Title: The Making of an Artist
Pairing: Brian and Justin
Time Frame: Fluctuates between 3 distinct periods in
Justin's life: his childhood, his years in NYC, and the present.
THE MAKING OF AN ARTIST - CHAPTER THREE
"Come on, Justin! You've been skirting the issue for days!" Your husband just won't let it go as he follows you into the laundry room, a fierce look of determination plastered all over his face. "Have you forgotten about reading me the riot act all those years ago for shutting you out? And now you're doing the same thing to me!"
"Brian, please. I can think of so many other ways to spend our Saturday." You throw a load of paint rags into the washer and measure the detergent in a cup. "Do we have to do this now?"
"When would you like to do it?" He folds his arms in front of his chest.
"Never?" Setting the water temperature on cold, you start the washer and attempt to leave the room. You're left with no choice but to exhale loudly in aggravation when he becomes an immovable barrier in front of the door. "This is nothing like that." You meet his dogged stare. "I don't have cancer, and I'm not afraid you're going to leave me. I'm not doing the same thing to you at all."
"No? You're not trying to handle this on your own?"
Maybe you haven't been the most forthcoming in recent weeks, but it's not because you want to hurt or deceive him. You think it's more about self-preservation than anything else.
"I just want to know what's going on up there." He places a hand on your shoulder, his stance softening. "Why you lock yourself in your studio during the middle of the night and sneak back into bed hours later as if you'd never been gone."
"Not . . . every night." You hang your head and look at your shoes.
"You really freaked me out that time I found you sobbing."
He may have a point. Memories of stirring Debbie's chicken soup and a pigheaded partner who'd rather have thrown you out of his life than level with you come back to bite you in the ass. "I'm sorry, Brian. I'm not meaning to shut you out. It's . . . it's just hard to talk about." You feel safe in his arms when he hugs you, sensing your resolve weakening.
"I'm here whenever you're ready."
Hesitating only a moment more, you take his hand and walk out of the laundry room, crossing the service porch and heading for the back stairs. The ones that run all three flights up to the attic. "A picture's worth a thousand words . . ."
"And lastly, our Young Artist of the Month is a third grader in Mrs. Martin's class, Justin Taylor. In addition to this certificate of achievement, Justin will receive a coupon for a free Happy Meal, redeemable at any participating McDonald's restaurant in the greater Pittsburgh area." The principal of your elementary school calls you up to claim your prizes, handing them to you during the mid-morning awards assembly and politely clapping along with your fellow students and the parents who could make it.
You're more impressed with winning a Happy Meal than the art accolade. Breaking into an ear-to-ear grin, you wave at your dad as he stands in the multipurpose room filming you with the newest state-of-the-art video camera Taylor Electronics is selling. "Do you think they'll give me an ice cream cone, too?" you ask your mom when the award winners are permitted to mingle with their families before it's time to go back to class.
"I don't know, honey. We'll have to see. I wonder what Daddy's talking to your P.E. teacher about."
You turn around and see him in a heavy discussion with Mr. Knowles while he packs the camera into its case. At eight years old, you're not oblivious to the fact that your dad would have liked it more if you'd just become your school's Young Sportsman of the Month instead.
"Yeah, I'm finding my way around a little better now. I hung out in Tompkins Square Park all morning. That place is amazing." You walk out of your room and head to the kitchen for a soda, bragging to Daphne on the phone about all the discoveries you've been making in New York. Mouthing hi to Josh while he slaps an assortment of cold cuts between slices of wheat bread, you reach into your side of the fridge and listen to Daph complain about her major crisis at work. You wait for a lull and then change the subject. "So, have you seen Brian lately? No, we haven't broken up! It's just different now. We're gonna work this long-distance thing out." Eyeing your roommate and his jumbo sandwich, you decide it's time for your own lunch. "I'll call you tomorrow, Daph, okay? I'm starving. Yeah, he's right here." You hand Josh your phone when she asks if she can yak at him for a minute.
You can't be accused of eavesdropping as you open the cabinet and scan through the groceries you'd bought. He's sitting only ten feet away from you at the dinette set, sweet-talking his way through the conversation with Daphne giggling so loudly that even you can hear her. They must have rekindled whatever they had going during that term she studied here in the city. You microwave your Cup-O-Noodles and plop down on the other side of the table just as Josh ends the call.
"Hey, I'm glad I don't have any classes today. I've been wanting to talk to you." He pushes a mound of NYU letterhead paperwork out of your way.
"Yeah?" You're happy for them even if it's kind of strange that Josh is going to tell you about it instead of your best friend.
He washes the last bite of his sandwich down with half a glass of milk and gets right to it. "I'm sure you can tell she has a problem. Never met a drop of booze she didn't like. Beer, wine, hard liquor. Anything she gets her hands on. She just doesn't know when to quit."
"What?!" You wrinkle up your forehead and stare at him. "Daphne doesn't drink. Well, no more than the rest of us. She doesn't have a problem."
"Not Daphne. I mean Aunt Meg."
"Oh! Jesus, I thought you meant . . . Um, well, I did watch her go through a bottle of burgundy almost by herself when she had me over for dinner. I only had one glass, but she kept refilling hers while we talked. And we talked for a long time."
"She insists it's nothing to worry about every time I bring it up, but it's getting worse. Like the first night she met you. She's totally embarrassed about drinking so much while she was over here waiting for you."
You shake your head and laugh. "I didn't even know who she was."
"She knew who you were, though. As soon as I told her Daphne's artist friend was going to be my new roommate and told her your name, she showed me the article and said all the art majors at school had been talking about you for weeks. I guess your story's encouraging because they're hopeful something like that could happen for them, too. Aunt Meg couldn't believe you were really going to move in with me."
