It’s 4:30 in the afternoon and you’ve just picked up the boys from school. You’re 16, they’re 12. One is your natural brother, one your cousin, who joined the family at age 5. It’s pouring, the windshield wipers don’t work, and you have to stop at the store to get something for dinner, because in the rush to get everyone to school, you forgot to take something out of the freezer to thaw. You dash into the store, throw some things into the cart and pull out your credit card to pay. You know that by the time you get back to the car, the boys will be fighting. They always fight. Unless there’s blood or broken bones, you ignore it.
Dinner’s over, the kitchen is cleaned up, the boys are done with their homework, showered, hugged, kissed and ready for bed, the first load of laundry is in the washer and you’re itching to get to your room to work on the painting you started last night. Acrylic, water color and India ink on Strathmore illustration board, larger than life, a long-haired woman’s face, half concealed by a large, heavily veined, tropical leaf.
Mom is “on strike” again, depressed and aggrieved, angry with “your father.” Over dinner, she occasionally pauses from her reading to look up over the top of her glasses at you with an owly glare. You’re Daddy’s girl, his only daughter, his favorite daughter, but he is in New York on business, the older boys are at college or out on their own now, and you’re on your own. Dinner is silent, as everyone tiptoes around her, walking on eggs. She pays no attention once you have left the table.
It’s after midnight, the television is blaring and you hear a loud thump, followed quickly by the sound of glass shattering. You let go of your brush and run to the kitchen. She’s on the floor, the glass of Early Times broken in pieces, the sticky liquid splashed over the cupboard and refrigerator. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. You turn off the TV, clean up the mess and then somehow, you stand her up and get her to the bedroom. You undress her, do your best to wash her face and comb her hair, cover her up and turn out the light. You rush back to your room to paint.
As you put the finishing touch on your painting, the alarm goes off in the boys’ room. It’s 6:00am. Somehow, the laundry is all done, folded and waiting to be put away. You run in, make the coffee, jump into the shower, wash your hair, brush your teeth, put on your face and get dressed before banging on the boys’ door to roust them and get them ready for school. Back in the kitchen, you pour cereal into bowls, cut up some strawberries and put the milk and orange juice on the table. Ahhh, that first sip of coffee! You never did go to sleep last night, you never even started your homework, but YES! you finished your painting and it’s perfect, just as you saw it in your mind’s eye.
Breakfast is over, the boys grab their book bags, you grab your purse and books, hunt for the car keys that you forgot to hang up in their usual place in your rush to start dinner last evening. It’s a beautiful, sunny spring morning, and it doesn’t matter that the windshield wipers don’t work. You drop the boys off, briefly contemplate going home to sleep, think better of it and go on to school. All the while, and the whole day long, in your head, you see your next painting, every detail becomes clear, because in the end, it’s always about the painting. That’s all that really matters.