Absolutely Fabulous

Transformed by a romanticized airport novel, our heroine constructs a strangely compelling life

In the late '70s, says Bordelon, her father, a medical technologist, had a powerful religious experience that inspired him to begin speaking in tongues. He decided to go into missionary work, and moved his large brood to a double-wide trailer on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, where he tried to convert the native population to Catholicism.

Despite his religious teachings, say Bordelon and her older brother Larry, their father (who died in 1987) drank heavily and used extreme physical discipline with his children. "Oh yeah, from birth there was violence," says Larry, the owner of a Louisiana construction business, in a deep Southern drawl. "He was a pretty rough old boy.

"[Leigh] did get a little strapping; no punches or kicking like the boys. Some instances were disturbing. I remember one in particular. She was probably 3 or 4. The old man woke up one morning after getting all drunked up one night. He was on a rampage, and I'm not sure what took place, but I remember him starting to spank her. He wouldn't stop. My mama, older sister, me -- we were trying to stop him. He beat her until she peed all over the place. Then he beat her for peeing." Bordelon's mother, Diane Touchet, does not speak of the abuse.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood 
inspired Leigh Bordelon to start a Bay Area Ya-Ya 
group, the Zeau Zeau Fleurs.
Paolo Vescia
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood inspired Leigh Bordelon to start a Bay Area Ya-Ya group, the Zeau Zeau Fleurs.
Holly Todd, a San Jose-based Zeau Zeau.
Holly Todd, a San Jose-based Zeau Zeau.

After a few years in New Mexico, the Bordelons moved back to Louisiana, where Leigh graduated from high school. She was accepted to nearby McNeese State University, where she took classes, she says, in "boys, booze, and pool." After she lost her financial grant for flunking too many courses, Bordelon landed a job working the graveyard shift at a gas station. One night, a group of door-to-door magazine salespeople stopped in. They liked her personality and asked her to join them. In 1986, the job took her to San Francisco.

"She was selling magazines all over the country, and one day she called and said, 'I'm in San Francisco,'" says Bordelon's mother. "That was it. She's been there ever since."

Bordelon is estranged from most members of her family, and she says her childhood was difficult. "I had no self-esteem, and my dad used to say, 'You're useless.'"

She believes her turbulent youth led her to marry an overly controlling man; she claims that her ex-husband -- whom she calls "Satan" -- prohibited her from going to church on Sundays. "Before, I had no friends," she says. "I was confined to Satan's whims. I quit going to church because he believed I was having an affair with the choir director. I didn't believe in myself, or that anyone liked me."

Then Bordelon had a pre-Ya-Ya revelation. "I used to have crooked teeth," she says. "I saved up and got my teeth straightened, and someone said to me, 'You could stop traffic with that smile!' And I thought, 'Wow, I don't have to take his shit.' I didn't have to take shit off of nobody."

Bordelon left her husband in 1994 -- and lost her job a month later. Determined to keep her two young children fed, she worked five part-time jobs at once (two during the week and three on the weekend) and borrowed money from one of her supervisors until she could get on her feet.

Her new life was difficult but empowering, she says. In 1996, Bordelon met her current husband, Mark Eris, at a San Ramon nightclub, and her life continued to change for the better. Yet she insists that her miraculous transformation didn't occur until she discovered Divine Secrets while watching a cable TV special on Rebecca Wells.

Bordelon was initially attracted to the book's Southern setting, but she soon found that lines like "It's life. ... You just climb on the beast and ride" and "My mother's love isn't perfect. My mother's love is good enough" taught her to make the best of the challenges that come to her.

"The best way to explain it is the real her has come out," Eris says. "Now when you meet Leigh, you meet Leigh, you don't meet the person that was a result of other people's molding. She doesn't have that blocker anymore, the, 'Oh, I can't think that way because of the church, or my daddy didn't raise me this way.' It's, 'I can think this way, I can do what I want.'"

Eris even helped Bordelon come up with her official Ya-Ya "princess name": Her Royal Highness Fed Up to Here. "I said, 'How about "Fed Up to Here"?'" Eris recalls. "Because she's done with the junk. She's done with the stupidity."

The Ya-Ya Sisterhood made Leigh a leader -- and indeed, she's often the life and the hostess of the party. "Imagine being shy, not having friends or self-esteem," she says. "Then some book you read helps you make friends, lifts you up, and people are turning to you, and people are putting up posts [on the Internet] to tell you that they love you. You don't take that for granted."

Bordelon has even begun questioning her dad's brand of religion. "My father was an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church. And he would beat the holy shit out of us. Is he in heaven?"

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