Paint

“So, what did you want to talk about today?”
“I’m- I’m not sure to be honest. I mean, I’ve been thinking alot lately, y’know?”
“Sure. Thinking about what? What’s been on your mind, Tom?”

I went to see my therapist today. I enjoyed going to see her, not because I had problems like substance abuse, or that I was hit as a kid by my parents. I was more of a loner. I enjoyed having someone to talk to, just about anything really. After Christine - that was her name, Christine - realized that about me, she stopped charging me for those hourly sessions (that often turned into long discussions that went beyond the standard one hour).

“Well, you know that I paint, right?”
“Right.”
“What I was thinking was...why is it that I paint what I paint? Well, I started to think. I mean, a while back I took a break from painting.”
“Why’s that?”
“I wasn’t getting any work, and nothing was selling. So I took a break, but soon enough, I was back. I just couldn’t stay away from it. But this time, I took a different approach.”
“Being?”
“I wanted to start painting for myself again. You see, when I first started, I was doing it for myself, and then I moved to New York and started to paint for other people. I wanted to make them happy with what I was doing, and I lost sight that I needed to make myself happy first.”

“Is that when-?”

“Yeah, that’s when I tried to take my life. I was just too depressed. No, not depressed. That’s too strong of a word. I was too unhappy. Everything seemed to stop working around me. My hands, my marriage, everything.”

“So what happened next?”

“Well, I started to paint for myself again. I began with these large, open, sprawling fields. The kind you see in movies, with matted grass where kids would lay, smoke, and look up at the stars and contemplate the universe around them. Soon I started to add horses. I’m not sure why, but I was hooked. Horses would appear in the distance of these fields, and then they’d be the centre of attention. I didn’t know why, but, for whatever reason, it was oddly comforting.”

“Comforting?”

“Yeah, it was comforting to have these horses around me. Well, these paintings of horses. I got so involved in some of them that the paint started to smell like hay and mulch sometimes, but I’m sure I was just imagining that.”

“Perhaps.”

“It was around this time that my paintings-”

“The ones with the fields and horses?”

“Yeah, the ones with the fields and horses, it was around this time that I started to get a lot of attention. I started to do solo shows on my own at these big art galleries - something I’d never done before - and I was getting paid a lot of money for these paintings.”

“So then what?”

“I’d been doing this for about a year, almost non-stop, but I wanted to try something new. I wanted to paint the human form, specifically the female form. So, I got my wife to pose, naked, in front of me and the easel I had, but...”

“But, what, Tom?”

“The paintings never looked like her. You see, I’d always paint using my gut. My instincts. The colours just kind of flowed. If I was ever good at one thing, it was that. But my wife, you see, she was blonde, and somewhat plump, especially after giving birth to our two daughters. But this girl, the ones in the paintings I was now doing, she was different. Completely different.”

“How so?”

“Well, for starters, she wasn’t blonde. She was a brunette, and looked about 16, maybe 17. The kind of girl you’d see in the 1970s with perky tits and beautiful, bright, green eyes that were so full of life.”

“Was your wife mad?”

“Extremely so, but she’d come around and try and understand where I was coming from. I mean at best she could empathize, but she could never really understand, y’know?”

“I suppose.”

“For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why I was painting this one girl, much like I couldn’t understand why I was painting that same field with those horses over and over again, just in different positions and poses.”

“I’m getting the feeling that you figured it out?”

“Yeah. It was about half a year after I started painting this girl, when I was doing a show at the Whitney, when I saw her.”

“Her? Wait, you mean the girl from your paintings? She was a real person?”

“Yes. I had forgotten all about her, well, not entirely. I guess I had repressed those memories I had of her so that it seemed like I had forgotten her. As soon as I saw her, everything came back in a rush, so much so that it physically made me dizzy. I grabbed my wife’s arm, and she knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. I still haven’t.”

“Why, what had happened?”

