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The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg by Natalie McQueen

Prologue In the early 20th century, Tuberculosis was a fast spreading epidemic and one of the leading causes of death. Those unfortunate men, women and children who contracted the disease were often isolated from society and placed in sanatoriums (often morbidly referred to as “waiting rooms for death”). During this time, Dr. Charles David Spivak, a Russian-Jewish immigrant who had come to America to practice medicine, had become an accomplished physician, researcher, and writer, as well as the top tuberculosis specialist at the JCRS– Jewish Consumptive’s Relief Society in Lakewood, Colorado. The sanatorium was surrounded by Jewish immigrant neighborhoods, and Denver’s population increased significantly due to patients desperately seeking a cure. The dry, mild climate and clean, fresh air of Denver were the initial pull for patients to migrate west. The Sanatorium was appealing to patients, and its endeavors seemed far more sincere, due to its eagerness in research, alternative treatment methods to fight tuberculosis, and by admitting and treating patients free of charge. Founded in 1904, and serving approximately 10,000 patients until its doors closed in 1954, the JCRS was considered “the World’s Sanatorium.” The grounds and buildings of the JCRS have been preserved and is now the campus for the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design.


To Helen “Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicean barks of yore, That gently, o'er a perfumed sea, To his own native shore. On desperate seas long wont to roam, Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face, Thy Naiad airs have brought me home To the glory that was Greece And the grandeur that was Rome. Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche How statue-like I see thee stand, The agate lamp within thy hand! Ah, Psyche, from the regions which Are Holy Land!” –Edgar Allan Poe


Retreat in the Library “Ah me…Так прекрасно¹,”gladly sighed Helen, as she often did after reading her favorite poem. She strummed the page corners with her thumb, allowing the scent of the yellowing aged paper to drift up so she could breathe it in deeply. She had received the book as a birthday gift a few years back, and it was one of the last surviving items she had brought with her from the mother country, besides some old pictures and her father’s broken brass pocket watch. The book was terribly dear to her. There was no way of knowing how many times she had read it, but by the evidence of its tattered edges, the faded gold-leaf lettering upon its spine and cover, and the countless folds and ripped pages from marking her place repeatedly, conveyed just how much she favored it. “The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.” Helen ran her fingers over the scuffed title and author’s name. She adored Poe. No other writer’s imagination had captivated Helen like he had, and she found him strangely handsome. Often, she would imagine herself as a character in one of Poe’s dark stories. She’d envision a mysterious, shadowy phantom hiding in the midst; one who tried at nothing to lure her into eternal darkness; and she, a supremely beautiful, terrifically tragic inamorata, with wintery white skin and long, satiny black hair, would discover it was death itself who had seduced her. Helen shook her head a bit to come back to reality. Helen had rich brown eyes, dark chocolate hair that waved, and had always been fair skinned, although she appeared even more pallid the last few weeks. She had convinced herself that she fit the description wonderfully for a Poe heroine. 1 So beautiful.


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

“Letter for you, miss! Doctor’s mail,” said the very chipper Sanatorium mail courier, startling Helen and morphing her previous dreamlike expression into something quite cross. His smile did not fade though, and he handed her a sealed envelope, signed “From the desk of Dr. Charles David Spivak.” Helen rolled her eyes at the envelope. Grabbing her book, as well as some others she had checked out, she walked to the other side of the library and sat at one of the heavy writing desks. She knew the letter’s contents were not going to be to her liking, but she quickly tore open the end, took out the paper and unfolded it.


