazine with ever-increasing circulation, especially after that article about Doomsday 2000, the apocalyptic nature of which spoke to his innate fascination with the macabre. Upon showing the piece to her during one of their rendezvous back in early September, Leonora didn’t think much of the threat, 2000 being so distant in her mind that it might as well have been 2100 for as much as she felt she might reach that point. She shrugged and said, “Sounds like your garden variety ‘the sky is falling’ shit to me. No publication could exist without these types of scare tactics.”
And with that, she took a bite of whipped cream off the top of her frozen hot chocolate. Come to think of it, she was beginning to notice how much pudgier her fingers looked of late. She was starting to edge away from Lolita and veer more toward Charlotte Haze in desirability. Her preoccupation with Magdalena’s health was suddenly, it appeared, sucking her of all of hers. Yet Danzig regarded her the same. As this was to be their last meeting at Serendipity in the middle of the day for quite some time, if ever again, he was also feeling decidedly bold. It was as a result that, as they found themselves back out in the oppressive environs–so filled with their trash-covered sidewalks–of 60th Street, he caught her in his arms as she, expectedly, fell. In an added move of bravery, he kissed her, not caring any longer about preserving the integrity of the friendship.
She, in turn, no longer cared about falling. Because now there would always be someone there to catch her.