You're not exactly sure why you find yourself grimacing. It could be that the mention of the review brings up thoughts of the critic who wrote it. Or maybe it's the pressure of learning from first Meg and now Josh that NYU's art department's been following your every move. Identifying with you for Christ's sake! It's more than a little daunting. "I didn't realize that I'd, um . . ." You scratch at your ear out of habit.
"Hell, yes, Justin! Your reputation precedes you! If it makes you feel any better, the business school doesn't have a clue who you are. Except for me. And that's only because of my aunt. God, I hope I can convince her to check out some AA meetings." Josh finishes his milk and glances at the forms he'd swept out of your way, remembering something he's supposed to tell you just before he gets up to toss his sandwich plate into the sink. "Aunt Meg said to give you these."
Skewing an eyebrow in curiosity, you look down as he pushes them back over to you. NEW YORK UNIVERSITY STUDENT ENROLLMENT PACKET is stamped on the top one.
"You can get all the pictures you want later, Jen. We have to leave now!"
"But he looks so adorable in his Yankees uniform. Just one more."
Your dad huffs and totes his toddler out the door to strap her into her car seat, a bit peeved that his family outing to the neighborhood park and ball field is getting off to such a hectic start. Signing you up for Little League after talking to your P.E. teacher, he thought taking you to practice was half the fun, making friends with the other fathers in the bleachers and cheering you on while you learned the fundamentals of America's favorite pastime. And now you're almost late for the first game.
"So are you ready to play, son?" He looks at you in the rearview mirror on the short drive to the park and makes sure you're paying attention. "Just remember, you have to throw with your right hand. The one you eat and draw and write with. The other one has your mitt on it. Don't throw with that one."
"Okay." You nod at him even though the promised pizza at Chuck E. Cheese after the game is pretty much all you can think of.
"Oh, Craig, lighten up. Little League is supposed to be fun for the boys." Your mom smiles at you, reaching over the seat to hand your wailing sister a small toy out of her diaper bag.
Your coach is no fool, using you and Timmy Reynolds as bench warmers for eight innings of the game. He only sends both of you in at the bottom of the ninth because of some fairness to all players guideline he's held to abide by. "Justin! Justin! What are you doing?" he shouts when the ball just happens to roll up to your feet in the outfield.
You really don't know what all the fuss is about, picking it up with your left hand and hurling it back in with the same one. But first you have to wriggle out of your glove since you can throw so much better without it.
"What?!" your highly irritated dad screams to the pitcher's father while three pint-sized Kansas City Royals slide across home plate. "You've never seen an ambidextrous kid before?!"
"I FOUND I COULD SAY THINGS WITH COLOR AND SHAPES THAT I COULDN'T SAY ANY OTHER WAY — THINGS I HAD NO WORDS FOR." - Georgia O'Keefe
"The framers will be here on Monday. Maybe you can manage to take the day off?"
"Monday. Hmm." Your husband squints off into the distance, mentally consulting his jam-packed calendar. "Sounds like a great day for an orgy to me!" He kisses the side of your face, standing with you in front of the five large paintings that will attract Sidney Bloom's buyers to your show faster than he and Lindsay can schmooze them into opening their checkbooks. "These are beautiful, Justin."
"Thanks." You wish you had more to say, but now that you've brought him up here, you're not quite sure where to begin. "Brian, I . . . Maybe we should just . . ."
"Although they weren't covered while you worked on them. It's that one, isn't it?" He points to the easel in the corner and then squeezes your hand in his.
"I don't even know why I started it. Something just takes a hold of me, and it doesn't let go until I mix it and dip my brush in it and splatter it into life. It's like I don't even have a choice, you know?"
"I get it. But the emotional tailspin you fall into when you barricade yourself in here at night worries me. What the hell are you fighting?" He's hit upon the very question to which you've given up all hope of finding an answer.
You hold your upturned palm out toward the corner and gnaw on your bottom lip. "You won't be satisfied until you see for yourself, so go ahead."
Raising your clasped-together fingers up to your mouth, you kiss his before turning him loose. "Just don't expect me to hold your hand. I'm not gonna paint today, and I don't feel like getting sucked into the black hole on this perfectly nice morning." You turn away as he inches toward the easel of disaster, occupying yourself with taking an inventory of the pigment jars on the shelf above the sink. Daring to envision a best-case scenario where your partner quietly investigates and leaves it at that, you laugh to yourself and come to your senses. You know him. You're waiting for his gasp when he lifts the sheet and gets an eyeful.
"Jesus Christ! Justin, this is—"
"Gruesome? Depressing? Crazy-making? Take your pick." Rearranging cans of solvent for no earthly reason, you hear him mumble a string of profanity as he stares at the canvas and then lowers its cover again.
Brian makes his way back to you and hugs you from behind. "That asshole never paid for what he did." Nuzzling the side of your neck, his voice breaks, barely a whisper. "To both of us."
"Now do you see why I don't want to talk about it?" Waves of relief ripple through your body, all the hedging and equivocating finally over. "I feel vulnerable enough when I'm working on it. I don't want to go there when I'm not working on it."
"Come here." He nudges you around to face him, blinking away the moisture pooling on his eyelashes. "I thought we'd dealt with the bashing and all the trauma it caused. Closed that chapter of our lives. But the pain's still raw even now." Wrapping his arms around you, your husband's stature tilts down to rest on yours.
You're transported to a place in time when physical and psychological limitations ruled your days, utterly unable to walk through a crowd of strangers without clinging to his side. It's been more than a decade since you've literally needed to lean on him.
Maybe he needs to lean on you.