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The Persistence of Memory

It is very clean here. The walls are white and the floors are wood. There is a single bench in the center of the room with such cleanliness that you yourself wonder if it is also a piece of art. A sort of hush is among the people that only a first grade teacher could appreciate. They, the people, drift around the room, as if to be absorbing the elegance from each piece of artwork and applying it to their gates. But the facial expressions really get me. The man beside me doesn’t move for all of ten minutes. He keeps the same furrowed brow and squinty eyed look displayed on his face the whole time. A woman who has been here for all of a few seconds, is excitedly bouncing from painting to painting with a smile full of amazement. Her eyes are wide and glistening under the display lights. There is a crowd of students that weave their way through the room. Clipboards in hand and pencils attentive, anticipating their tour guide’s instructions to jot down information. But all in a single glance, their grasps seem to loosen. In a single glance, their pencils seem to droop a bit. The anticipation is replaced with captivation. I watch as the tour guide scramble to get their attention before chaos. Artwork has a sort of effect on children; It entrances them. I’m sure there is some sort of study done on it. I must have heard it on the radio.

Well, before we get into it, I’m sure you’ll want to hear about where I was born, and what a lousy childhood I had, and how I frequently saw my parents, but how they rarely saw me. I grew up with my father and my mother. They are nice people. Strange as ever, but nice people. I was the youngest of three and by that time, my parents were far beyond raising another child. Always very occupied. We lived in New York City. I fear it is a rather odd place for a child to grow up. There is very little space in that cramped city for a childhood. Everyone expects you to grow up so quickly. When I was younger, I was very fond of my oldest brother, Mark. We would often go on walks in the streets, or through the parks. One mid afternoon, we are strolling. It is a Sunday and the sun is beaming onto our faces and the breeze feels clean as it whips past us. Mark is much taller than me and I have to look up at him to watch as the smile spreads on his mouth. But there is a feeling that starts to rumble inside my stomach. The sun suddenly grows unbearably warm and the breeze begins to become suffocating. I tug on his shirt a bit, but I can’t get the words out before it happens. He is sixteen at the time.

I wish that I had traveled. I’m not sure where, but traveled in general. And maybe I’m just having an early midlife crisis, but I’m staring at this painting, and it’s beautiful. The grasses are wisps of green and the city a stone cold grey. Barren. There is a wall of dark clouds, a barrier from the heavens. Isolated. The paths wind and the trees bend. Unruly. I wish that I had traveled so that I could understand how such a barren, isolated, unruly land could be so beautiful.

I never could remember much more of that moment, even after all of what the bystanders had told us. The car had stood out for the miles before, but seemed to disappear for the miles after. The police said it was rather odd actually. Odd that there would be a drive by shooting in the middle of day. Odd that there would be a drive by shooting in such a “nice” neighborhood. Odd that there would be a drive by shooting and only one of the people got shot. I guess it’s kind of convenient that I forgot that part, the bad part, because god knows that I would be a hell of a lot worse than I am now.

I’m standing in front of a painting, and it very simply doesn’t make much sense to me. Rather, it makes perfect sense. There is a crimson, that gives the painting an eery feeling, beginning at the top. Meeting the horizon, the crimson melts to a warm yellow. There are a few lonely mountains stranded in the background. I watch the captured moment of two people meeting each other and two elephants crossing each other’s paths. A single structure lying between them all, the center that none have crossed yet. But I can’t imagine that being all. There must be some hidden meaning, hidden reason. I’ve been standing in front of this painting for an hour. There has been very many people that accompanied me in standing. Did they find the hidden meaning, the hidden reason? All I keep think is how such a realistically painted image can also be so horribly unbelievable.

I was gone by eleven. There is a night that frequently plays through my mind. I had just had a bad dream. I frequently got them after the shooting happened. I didn’t want to wake my sister Margaret, so I crept down stairs to my parents’ room. The apartment was never very dark living where we did, but the moon was high and shown through our windows viscously. I remember the staircase being very long, but I wasn’t more than half way down before I heard my mother crying. The chandelier had blocked my view of her, so I edged a little closer. I could see the television flicker a bit on mute. I could see her hand tremble as she raised the glass to her mouth. I could see the slight loneliness in her eyes, the pain in her tears. I’m not sure where my father had been, but with the absence in his mind, came the absence of his presence. It hadn’t mattered much to me either way. Like I said, I was gone by eleven. They sent me to a boys academy in Vermont of the most prestige. I had reminded them too much of him.

I close my eyes. Not out of drowsiness. Not out of boredom. No, I close my eyes so that when I open them, I can feel the strokes. The strokes being whisked across the canvas. I close my eyes so that when I open them, I can be there. Be there looking out into the lonely island among the lonely sky. I close my eyes so that when I open them, I can see the colors. Truly see the colors in their purist form. No, I close my eyes so that when I open them, there is a painting and only a painting. Nothing in my mind other than the colors and the strokes that make up that lonely island among that lonely sky. And although the chaos is apparent and the thoughts are waiting, my mind is silent. With the exception of lapping waves along the San Giorgio Maggiore waterfront.

Of course I lashed out a bit. Thrown out of the first two, flunked out of the other three. Up and down the East coast I went, prep school to prep school. I became horribly good at being anyone other than myself. Made up lives you can’t imagine, stories you wouldn’t believe. Truly, it kept my adventure entertaining, kept my mind keen. My parents didn’t seem to care much either. I began to wonder if they were even notified. Notified of how much money they were spending to fund my trek along the shore. Notified of how much I absolutely needed them for once. But I always feared the truth. Whatever the truth was.

Serenity. It’s rather a harsh sounding word for its meaning. But there is a moment and I am standing. I can’t see behind me, for my path traveled is much too treacherous. The fog shields me from seeing below me. The sky is much too blue and pure for me to see above me. The world travels much farther beyond me and the horizon is hardly visible. No, it is a moment much too serene for me to have been there. For I am the harsh in the word serenity and this painting is its meaning.

I feel very small. For the person beside me is very tall. For the painting that I look into is very large. For the world around me is very endless. A clock hangs on one of the white walls. I can’t seem to understand how to read it, but the sun is high in the sky and it shines peacefully through the clean window into the clean room. The streets below are excitedly buzzing with many people, for it is a warm summer’s day. A fine Sunday mid afternoon, perfect for a stroll along side the cars, or through the park. But we are inside because he wanted to show me the art. We are sitting on a bench in the center of the room.

“Shh, do you hear that? A silence that only your first grade teacher would appreciate.” And I giggle even though I’m not sure what he means by that. I watch as he rises and drifts around the room, almost dancing. The people look at him as though he were completely mad. It is shown on their contorted facial expressions. But I feel the bliss that he brings into the room and watch as a smile spreads on his face. A smile full of amazement. But there is a feeling that starts to rumble inside my stomach. I run up to him and tug on his shirt a bit. It is time to go to the park like he had promised. And the smile fades slightly, but he nods. We continue to stroll on that fine Sunday mid afternoon. Until I seem to grow incredibly large. Until the person beside me is no longer there. Until the world around me comes to a halt. Until all I have is the painting that I look into.



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