House of Leaves: Decoding Pelafina’s letter to Johnny (pgs 620-623)

In the back of the House of Leaves, following footnote #78 on pg. 72 to Appendix II-E., there are dozens and dozens of pages of letters to Johnny from his mother, Pelafina, who is writing her son from a mental institution. Over the course of her letters, her mental illness (schizophrenia?) intensifies, along with a chief symptom of her mental illness: paranoia.

On page 619, her letter to Johnny reads:

“Dear, dear Johnny, 

Pay attention: the next letter I will encode as follows: use the first letter of each word to build subsequent words and phrases: your exquisite intuition will help you sort out the spaces: I’ve sent this via a nigh nurse: our secret will be safe.


(Notice the misuse of colons. I think its safe to say the breakdown in punctuation symbolizes or tracks the breakdown in her mental health. The letters that follow this one, including the coded one I am about to decode, display a total breakdown in proper punctuation, grammar, and epistolary structure.)

The following letter, decoded, is as follows:

My Dearest Johnny,

               They have found a way to break me.  Rape a fifty-six year old bag of bones.  There is no worse and don’t believe otherwise. 

The attendants do it.  Others do it.  Not every day, not every week, maybe not even every month.  But they do it.  Someone I don’t know always comes when it’s dark.  Late.  I’ve learned not to scream, screaming gave me hope and unanswered hope is shattered hope.  Think of your Haitian.  It is far saner to choose rape than shattered hope.  So I submit and I drift. 

I let caprice and a certain degree of free association take me away.  Sometimes I’m still away long after it’s done, after he’s gone-the stranger, the attendant, the custodian, the janitor, cleaning man, waiting main, dirty MAN-the night tidying up after him. 

I’m in hell giving into heaven where I sometimes think of your beautiful father with his dreamy wings and only then do I allow myself to cry.  Not because your mother was raped (again) but because she loved so much what she could never have been allowed to keep.  Such a silly girl.

You must save me Johnny.  In the name of your father.  I must escape this place or I will die.

                                             I love you so much.  You are all I have.


Is she actually being raped? Are her paranoid fantasies and hallucinations getting the best of her? Is she lying in a last ditch effort to be taken out of the hospital? We do not know… But imagine being in Johnny’s position…


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