Eleanor, the pen pal


eleanorEleanor took me home with her the night I stopped for chicken fried steak at a roadside diner outside of Benson, Arizona. She was seated at the end of the counter, enjoying pecan pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream when i rolled in, still high and about to collapse from exhaustion. Earlier that day I had rounded the corner of a two week bender in Los Angeles and lost my marbles on the freeway. I didn’t stop drivng for almost eight hours.

“Holy hell, stranger,” Eleanor drawled when she looked my way.  She took a bite of ice cream and pulled the spoon slowly from her mouth. “You look awful.”

“And you look like you could use some company,” I quipped and sat down next to her.  “I feel like a million bucks right now.”

Before the waitress had time to pour me my first cup of coffee I was passed out at the counter.

I woke up two days later in a bed Eleanor had made for me at her home on the outskirts of Tucson.  She was sitting in an old rocking chair next to the bed reading a Larry McMurtry novel.

“Sweet dreams, Knox?”

“Like pecan pie,” I said, rubbing my blurry eyes.  “How do you know my name?”

“You talk in your sleep. And in the third person, no less.”

“That actually makes a whole lot of sense. Why am I here right now?”

“The desert has a curious way of keeping things alive – and that includes you. I also figured you could use a place to stay. But only until you get better.”

“I think I’m starting to feel better already,” I said with a smile, slowly leaning forward to kiss her, my eyes closed.

It could have been Eleanor’s hands, the color of cactus milk, and the way she’d run them gently through my hair on warm winter mornings.  It might have been that she always smelled faintly of some familiar place from my past or that she’d never wear the same dress twice.  Maybe it was just that I could talk to her all night and she would listen to me, filling our tumblers full with fresh grapefruit juice.  Whatever it was, it didn’t take much for me to fall in love with her.  The only problem was that Eleanor never loved me back.  And because of this I was never going to get better.  Within a couple of months I was back to drinking as my full-time occupation, sleeping outside all day, speaking in tongues to the specters of my imagination, and howling at the moon with the coyotes late into night.  I understand now that this probably more than Eleanor had bargained for.

“You fall in love a bit too easily, Knox,” Eleanor said to me one evening with a sigh.  She handed me a couple of hundred dollars and the keys to her faded yellow pickup truck.

I hit the road, determined to prove her wrong. Within a month, I’d moved back to Berlin and had a string of fiery affairs, seven or eight I believe, over a matter of 18 months. I wrote Eleanor long, impassioned letters about each one and about how I didn’t fall in love with any of the women with whom I was involved. She never wrote me back, perhaps proving that she was right all along.

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