My dear Miss Eisenberg: I am now discharging a very painful duty. It is always painful to me when I think that the people, who in their political and social activities have demonstrated their willingness and ability of self-sacrifice- when these same people live in communities, they invariably prove to be selfish and show anti-social tendencies. I have heard from many friends who formed the highest opinion of your character as a revolutionist. You have demonstrated on many occasions your willingness and readiness to sacrifice yourself for the sake of others. Now, however, that your activities as a social-worker and revolutionist have ceased and you are obliged to live with your fellow men and women on the terms of equality, without the stimulus of revolution to urge you on for the common good, you instead of making everyone who comes in contact with you feel happy, which after all is the ultimate aim of all social workers, revolutionists or otherwise, you have managed to make everybody miserable and unhappy. I have it from reliable sources that all your tent-mates have suffered from your bad temper; that they have all complained against you and wanted to be separated from you; that you have threatened to strike one of the porters when he told you not to spit in a wash-stand; that you have used violence against the Mashgiach, etc. Now, I have found out that you have misrepresented the story of your leaving the Sanatorium. Instead, as you stated it, the Superintendent discharged you. I know that you have told the Superintendent that if your bed will not be moved to the old place you will leave the Sanatorium, and the Superintendent told you that the bed will not be moved back to its old place and that if you do not like you may leave the Sanatorium, which is but right and proper. Again, I must say that I write this letter with a great deal of heartache. I do not see any reason why you, an intelligent girl, should not have been able to live at peace with your tent-mates and why you should misrepresent the management of the Sanatorium. Yours sincerely,

Secretary 7

The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

Helen folded the letter and placed it back in its sleeve. She sat for a few moments just staring at the wall in front of her and began to tap her fingers on the paper, over and over. In a brisk moment, Helen scratched her fingernails across the grain of the old writing desk, seized the note, and grated the large, oak chair against the floor as she rose. With shoulders back and chin lifted, she pivoted slowly and made her way over to where the librarian sat. She relaxed her pursed lips into a weak smile as she placed the ripped envelope on the desk. In a cool, calm tone, Helen asked in her broken English, “Discard letter please. It have no importance to me.” “Pardon me, miss,” Danielle, the quiet and timid librarian said in a hushed voice,”but...this is a certified letter. I am unauthorized to dispose of Doctor’s mail.” Helen’s semi-convincing smile quickly melted into a scowl, as her brown eyes appeared red from the anger that flared inside them. She snapped the envelope off the desk, and started waving it madly in her hand. “Мне все равно²! How dare you say what do with my mail! Your duty on premises is to serve and appease patrons, Глупая девочка³! You be fired for such disobedience. Где они находят эти люди⁴!?” Danielle burst into tears. She did not understand Miss Eisenberg’s Russian, but she most certainly felt the sting of its cruelty. When Helen Eisenberg was not retreating to a dark secluded corner of the library, she was unquestionably one of the most miserable patients to ever reside at the Sanatorium. Everything noted in the letter had been true, although Helen held no respect for Dr. Spivak and his letters, so she rarely took his reasoning into account. She certainly did not care about whom she mistreated around 2 I do not care! 3 stupid girl 4 Where do they find these people!?


Retreat in the Library

her, either. She had lashed out at orderlies, been heard screaming at her tent-mates, throwing shoes, food, and medicine bottles, and deliberately spit in communal wash areas. Poor Danielle experienced her wickedness on a regular basis, as she frequented the library almost everyday. Danielle watched Helen angrily grab her stack of books from the writing desk and charge out the library. Not even the soothing fall breeze could release Helen from the rage that seized her mind, and the warm afternoon rays of sun failed to melt the cold rush of blood filling, flooding her veins. Her breathing started to become choppy and stifled. Then the harassing spasm– hidden deep within her bosom– began its familiar assault; cramping, clenching, convulsing. As the eruption surged up through her chest, it beckoned its pesky accomplice to claw, scratch, and tear at the back of her throat. Wrenching forward, the uncontrollable hacking began, followed by a palm covered in blood. She was lightheaded, as her eyes watered due to the force of the cough. Two more, three more times, the violent convulsion overcame her, causing Helen to drop to her knees upon the lawn. Through the mist that clouded her vision, she could make out the white uniforms rushing to her side. As she felt the gray haze overcoming her, she could have swore that one of them was...”No,” she whispered to herself, “it” Helen succumbed to unconsciousness.


