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Portrait of the artist in black and white

Posted Nov 10 2008 4:51pm
You are born into the world. You are perfect. Nobody knows what you are thinking. You are treasured, the mother and father show you off to everyone, they take your photograph and send it to the others, who all agree that yes, you are perfect. You are celebrated. Plans are made for your future. Maybe you will be a surgeon, look at the long fingers. Maybe you will be a judge, taking in everything, attentive and pensive.

You grow. Now the smiles have dimmed, the corners of the mouths less strained by joy, the eyes less sparkling. Worried. On the phone, they talk about not talking yet, but hopeful, but worried, but still in normal range. What’s the word for this? Parameters. You rearrange the alphabet blocks, taking in everything.

They buy you lots of books. They show you the pictures but you are mesmerized by letters, the words. They laugh. They don’t laugh when your sister reads. You are the funny one. Maybe you’ll be a comedian.

You are getting older now. Everyone agrees that it’s okay. You are perfect. Perfect as you are. Somehow, this sounds different. Sometimes at night, when she thinks you are asleep, the mother leans over you and whispers. Talk, please just talk. But this may be a dream.

School starts. Everyone agrees that you are special. Maybe you’ll be a clerk in a store. Maybe you’ll be a dishwasher. You talk now, but it’s too late, and something about your talking is…just wrong. It seems no one knows (still) what you are thinking. Words seem to make it worse. You try other ways.

At dinner there is salt and pepper. You move them close together. Together. You are becoming seasoned. See how the opposites define the set, complement each other. The contrast is pleasing, the variety purposeful. The mother and father exchange a familiar look. More worried, less hopeful. Will it never end, this lining things up?

How was school today? You turn the pepper upside down. This is how you feel, you are being slowly emptied. What is the word, what is the word for this? Go to your room, the father says. You feel broken now, and you sweep your hand across the table, send the pepper flying, crashing into the wall. This is acting out. A behavior. Go to your room.

You go. You draw now, salt and pepper shakers, hundreds of them. This goes on for months, for years and you are good at it. People shake their heads, this is called perseveration. You don’t care anymore, you are the best salt and pepper shaker artist anywhere. Someday you will be celebrated, your salt and pepper drawings in galleries, each “S” and “P” rendered carefully, each glass cylinder three quarters full, as clear and reflective as they ever hoped you’d be.
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