LEONELA: An Obsesssion

Marya Alejandra in ‘Leonela’ [1983–1984] RCTV, Venezuela

“Each to his own,” said Elio, who had a habit of creating a commotion in the city square at midnight… until one day they put him in jail because of it.

Elvira, Elio’s wife, had a habit of talking to herself in the mirror when she got up in the morning. In front of the mirror she had convinced herself that in addition to her recognized emotive abilities and command of language, she had theatrical talent too. Nature and society had conspired together, it seemed, to make her an expert in dramatic performance. Although she wasn’t addicted to soap operas, tragedies held a strange attraction for her and one day, strangely, like someone who sits down just for the sake of it, she found herself sitting in front of the TV.

That’s how she came across Leonela. It seemed that with Leonela, Elvira’s cherished penchant for acting had attained perfection.

At ten o’clock every day she would find herself thinking, “My life is so mundane. I’ve been married for fifteen years and I can’t think which year was the most boring. Compared to that, life on television is so exciting… rather absurd, maybe, but…” — But wasn’t her life an absurdity, living with a man whose passion had already burned out? Wasn’t it absurd for two individuals to meet in a bedroom — one to embroider and the other to read the newspaper? The funny thing was she had nothing against marriage or love. She believed in marriage as long as sharing, unselfish pleasure and communication were part of it. But it was a lottery… nothing but a lottery… lucky only for few… or perhaps a labor or chore at which few people really exerted themselves.

In her case, her husband had become like a brother, and she acted like his mother… Wasn’t he old enough or bright enough to learn how to make coffee or wash his own socks? Didn’t they both have to work? Then why did he cling to her skirts for those silly little things? On the other hand, she thought, even though Leonela is a simple plot about rape and a mish-mash of subjects such as machismo, the degradation of women, alcohol, revenge and desire, hate, class distinctions, humiliation, poor communication, man as victim, woman as pitiless and irresponsible… despite all this (and much more), despite seeing the serpent dangled before her, she enjoyed it, and when she say down expectantly she experienced during that hour a succession of scenes depicting every possible range of emotion.

Looking forward to something — even if it was just a soap opera — is what was missing from her life. What did she care about foreign debt or topics discussed behind closed doors, when the doors to her many problems remained wide open? What did she care about a third world war, the first hundred days, the end of the world, life after death, the meaning of dreams, Russian paranoia, Reagan’s last move; his government, inflation, what’s inflated or what’s deflated, Paola’s crooked smile, Boy George, Michael Jackson and his followers, the faceless woman, Trino’s sexual education, Melisa’s loneliness and Colina’s constant preoccupation about who she’d have coffee with?

Elvira would think, “The only thing that matters to me is Leonela — to sit down, or rather, stretch out in my armchair and watch her begging that hunk of a man, Pedro Luis, to let her see her son… and then to see them, beautifully dressed, slowly approach one other, brush lips and then go wild — and to listen to Mayra Alejandra whisper, murmur, almost breathless… then weep in silence… that languishing look and anguished gestures, her gold lacquered Rocio Durcal hairstyle… then Pedro Luis would come in and have his face slapped over and over again. Then (he wears such funny shirt collars!), he’d raise his left eyebrow and then his right and there I’d be, sweating, crying at all their reproaches, savoring their vengeance… because vengeance is sweet and satisfying, like a chocolate cake… and then the announcer with that ridiculous screen personality would come on, followed by Patty dancing (she has just no rhythm!)… and then if they didn’t know what to put on next, they’d bring on Pedro Luis’s grandmother to provide a little tedium… so we wouldn’t think we were going to escape being bored… and then…”

“What would I have done without you, Leonela?” Elvira would think, “Now,” she reflected, “I do nothing but think about the day my husband gets out of jail with a law degree and an inheritance.”

Each to his own,” said Elio to Elvira, when he got out of jail. “Yours is to live a life of dreams.”

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Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com

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Lida Prypchan

Lida Prypchan

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com

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