An Innocent Intruder “Buzzz....bzzz....buzzz...bzz...bzzz...” Helen heard the annoying sound before her mind had fully regained consciousness. She recognized the cotton linens that held her now, and the softness of the feather pillow nesting her weary head. For a split moment, things were pleasant. “Bzzz....bzzz.... buzzz......” Helen heard the droning once again. Forcing her eyelids to peel apart, she confirmed the origin of the sound. A bumble bee, noticeably nearing the end of its life was imprisoned by the window, buzzing and buzzing as it tried to go beyond the mesh screen. Fall-like winds and cooler temperatures had been present for several weeks, so it surprised Helen to see a little bee surviving this long. Helen attempted to lift her head, but an ache that surged from temple to temple made it almost impossible to move. “воды5...”Helen murmured as best she could. “воды...wa...water, сейчас6, now.” Through her fogged sight, Helen made out the figure of a nurse filling a small cup with ice water from the pitcher on the corner table. The nurse swiftly came to the bedside, then cautiously buried her hand and forearm under Helen’s neck and raised her up slightly. The electricity of pain that shot through Helen’s eyes and forehead were almost unbearable, yet she desperately needed the water. As the nurse pressed the cup to her lips, Helen gulped it down quickly, and the cool liquid soothed the rawness in her throat. The nurse laid her back gently and went to fill the cup again. As her vision began to slowly clear, the writhing pain began to dissipate, as well. Helen had grown accustom 5 water 6 now


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

to the Tuberculosis; the spitting-up of blood, the clenching pains in her chest and stomach, or not being able to eat because her throat was too sore to swallow. But the headaches had been relatively current. She had been examined once when she had the first fit, but the test results showed no abnormalities, so their cause had been chalked up to stress and poor diet. The pain had never been that intense before that day, and its aggressiveness alarmed Helen, though she would never admit to anyone how it disabled her. Its inconvenience angered her, but the more upset she became, the more the pulses of pain started to come about, so she did her best to relax herself. As Helen allowed rest to come over her, she heard the buzz of the bee again, only closer this time, much closer. She opened her eyes and saw the little creature had managed to lift itself over to her bed and now was weakly crawling up the woven blanket covering her legs. It looked aged for a bumble bee; its wings not as lustrous as one might imagine, and its furriness appeared patchy. The nurse had returned to Helen’s bedside and noticed it. “Oh, heavens! Would you look at him? Well, you’ve come quite a ways in this cool weather, haven’t ya little fella?” The nurse had a sweet smile strewn about her face as she watched it slowly climb a little further up Helen’s leg. Helen furrowed her brows. In a flash of a moment, Helen’s hand shot forward, capturing the small bug within her fist. The nurse was startled at the sudden movement made by Miss Eisenberg, but was completely taken aback and almost became sick herself when Helen clenched her fist tighter, causing a disturbing, loud crunch. The nurse, as well as a couple other occupants of the tent, shared looks of horror and confusion. Helen open her hand and let the dead remnants of the bee fall onto the floor. “Clean up mess!” Helen angrily directed toward the shocked nurse. “How you expect patients get better with insects crawling all over them, hmm?”


An Innocent Intruder

As the nurse, wide-eyed and mouth slightly opened began to turn to fetch the broom, Helen laid back her head and started to close her eyes until she noticed something. She glanced down at her hand and frowned. A small piece of iridescent wing had glued itself to the large stain of her own dried blood. She reached for a handkerchief and scrubbed the stain as best she could, then threw it on the floor, just as she did the dead bee. On the nightstand to the right, she noticed her stack of books. She reached out for Poe and opened the book to the first few pages, where the author’s portrait was. She hesitated on this page, focusing her eyes deeply on him, adjusting from wide to a narrow squint. Closing the book gently, she placed it back on the nightstand. Helen rubbed her eyes and forehead softly and allowed herself to drift into some much needed sleep.


