Gone (terrarium) girl
I fucking lost Eleanor.
At 7:43 a.m. I texted Tatin: “Holy shit I don’t know where I put Eleanor.”
The text confused her, she told me later. “Who is Eleanor? A new hedgehog?” she wondered. But Eleanor is not a hedgehog, she’s a terrarium. Or, if we were to be really specific, she’s a girl inside a terrarium.
Two years ago, on a trip to New York, Jill decided she would start making terrariums. I don’t know what pushed her over the edge – maybe it was the visit to Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Or all those Tumblr posts. Or the fact that Peter’s roommate had gone to a terrarium workshop and left her masterpiece – a tiny fairy running down mossy hills trapped in a glass jar – in the kitchen where we could stare at it.
We spent an afternoon on a long trek deeper into Brooklyn, to a tiny studio that sold terrariums kits. We tried to convince the terrarium masters to sell us more little people and they agreed but at exorbitant prices. We should have said, “Fuck you, that’s extortion!” But we didn’t. Jill bought and brought home a few, including a punk rocker with a mohawk.
Eleanor didn’t come from that trip, she came much later, a sassy girl in red pekpek shorts.
Back in Manila, Jill started making terrariums. I wanted one, I knew, but I had serious doubts about my ability to keep plants alive.
The last thing I planted successfully were mung beans on wet cotton balls in grade school but that doesn’t count. Anyone with a mung bean-sized brain can do that.
But Jill said the terrarium would be low-maintenance and that I only needed to water it once a week. I could do that.
I warmed up to the idea of terrarium ownership, picking out the tall glass container that would become Eleanor’s home. Then Jill worked her magic, creating a little jungle on top of a base of white rocks, a sexy tropical paradise for a girl in pekpek shorts.
I named her Eleanor because I had just finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and that book had me sobbing like a teenage girl who got dumped at prom.
I took Eleanor to the office (41 weeks ago, according to Instagram) and she became the queen of my messy desk, watcher of the Smurfs, the Duck and the Chick and safekeeper of my future mooncakes in case anyone tried to steal them again.
But I was right to have serious doubts about my ability to keep plants alive. Because I started forgetting to water Eleanor even though I only had to do it once a week. And on weeks that I remembered, I drowned her.
Still, Eleanor thrived, thanks to Tatin’s vigilance and Jill’s prayers.
But last Friday, I lost her.
Yes, I have achieved a new level of idiocy – I’ve actually managed to lose a plant.
When I realized what I had done, I called Jill.
“I have a confession.”
“I lost Eleanor.”
She sighed. “How?”
How? It’s a question friends have repeated again and again.
“How do you lose a terrarium?” they asked, incredulous.
This is how.
Last week, I realized that Eleanor needed a complete makeover. Despite Tatin and Jill’s efforts and my mung bean-raising skills, I had managed to destroy her little jungle. Ugly murky liquid was sloshing around what had been the pretty base of white rocks, the lush green had turned puke green and there was a smattering of mold on some of the leaves.
And so when I left the office, I picked her up to take her home, planning to run to Jill for terrarium CPR.
That is my last clear memory of Eleanor.
Hours later, early in the morning, when I finally remembered to look for her, I couldn’t find her.
“Did I bring her ba?” I asked Tatin.
“Yes you did,” she said.
I tried to remember what I did after picking her up.
I know I went down, left my stuff on one of the chairs at the office lobby (I have a vague memory of propping Eleanor against one of my bags but I don’t know if I’m just imagining this), I got cash from the ATM, picked up my stuff, got into the car and sat in traffic. By the time I got home, Eleanor was gone.
I texted the driver asking if Eleanor was in the car. She wasn’t.
I called the office, asking the guards if they had seen her. They had not. The janitors had no clue where she was either.
Eleanor has magically disappeared.
In my defense, it had been an insanely long week (my brain had practically shut down by then from exhaustion) and I was carrying a lot of stuff. But that’s no excuse at all. You don’t lose your little friend, her pekpek shorts and her mini universe just because you were tired.
I am still hoping for a miracle. That maybe I didn’t actually take her with me and that she’s still standing on my office desk in her murky, moldy world.
I tried looking for Eleanor’s picture on Jill’s Instagram feed. I found two and when she posted the second one 38 weeks ago, she had written:
“Lost terrarium pt. 2”
It wasn’t just a caption, it was an omen.