Saturday, September 8, 2012

Washed by the Water

I sat before another empty canvas and felt empty inside myself. Zosima wanted another. He was so patient with me, and so kind too. I couldn't tell him no. I didn't need the money. Why had I gone and bought this new canvas? Why had I bought the bright aqua colored paint and the deep sea green color? The brightness of the aqua fascinated me; something about the hint of green caught my eye when I had walked down the paint aisle this time. The wide canvas didn't quite fit on my kitchen countertop, but it rested there with the bright aqua and deep sea green bottles of paint resting on top of the canvas. I stared. I didn't like this method of inspiration. I walked away from the canvas and let it sit there for the next two weeks. I had to work around it to make my meals, but I chose to leave it awkwardly in the way rather than to touch it at all. I can't really explain the strange conviction I had when I went to move it aside the first time. I somehow sensed that if I leaned the canvas up against the wall where it was out of the way or if I tucked the bottles of paint into my cupboard with my other three colors, my painting career would be over.
That was a terrifying moment when the words "painting career" flashed through my mind. I still had my job waiting tables, and I wasn't ready to give up my meager paychecks just yet because they came with such regularity. The two checks from Zosima could cover my living expenses for almost a year, but they weren't regular income. There was no promise of another check - and there would certainly be no other check if I moved that canvas off my countertop before I filled it with paint.
I came home after work one night completely exhausted from the eight hour shift on my feet. I had also had a few nasty customers at my table, and I was ready to crash. I dropped my purse and my keys on the single chair in my apartment and looked at the canvas on my countertop. Everything within me wanted to put on my pajamas, brush my teeth, and crawl into bed, but the canvas held my gaze. I felt so angry that the canvas wouldn't let me go to bed, so  I grabbed the aqua bottle of paint and squeezed a massive amount of it onto the canvas. Cool paint covered my fingers as I rubbed them through the pool I had poured on the white space. I roughly pushed the color out to the edges with my open palms; paint oozed all around my fingers. I did it quickly and didn't care to cover every inch of white. Once the bright blue paint was inconsistently stretched across the white with gaps of blank canvas coming through, I picked up the bottle of sea green paint. I didn't even bother to clean the aqua paint of my hand, but flipped open the cap and squirted thin lines of green onto the bottom of the canvas, reaching up at different heights. My bright handprint jumped out from the paint bottle when I set it down, but my attention was now on the green squiggles on top of the still wet aqua paint.
The deep green and aqua didn't quite go together, at least they didn’t to match to me as I looked at them right next to each other on the canvas. The aqua was bright and excited, but the green was weighted and heavy. I couldn't figure out why I had decided to purchase the two colors at the same time, but I realized that I had never learned much about painting, and my first masterpiece was a total accident.
Frustrated with my perception that my talent was untamable, I smashed my left index finger into the first thread of dark green. Sandwiched between the aqua on the canvas and on my finger, a new color was born in a wide, waving stripe as I led my finger through the stream of green. It was still distinct from the blue, but somehow it looked less out of place. That doesn't look so bad, I told myself, Maybe I can do this painting thing. I only half believed myself, but nonetheless, I finished smoothing the next six squiggles of green into the blue background.
The blurry thick strands looked something like seaweed when I was finished. In fact, they looked a lot like seaweed, and I realized that something inside me had thawed enough from my last two paintings to let me paint life thriving in a deep, deep sea. My paintings weren't about regular income: they were reflecting something about my soul; they were telling my story, but I didn't know the end yet. Honestly, I didn't really understand the beginning. My first two paintings had come after powerful visions that I later connected to myself. I wasn't anywhere to be found in this underwater world on my third canvas. When that occurred to me, I realized that I also still needed to sign this new work, so I checked that there was enough blue paint in the lower right corner to allow my white signature to show up in the morning after the paint had time to dry.
Satisfied with that layer of paint on the canvas, I allowed myself to go to bed. That night I slept a deep and dreamless sleep and went to work with more energy than I remembered having in weeks. Before I left for work, I signed the corner of my painting and stuck the canvas in the window. I had a full day at the restaurant, and hardly thought about Zosima until I found the note from him when I got home that evening. Before I even opened the single sheet of white paper stuck in my door, I knew who it was from. When I opened the note I read in his thin slanted script, "I'll return for the painting tomorrow evening at 6pm. Z."
I checked my watch as I tried to remember what time I got off work the next day. It was a quarter to eight, and my shift had ended at seven. I was scheduled seven to four the next day and should be home before five; I would be there when Zosima arrived. A huge sigh left my lungs when I realized this, and I realized that I had been holding my breath since I noticed the note stuck in my door. I was still standing in the hallway, completely wrapped up in the terror of what Zosima's note might say to me. I thought he might be upset with me for not being there when he came. I thought he might have decided not to buy this new painting. I was filled with fear of rejection.
My insecurities in my painting didn't diminish through the next day at work; I still wondered if Zosima would like this one and had hours to anticipate his possible reactions. It would take years for my insecurities to fade away. When I finally did get home that night I spent a good deal of time pacing around my apartment before Zosima came fore the painting.
He knocked at 6:02, and I opened the door just seconds after his first knock. He greeted me kindly as he stepped into my apartment. I smiled anxiously at him before crossing to the window and pulling the canvas out. I carried it towards him facing out, trying desperately to read his facial response to seeing it up close. I'm not the best at reading facial expressions, but something about his look exuded paternal feelings when he looked from the painting to me. I could confirm that years later when I saw the exact same look on his face the day he held his son for the first time, but at the time I could only vaguely tell that he was happy with what I had created. Another thing that I thought I glimpsed in his face was an idea that he knew more about this story I was painting than I did. He had a check ready for me, and we traded his small piece of paper for my massive canvas as he told me, "I look forward to the next one, Abbie Smith."
"Okay." I still wasn't sure how to respond to his statement, but this time I knew there would be another painting. I knew now that I was telling a story as I lived it out, even though I wasn't anywhere to be found in that deep ocean scene.