An Incessant Ticking “TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK.” Helen’s eyes fluttered quickly open. She expected to see the annoying little insect alive and well, scratching at the screen of the window, but it had been swept up and discarded into the waist basket. Yet, Helen kept hearing the ticking. She sat up in bed, the anvil of pressure still pressing against her forehead, but the pain had subsided. The tent was now empty and Helen was surprised that she had slept all the way to supper time. “Everyone must be in the dining hall,” she thought to herself. “So kind of them to wake me...эгоистичный жопы7.” Helen glowered as she rose and began to get dressed. “TICK. TICK. TICK. TICK.” The ticking was not stopping and Helen began to look about the room searching for its source. Everyone’s nightstands were covered with medicine bottles, issues of Lady’s Home Journal and Harper’s, photos and letters from loved ones, but no clocks or watches anywhere. As Helen walked past each bed away from her own, the ticking became more quiet. She slowly turned and started to walk toward her bed. The ticking became louder, more intense, and seemed to pound with each step she took. By the time she reached her nightstand drawer, Helen was covering her ears, for the incessant ticking was booming and beating inside her head. Just when she couldn’t stand it any longer, Helen jerked open the nightstand drawer, and all its possessions sprawled across the floor.

7 selfish assholes


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

“TICK! TICK! TICK! TICK! TICK!” The ticking had become faster and even more vigorous now. Helen dropped to the ground and started tossing her belongings aside, trying to unbury what was making the monotonous thud. As she lifted a journal, Helen revealed her father’s old brass pocket watch; ticking, ticking, ticking. She stared at it with sheer puzzlement. The watch had not worked since she was a very little girl. It had never been repaired and Helen kept it merely for sentimental reasons. But it was almost vibrating in her hand now, with each pulsating tick. Helen threw open the cover of the watch. To her astonishment, neither one of its hands were moving. They were frozen still at the hour of ten, with seven minutes after, yet the ticking throbbed on. Helen felt like her mind was going to burst. In a flash, she sprang to her feet and hurled the pocket watch across the room, smashing it to pieces. The ticking stopped. The ticking stopped! Helen stared at the shards on the floor, making sure none of them revived to cause the terrible ticking. “I need to get out of here,” Helen said feverishly. “Maybe some fresh air and food will help.” Helen, feeling exhausted and confused, forced her legs to walk by the bits of watch and out the door. As she exited, she noticed the face of the watch was still perfectly intact. It’s time remained at 10:07pm.


An Incessant Ticking


An Indecency of Manner The clamor of plates, glasses clinking, and conversations echoed throughout the dining hall and rang in Helen’s ears as she entered. The calamity of noise disgruntled her, but she tried her best to ignore it. She made her way to the far left corner where a group of her tent mates sat and ate. Upon her arrival, many of the women shuffled in their seats and looks of distaste smothered their previously beaming faces. Helen grabbed the chair and dragged it out loudly, distracting some other tables away from their meals. “Ah, Helen! So good of you to finally join us. We thought you were going to sleep the whole night through,” Rose Fineberg sarcastically said, another patient whose tent was two down from Helen’s. The two women had not been able to get along during their three year acquaintance at the Sanatorium. “Oh, I’m glad you didn’t disturb me from my rest, ladies. God knows I enjoy arriving late and eating a cold, disgusting dinner, amongst the likes of all you идиотский женщин8.” Judging by the reaction on Inga Saslavsky’s face, another Russian-born patient, this was far from any sort of term of endearment. “Несчастная ведьма9!! No one want you here!” Inga struggled to say in her broken English. “Иди к черту, несчастным, бесполезным женщина! Каждый твой вздох отходов хороший воздух10!” 8 moronic women 9 Unhappy witch! 10 Go to hell, you miserable, useless woman! Every breath you take is a waste of good air.


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

“Oh shut up, Inga. Everyone think you whiny little brat. These шлюхи11 only allow your company because you have many handsome brothers and cousins that come visit you. Ha! Even on death’s doorstep they live to be дешевые шлюхи грязные12!” Inga’s face was redder than the bowl of strawberries sitting in front of her, and the others shifted nervously in their seats, glancing both at Inga, then at Helen. “Just leave, Helen!” exclaimed Sara Kahn. “It’s true. None of us want you here, or in our ward. I have never encountered a woman with such a hideous attitude towards life. You bring nothing but displeasure and grief to the rest of us.” “Yes!” agreed Eunice Winograd. “Indeed!” joined Rose Weinshiek. “Alice, go ahead. Give it to her,” urged Miss Fineberg, glaring at Helen. Alice Livingston hesitated, then reached into her handbag, almost reluctantly, and pulled out some sort of note and handed it to Helen. “,” said Alice softly. Helen never minded the presence of Miss Livingston, for she was quiet and shy, and Helen often saw her reading in the library, as well. Helen felt a few small tickles in her throat as she reached for the paper.“какого хрена это13?” Helen yanked the note from Alice’s hand and threw it open. “And it’s been accepted Helen. You have till the end of the week!” Rose said with a malicious smile on her face. Helen stared at the short note. 11 whores 12 cheap dirty sluts 13 What the fuck is this?


