Painting a canvas and watching a single drip of white run down the white canvas. And it just doesn’t accelerate smoothly from top to bottom, it proceeds with caution, accelerates and stops and shifts a bit and continues again, until it reaches the bottom and spreads along the edge where the canvas rests on the easel.

I spent some time watching. Watching the light change in the room. And this spot on the wall that turned out to be a spider- that didn’t move until the sun was hitting it directly. And somehow it worked its way down by the curtain rod where it was lost.

And suddenly I was a father for the first time and then a bit later came another.
Suddenly the second baby was a boy, and in an instant he was in school, and then off to college.
Suddenly he was gone. Memories and ashes.
And I went from being a father… to being a grieving father.
That was three years ago. And I still lose my breath.

I moved on. And yet I am still here. I think it may be relative. Keep moving. Keep breathing. Painting and writing and confiding in a host of people that I am not alright. I think about it and talk. I plan and talk. And no one around me seems alarmed at all. They all seem okay. I guess there is no such thing as moving on.

I paint quickly. And I like splashes and drips. But they aren’t usually in the finished work. There are layers- washes and glazes, and then adding shadows and highlights with a detail brush and the top layers are slower and more careful. There is simply no end to how detailed or fine I could go… except that I will lose the splashy feeling and the colors will dull… the motion of the brush strokes, and all the little errors and spontaneity- that gets lost- and I think there is something to roughness and sketchiness. There has to be something living in the canvas, something organic and spontaneous and unplanned- even when it is all planned.

This canvas has been blank, sitting there for two weeks. And I haven’t decided what I am painting yet.

You think after three years, this would be getting better. Painting or grieving or being that father. But it was too sudden. There was no way to prepare. And so I am left here. Struck dumb. Fragile. You write it out. And in all the words, I try to make sense of what will never be acceptable to something deep in my psyche. And so I have eaten too much and exercised too little. 20 extra pounds. And my hair is grayer. I smile less. And tire easily. And I want so much just to sit and sip tea in a chair with my cat. So I made an appointment with my doctor and I have in my pocket the number to a psychiatrist my insurance will pay for. But I haven’t called.

And I think of writing. But I don’t write. If a thousand words could bring you back… If love was all we needed… If a thousand tears would have saved you- You left, Ethan, before the story was done.

And what do “they” want? Those friends and family. They care. That is sincere. But the problem would be that at the end of the visit, my son is still just memory and ashes… and that really is unacceptable. I may get “better”. But that doesn’t bring him back. Not for a moment. And I get the sense that after three years no one wants to talk about it anymore. No one sees the value in just sitting there in silence and breathing the same air. Everyone seems to want me to be able to do something, or talk or say something… and they don’t seem to realize that all I want them to do is to be here.

There is some fear… after I sketch it out- that figure using blue or yellow ochre, and then add in the broader colors- the light and dark areas, and then sort of cartoon in the details- This is the underpainting. I know where the highlights will be… and the overall form has to be there. But I have moved entire eyes around later on. So really the motion- capturing something of the subject is important. After that it is all details and light and with every wash or glaze, those get half lost anyway. There is also fear that I should have stopped sooner, or that I should keep going over it. Again. One more time.

And I learned that white is almost always never white. It starts titanium white. Sometimes a warm tint that no one sees… or some little bit of turquoise to make it cool. You can’t really tell. It is white, only in relation to what is around it… and made with half a dozen other colors, or ten, or a hundred. It is washed once with pale blue gray, and then added back in pure and washed again with a muddy yellow ochre. Or maybe a thin burnt umber. It is telling the story. Directing the eye. And at some point it is magic. There is this feeling that I get. You wash it and everything looks dull and distant and then add back in the shadows. The dark brown. The blue. The black. And finally brighter colors and highlights.

Black may or may not be black. But white is almost never actually white. Except that final layer… the detail brush. It isn’t real. It isn’t in the photograph. A spot in the eye. A reflection. Pure sunlight reflected off the tip of the nose. A single hair catching that.

I don’t want to be too “real”… but at the same time I don’t want to lose that bit of realism. It is such a fine line- resolution- at what distance does this picture make sense and at what distance does it dissolve into colorful brush strokes? I want to catch that. And I don’t want to lose it. It is a tenuous balance.

That picture up there? It is Ethan at the Orange Show raceway. We watched some races. And then a demolition derby which made Marquita laugh and laugh. And that surprised us. At some point I snapped this picture. Of Ethan. Of this boy that didn’t like his picture taken. It is telling a story about a family of four at a raceway. And it didn’t “come out.” It is like he is a ghost. Like suddenly he is fading away.

Today I was at work and I saw some message from Photobucket about new stuff, and I clicked on this account that I hadn’t visited in 9 years or so. So I scrolled through and posted it to facebook, which is one of things Photobucket was saying you can now do. There he is. In all the old photos. Forgotten here some years ago.

He was here. And just like that he is gone.

On facebook, I read through how different fathers dealt with the anniversary day of their child’s death. Some call it an “angelversary” but that seems just a little weird for me. One guy does service and buys gifts and I like that.

Life can be suddenly different.


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