Shaping my Style:
Of Transience, Melancholy and Morbidity, Pt 6
November 1, 2013
“Do you see them?” I asked my brother as the sun warmed the wooden walls in our bedroom.
Once the pain had subsided, once I no longer perched upon the sticky vinyl chair under the feared cookie jar, once I had effectively, silently memorized every letter and word in many of my favorite books, I boldly walked into the kitchen one Saturday afternoon while my father sat on a chair watching my mother fry chicken.
It was payday, and on paydays, the house almost seemed festive. Almost.
I placed the illustrated book on the table, opened the cover, motioned for my father to bend closer to me, and read him the story from start to finish.
Half way through, my mother, unaccustomed to hearing my voice, stepped over, spatula in hand. I couldn’t help but warily glance her direction, wondering if she slowly wiped it on her apron in preparation for a mis-utterance on my part. After only a moment’s hesitation, enough time for my father to call my siblings to the kitchen as well, I continued reading the complex sentences with multi-syllabic words.
When I had finished, I gently closed the book, picked it up, and walked out of the room, alone.
“The college library has offered me bookshelves,” I informed him. “Since I was the only faculty member to help with the purge, I have first choice, and I may have as many as I would like,” I explained in a phone conversation we were having a few afternoons after he had flown back to Chicago. “Shall request enough to accommodate my books from home to place them in my office, or shall I box them so I can take them to Chicago next summer?”
“Go ahead and get enough to keep them in your office,” he slowly responded.
After a few more moments of strained small talk, when the call ended, tears streamed unabated down my face. As I began sobbing, I knew it was over.
That evening, as I instructed my Art Appreciation students to begin their own art-making project, I picked up a brush for the first time since my junior year in high school.
Less than two years later, portfolio intact, clothes and books in tow, I left Colorado to begin my life at the Art Institute of Chicago. I cried when the sales associate at Macy's assured that my newly ordered mahogany bookshelves would soon arrive at my own apartment overlooking the Lake, tears my daughter never quite understood as she hugged me before leaving the furniture showroom.
As I walked out of the kitchen, listening to the chatter of my astounded family members, I knew my fear-induced silence, to an extent, had been broken. I was relieved that I had at last learned to speak correctly. I didn’t realize I had also learned to read. Yet even now, my speaking voice and speech patterns still reflect the formality of complexly written words on a page.
“See what?” my brother asked.
“The fairies flying in our room. They are always here on sunny mornings. I lie very still at sunrise so I won’t frighten them,” I explained, adding, “Look, when I move my blanket, they fly away.”
“Tee Gee, that’s dust.”
“No,” I insisted, “dust is ugly, stinky and grey.”
My single daily indoor chore of coating every piece of wood in the house with polish and carefully, thoroughly wiping it back off acquainted me well with the smell and texture of dust.
I would have preferred to wash dishes where I could imagine I was making my own fountains similar to the frogs that sat outside of the Public Library, one of my favorite places to visit. But my allergy to harsh dishwashing detergent left me only with the dust cloth. It was dirty, sticky and heavy, not light and beautiful like the small, colorful, glittery specks flying through the sun.
“The fairies floating through the air look like shiny little rainbows. See? They even change color as they fly, just like they do in our books. They are too small for us to see their bodies. We just see their wings.”
“Watch,” he disgustedly responded, furiously shaking his blanket, stirring the air. He instructed me to follow a single, brilliantly sun-drenched fleck as it floated through the air.
Several moments later, I watched as the effervescent speck fell onto the windowsill, positioning itself darkly upon the thin layer of dust, knowing that later in the day, I would wipe it away with my dust cloth.
I rolled over, listening to the mourning doves, closing my eyes tightly to contain the stinging tears.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”