Dear Friend, Dr. Spivak: We ask in the name of the patients of the women ward to take pity on us either to change Miss Eisenberg from the ward or kindly take us away. We can’t tolerate with her any longer. She makes life miserable for all. Our life is in misery enough. Mrs. Saslavsky Mrs. Shwartz Miss Kahn Eunice Winograd Mrs. Beskovitz Rose Fineberg Rose Weinshienk Miss Livingston


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

The group of women sat up a little straighter with weak smirks on their faces, although their confidence was not at all persuasive. Poor Miss Livingston sat staring shamefully at the plate in front of her. Helen looked up at each one of the ladies with dark, empty eyes, and a series of gulps and trembles transpired from the women. She extended the letter in her hand toward Alice, who still had not raised her head, and in doing so placed the paper right over the three candlesticks at the center of the table. For a moment, the ladies sat paralyzed with terror. “WHOOSH!� The thin piece of paper madly went up into flames and Helen shook it violently, showering the tablecloth and napkins with small bits of amber sparks and glowing embers. Knocking over the candlesticks to help fuel the hateful blaze, Helen started grabbing porcelain bowls, plates, and glasses and ferociously chucked them at the ladies. The women started screaming frantically and scrambling away from the table. Other tables started to clamber and soon the dining hall was filled with shrieks and shouting. Helen was blind with fury. She started turning tables and tossing chairs, remaining silent, as she could not form any words through her madness. Helen threw her body around and saw a couple porters trying to make their way through the sea of terrified patients and wreckage. In the midst of her rage, Helen froze completely still, dropping the teacup and knife she was preparing to throw. Everything seemed to slow around her, and it seemed like eternity as the two men desperately tried to reach her. Helen stopped breathing for a moment, for there, leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the room... was Poe. It truly was Poe. Helen shook her head, yet Poe remained against the wall. She started to feebly walk forward when the two porters seized her arms. She did not fight back, though, or cause 22

An Indecency of Manner

any sort of struggle for she was riddled with awe and bewilderment. All she could do was gaze at the dark shadowy eyes and grim face of her beloved writer. He remained expressionless, staring deadly at her. Helen did not even realize the porters were carrying her by the arms, dragging her feet over silverware and shards of broken glass. As they passed Poe, his eyes never left Helen’s face. When they reached the entrance of the dining hall, Helen was able to unfreeze from the strange trance, abling her to focus and realize Dr. Spivak waiting for her, along with several nurses at his sides. Dr. Spivak, a kind and gentle man, carried a look of despair and anguish on his face. “Oh Helen, my dear girl. Why must you lash out on those who are only trying to help you?” Dr. Spivak, with heavy, sad brows nodded his head and a nurse came over to Helen. As the patrons held tightly onto Helen’s arms, the nurse prepared a syringe. The nurse rolled up her sleeve and Helen felt the sharpness penetrate her skin and the coolness of the needle slide into her flesh. Within seconds, Helen’s body went limp and her vision began to blur. “Где моя любовь14?” Helen mumbled. “Where is he?” As the nurses and Dr. Spivak exchanged questioning glances, Helen became comatose.

