I once fell in love with a girl who abandoned all of her art, never signed any of her paintings. She’d fold up little pieces of paper into lotus flowers & jumping frogs, and staple them to bulletin boards around town or leave them sitting on tables at the laundromat. At bars she’d pick at her beer bottle until the label peeled off in one piece, and leave it, a rose, inside the bouquet on the counter.
I said to her once, “I think I’ve been secretly hoping my words would redeem me.”
She said, “I’ve thought that too but I let it go.”
Though when she was commissioned for an acrylic she painted it over and over and over again.
She cried, “It has to be perfect.”
She cried, “It doesn’t look the way it looks inside my head.”
We went on long car rides and gazed at the mountains on the horizon. I tried to comfort her the best that I could. I told her she wasn’t alone, and rolled her blunts, and told her to keep moving. I loved her. She was beautiful. She pinned her hair back in neat rolls during the day but in bed let it flop over her face, fall over one eye. Her eyes. When I looked into her eyes it was like drinking a glass of water. Those words- a glass of water- repeated in my mind over and over and over again, involuntarily, like a poem I never wrote. Instead, I swallowed. I gazed.
It was words that eventually pulled us apart, or perhaps created a space from the very beginning. Sometimes when she grew quiet I needed reassurance she was still there, but when I’d ask she’d get upset. She got especially upset when I’d ask twice. Sometimes I need the same thing repeated over and over and over again until I hear it. Sometimes I need to say the same thing over and over and over again until I know what I’m saying. I don’t know why.
I told her, “I use words to get to other words.”
She said, “I think a lot about my words and once I say them I am done.”
She had a giant painting of orange mountains and light blue sky, of her Sedona. It looked like a drawing– forms created with lines and mostly canvas shining through. When I told her I loved it, she would smile and look at her feet. One day she confessed she didn’t believe me. I launched into its colors, its expansiveness, its bare quality. How only a few lines can indicate something.
“I love it the way it is,” I said.
She told me she didn’t know what to do with it.
When things grew bad between us, when my words and my questions pushed her further and further away, she painted over it. Yellow streaks resembling claw marks covered in larger, fuller marks of navy and violet, a hand pulling through water. I was so sad to see it go, but I didn’t tell her for fear she wouldn’t believe me. Before I left I’d gaze at the canvas and try to see through its layers. I left.
And now I don’t know which version I remember more.