Saturday, April 16, 2011

Daze of Summer

Her mentor is one of the most gentle people on the planet. He catches flies in his hands and sets them free outside his studio, and he flicks mosquitoes away rather than smashing them to death.

She often asked him why he is like this and he always said, "One day I will tell you."

One day she went to see him to show him her latest drawings and he said that he was busy and couldn't see them, but that he had some work he wanted her to do on the computer with some pictures she'd taken for him, that he'd set her up, he working on something next to her. As she went back to his "lair" he said, "Today might be a good day for you to understand what you have been asking so much about." She didn't really care one way or the other to hear the answer and for a moment she didn't remember the question, having assumed that he was a sensitive person who valued all things from birth, and her question was always asked in admiration. When he offered to tell her why he was so much the way he was, she misread him as being mischievous, expecting a funny story involving laughter and funny characters. He wanted her to read what he wanted her to know.

She sat down at his computer and he stood over her and muddled through various files until he found the story, "There," he smiled, "This should keep you busy for a while." He sat down behind her with his back to her while he worked on another project.

The story started off innocent and pleasant and took her to a place that existed a decade before her birth, when he was young. She could feel the hot, muggy air of the summer time, and smelled the grass and the flowers while she pictured him as a scrawny kid, much like her own kids, to a summer mixed with the ratio of 90% boredom and 10% excitement that her own summers had while growing up on the opposite coast much later.

Her mentor had never liked how she dressed as she covered herself in long skirts and hair covers, but she always blushed when he teased her and said that he always saw through her clothes and knew that she was beautiful, and when she asked him why he wrote a certain way, he explained that he wrote in a similar way to how she dressed-- when he wrote, he could reveal everything without describing, and that interested people would let their imaginations step in where he left off. His stories often left her breathless, but if one took the story apart, paragraph by paragraph, one could not say, "This is where he leads the reader on to the fascinating part." His work, both in words and in pictures, existed as a whole, interacting with the viewer's imagination and creating a newer work all together. Unlike how she dressed, his work had many more admirers, and people often came to him for advice on art, whereas few asked her for advice on dressing.

On that day, his story was not what she expected. As she met the people in his life from the time before she was born, she was jarred when he encountered his Abusers. As this was his story to tell, I will not tell you what had happened to him, other than to say that it was very horrible, and it was their threats and his forced silence for many years that got her the most. She wanted to pull him on to her lap and hug him, but as he was much older than her and quite tall, it would have been awkward had she tried. Unlike in his stories where the imagination of the reader filled in what he didn't say, he was graphic in what he described, and her imagination, which had only made his stories happier in times past, retreated, and she sat reading and rereading the horrible facts of the story without her imagination to help her.

She didn't know if he heard her gasp, and he kept typing as she absorbed what she had read. This wasn't about her, it was about him. She wondered why she was worried so much about her own reaction and how he'd perceive her. She had volunteered with Hospice and worked with victims of abuse in the past, but this wasn't something that he was sharing for her to comfort him or say anything wise. He was telling her as a friend about something terrible. After a deep breath, she asked him, "How do you heal from that?"

His voice was soft and he still wasn't looking at her, "You don't."

She tilted her head, and sharp pains circuited from her neck to her left shoulder and down her left arm and into her hands, coming back via her right arm and surrounding her shoulders and ribs and shooting back into her neck. She asked, "May I massage your neck?" He said she could, but asked why she wanted to massage his neck. She wanted to massage his neck because hers hurt, but she told him she just wanted to massage his neck, like it was normal for her to go around offering to massage people's necks. She often didn't make sense to him and this moment, in spite of its severity, still had her in it and she wasn't going to start making sense when she was brought into this part of his life. He let her massage his neck and he knew that she was putting all of her physical force into his muscles, but he hardly felt them because her hands were not strong hands.

She wondered if the abuse from 50 years ago was with him every day and every minute, but she didn't ask him that.

She wasn't ready to return to the cacophony of her own home, and she wasn't interested in editing the pictures that needed her attention. Regarding her work on the computer, he had been talking to her about retraining her eyes to see what is essential to the picture, to see and to represent the truth, while editing the picture's light and taking things out that didn't need to be there. Light had become a tangible entity to her and in the minutes following what she had read, she realized that there was more than just physical light to consider. There is a light in understanding, in knowing truths. Something can be ugly and still exist, but it doesn't have to take up the picture. She wasn't sure what she thought about the truth right then as she had cut out too much from pictures in an attempt to clean them up and therefore created idealized images, and realized that perhaps he was showing her something that was ugly, still managed to be part of someone she admired, and it didn't overshadow him. A few of her own demons were exorcised while she absorbed the lessons he was giving her: as much as the terrible event had hurt her mentor, he hadn't let it cripple him. She took out her omnipresent needlework while he worked on his project and they sat listening to Jackson Browne while drinking expensive tea from Styrofoam cups. She would go back the next week to discuss her work.

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