I see him walking through the door. He looks good but like he’s been gently worn since we last spoke. He’s tall and his chest still looks chiselled beneath his light blue shirt, but his hair has retreated further from his forehead and the bits on top look wispy. He still looks like a Casanova, but now he is being pursued by his age. We broke up a year ago. He told me he was leaving me after he moved everything out of our apartment.
I realize that he is going to see my art display. My heart is pounding, filling up the spaces in my head. He’s about to see my red, bloodied artwork. Artwork designed by our break-up. Anyone other than him would never know this – it’s abstract – but that painful experience has been splattered all over these canvases. These were meant for strangers to hmm and haw at and pretend that they have some idea of the emotions the artist was trying to convey. They weren’t meant for him.
He could always read me: a doodle, a grocery list, paint spilled on a canvas, that’s all he would need in order to know just how I was feeling, even when I didn’t know myself. He worked so hard to have me open up; slowly chipping away at the protective shell I created throughout my childhood. My shell had thinned enough for me to feel vulnerable, enough for him to be confident that he knew me. He knew me and he left me.
|Kazuya Akimoto Art Museum|
I realize I’m staring. He’s reading the art show’s brochure. A pretty blonde girl walks up next to him. She stands on her tiptoes and whispers something in his ear. They laugh. He smiles at her and I feel sick. He looks up from the brochure and points down the hallway in my direction.
Shit, has he seen me? No, I don’t think so but they’re coming my way. I want to run but instead I decide to sit down and wait. My heart is pounding, my chest is getting tight. There are two displays before he will reach me.
This was supposed to be a good day, a day when I could see the fruits of my pain without tremendous attachment to the experience. Pain is worth something. This is especially true for a self-obsessed artist like me. But then it has to go away. It has to be gone to make room for new pain. Seeing him now has split open the scar on my heart, the gap is not as big as before, but it will take time to heal. I smirk, reminding myself, “Time wounds all heals.” He sees me, I’m not sure how much time has passed since I’ve sat down but noticing him recognize me pulls me out of my pity party. He’s about to read my paintings.
He speaks: “Rachel! Hi. I, uh, I had no idea.”
The blonde looks over. I am suddenly acutely aware of her presence. I wish she would go away. She is adding to the pain of this moment while simultaneously making it less about me.
He was supposed to be gone, far away from this godforsaken place, never to return. I respond: “Brad. I thought you moved to California.”
The blonde is at the display next to mine. She hears us. She looks over; I see various emotions flash across her face. I don’t have time to figure them out. I quickly forget about her and look back at him. He’s standing there in front of me. I am aware suddenly of my ferocious need for answers. I want to know why he left me but didn’t leave this desolate city. I want to know why he didn’t follow his dreams to California. Why he didn’t follow his dreams and take me with him. Why is he here in front of me, witnessing my heart splattered all over these canvases?
“I was ready to leave but…”
The blonde comes over. She’s smiling but looking straight at him.
Maybe she’s the answer.
She squeezes his arm. “Brad, I have to go to the washroom. I’ll be back in a minute.” She leaves after flashing me a slight smile and a worried glance but not in a way that conveys I’m competition.
Maybe it’s something worse. Maybe I’m her future.
Now it’s just us, but we’re not us. We’re not anything. The only proof that we ever existed, other than my pain at this moment, is on these canvases.
Naomi Ross works as an addictions counsellor and is busy planning her October wedding. She is currently attending Brian's creative writing class at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre, her first writing class in 10 years. She often dreams about days filled with walking the dog, drinking coffee, reading books (with a cat on her lap), all the while working on her writing.
See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.