14 Where is my love?


A Peculiar Awakening “Awaken, my beauty. Be awake...” Helen’s eyes shot open, and she laid in a room of pitch black. She felt weak and could hardly tell if she was moving her limbs or not. Startling herself, Helen’s hand fell upon her cheek, though it felt detached, and her face numb. Helen struggled to prop herself up, and as she did so, the agonizing headache detonated inside her head, forcing her to fall back upon her pillow. Helen’s hands clutched at her temples, but any pressure she applied did nothing to alleviate the pounding in her skull. “Oh, god!” she wailed. “О, Боже15! Make it stop!” “Yes, my sweet,” a cold, eery whisper came from somewhere within the darkness. A moment later, Helen’s discomfort ceased. Miraculously, no pain; just a very warm tingle started to flow througout her entire body. Helen laid in her bed, frozen, still squeezing her hands to the sides of her head. She was able to sit up now, and remarkably, with ease. She dropped her feet off the side of the bed and sat in the dark, speechless and still. She looked to her left and noticed a small, thin strip of shining gold, revealing where the door was. Helen looked forward into the darkness. It was so dark, Helen couldn’t tell if her eyelids were open or not. Helen brushed her fingers over her eyes to confirm they were not closed. As her fingers left her chin, a figure of a man manifested before her, exiting the darkness as if it were a black

15 god


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

velvet curtain on a stage. The man work a red mask, one you would see at an opera or a masquerade party, and a long satiny black cloak that cascaded over the floor. For a second, Helen felt a tint of fear, but the man graciously extended his gloved hand toward her, bowing slightly, as if she were royalty. Helen felt her heart flutter and she took the hand of the masked man. She stood there in the darkness, staring at the mask for what seemed like an eternity, until he opened his cloak, and coaxed Helen into its drapes. They turned and walked toward the sliver of gold light. Helen felt the masked man reach for the door’s handle. A moment later, they were engulfed in white blinding light.


A Peculiar Awakening


A Dismal Discovery ‘How could this have happened?!” shouted Dr. Spivak, and his voice eerily carried down the long, narrow tunnel. “I apologize sir,” a guilty looking orderly whispered, not meeting the doctor’s gaze. “I stepped away from my post for just a moment to fetch a cup of tea, and when I returned, Miss Eisenberg’s door had been unlocked and she was nowhere to be found. I swear by it, sir! I swear!” There before them, upon the damp, musky tiles, laid dead Helen Eisenberg. She laid face-up, her lifeless eyes, open and staring up at the doctor, the orderly, and a few men from the authorities. Dr. Spivak beckoned two more orderlies who arrived with a stretcher and they began to transfer Helen onto it. As one of the men started to cover Helen’s face with the white sheet, the doctor placed his hand on the orderly’s shoulder, delaying him for a moment so he could examine her face more closely. Helen’s mouth was clear of any blood, so he was not convinced she had died due to a severe coughing fit. Yet, strains of blood had flowed from her nostrils, down the sides of her pale face, pooling in her ears and matting her dark, wavy hair. A stiff, dark vein was protruding from Helen’s forehead, and Dr. Spivak was quiet for a few moments. “What do you propose was the cause of her death, doctor?” asked one of the officers as he jotted some notes down onto a pad of paper. “I suspect a brain hemorrhage, but until we have performed an


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

autopsy, do not quote me. We will send you the final reports once their available,” Dr. Spivak said wearily, as he took off his spectacles and cleaned them with his handkerchief. “Thomas,” said one officer to the other, “call the time please.” “Yes sir.” The young officer pulled out his pocket watch.

“Declared time of death-10:07pm.”


The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

Written Designed Illustrated

Natalie McQueen

Natalie McQueen

Colophon The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg

has been printed for the class Visual Sequencing I at the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, under the direction of instructor, Martin Mendelsberg. The book has been written, designed, illustrated and produced in Denver, Colorado by Natalie McQueen. Pages were printed in black and white ink on Wausau速 Royal Fiber, 70lb, Natural, Text paper, then French folded and finished with perfect binding. Typefaces used were MrsEavesSmallCaps, Baskerville Regular and Italic. Documents, Photography, & JCRS Info Courtesy of: JCRS Collection, Beck Archives Special Collections, Penrose Library and Center for Judaic Studies University of Denver Credits: Patient: Helen Eisenberg Folder Number: JCRS #2588 Martin Mendelsberg Office Depot速 xpedex速

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Natalie McQueen Š2012 Natalie McQueen

The Obsessions of Helen Eisenberg  

Made in my Visual Sequencing I class, I wrote a story based on a female patient, Helen Eisenberg, that once lived at the Jewish Consumptives...

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