“Nothing traumatic, at least I don’t see it as anything like that. It was around 1972, or 73. I was about...18 at the time. She was 16, I think. We had been seeing each other, and we both decided to skip the very last day of school before it let out for the summer, and wanted to have a picnic. I had my dad’s car, a beat up old station wagon, a fresh pack of cigarettes, and $5 in my pocket. I felt like I was on top of the world. She must’ve felt the same way too, because before we knew it, we were lying in the back seat of the car, naked and panting. It was so perfect, the open field at dusk, and in the distance, a farmer letting out his horses into the field.

“The field and horses from the paintings...”

“Yeah. I had been with girls before, but I had never felt like this. We had connected, and it was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel so...”

“Alone?”

“Yeah, alone. But, I wasn’t willing to commit, at least not yet. I was 18, and she was 16. I wanted to experience the world, but she wouldn’t have any of it. I had taken it from her-”

“Her virginity?”

“Yes, I had taken it, and she wanted to be with me. I couldn’t, at least not then, so I did the only thing I thought I could do at the time, and that was cheat on her with her best friend. It got me home free to do what I wanted, without having this girl tag along with me everywhere.”

“But you said you loved her.”

“Yeah, I did, but in the first love kind of way, the one that got away, but didn’t at the same time, y’know. So, I see her at the Whitney, and she comes up to me. Her eyes, those green eyes, still had a bit of her old sparkle, but you could tell that she was full of sadness. Her life hadn’t turned out the way she had always pictured it, and I suppose, deep down, she always blamed me.”

 

I went to the window and lit up a cigarette. Christine didn’t like me smoking, but she was too enthralled in my story to say anything. I took a deep breath, letting the smoke swirl around in my mouth before blowing it out the window, letting the smoke sail away with the winds.

 

“She asked me out to dinner, and I said yes. I figured we could catch up, and my wife didn’t seem to mind. So I picked her up from her house and we went out. It was fun, and it brought me back to those nervous days of teenage flirting; full of laughter and booze. She told me about her life. The guys she’d date and dump, only to get back with again later. She said she wanted to change, to do better. To finish up and get her university degree, and start fresh. She had all of these dreams, but with every exhale of smoke from her cigarette, they all seemed farther and farther away. I felt bad, and I wanted to apologize, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I don’t know why. Eventually, around 1am, I drove her home, and she sat in the car, looking at me. She was drunk, and I had a slight buzz.”

“You were drinking and driving?”

“Besides the point, Christine,” I brushed her off.

“After a bit, she asked me, in her sexiest, albeit, horribly drunken state, if I wanted to come in. I said no, that I had to go home to my wife. Her eyes and face immediately changed, and she pulled out her second last cigarette, lit it up, and slammed the door as she got out of the car. I sat there for a moment, wondering if I should say anything, but I just put the car into drive and drove off, leaving her standing outside her house. I remember looking through the rearview window, and seeing the wind blow through her hair, the exact same way it had done when we were young.”

“What happened next?”

“Well, I was at home the next day, and I got the call. She had died in a fire. She had fallen asleep with her last lit cigarette burning, and one of those embers fell into her carpet, and her house went up in flames. She died, alone, drunk, and completely heart broken. And it was my fault.”

“No, Tom-”

“Don’t, you’re not my therapist. Well, not really Christine. You’re a friend, someone I came to talk to, not get pity from.”

“But-”

“Leave it. What that all left me wondering was, she had all of these dreams, and all of those memories haunting her. She wanted something from her life, and in the end, she fell short of the mark she had set herself.”

“Yes, where are you going with this?”

“Well, what is someone to do when all they have left are their memories? What are they supposed to do with them, and when they die, what will become of their memories? All I have left of her, Christine, are my memories, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Memories, Tom, are restructured experiences from the past. All you can do is share them the best way you know how, so that they are not forgotten. So that she, and you, are not forgotten.”

Tapas EaswarComment