I remember the day I met Sylvia Landers.
We were both freshmen in art school, and we were in the same freshmen art class. Our first assignment ever was to create a sunset, and we could do it however we wanted - paints, pottery, pencils - it didn’t matter. It seemed easy enough to me, and after two weeks, I’d accomplished it along with the rest of the class. I had created a beautiful landscape painting of a sun setting over a lake in the fall, shining through the red and yellow leaves, reflecting off the water.
Then, I glanced over at the girl beside me’s painting, and what I saw surprised me. It was a series of four-pointed star shapes, like a tessellation, all in pink, red, yellow, and orange in no particular pattern of color.
I remember I leaned over, and said to her, “A sunset?”
She looked from her painting, to mine, and then to me. “Yep!”
“The assignment said we could do it any way we wanted,” she reminded. “This is how I did it.”
I smiled at her. “I’m sorry, but… I don’t really see it - the sunset, in your painting.”
She chuckled, “That’s okay; not everyone understands abstract art, I know.” She pointed at the sun in my painting. “See that there?”
She put her painting beside mine. “That’s this, just zoomed in about a bajillion times. Same thing, different perspective.” She shrugged. “That’s the key to abstract art, in my opinion. See things differently than everyone else. Twist it in your brain, and make something no one else expects you to make.”
I smiled at her explanation, and nodded. It made sense. I extended a hand to her. “Parker Johnson.”
Her grin widened, and she took my hand. “Sylvia Landers.”
It was that simple, and in three months, the abstract painter and the landscape painter were dating.
It seemed to be both a perfect match, and a very imperfect one. I was introverted, and I found joy in reading, and painting scenes of nature. My paintings also had to have a certain aspect of accuracy to them; the genre required it. A landscape painting couldn’t be disorganized or blotchy. It required smooth, thin lines and the perfect blending of colors. She was a bit of a goofball, and could make anyone smile. She loved parties, and dancing, and her paintings were the exact opposite of mine. Structure didn’t matter, colors didn’t have to be perfect with every stroke (in fact, if they weren’t, that was almost better). She could just… paint, and nothing could stop her vision.
“There’s a science to it,” Sylvia told me once. “But a straight and narrow guy like you wouldn’t understand it.”
I agreed, I probably wouldn’t.
Not long after school ended, we got our own place: a studio apartment in the city. We were both successful early on, selling paintings, and showcasing them in various places. In addition to this, we both had part-time jobs, as a bartender and waitress at the same bar.
Six months after that, we got married, and Miss Sylvia Landers became Mrs. Sylvia Johnson, to my great pleasure. We were married for five years, still semi-successful artists, and still working at that bar. We had considered maybe starting a family, but we weren’t sure yet. Everything was perfect; nothing could have possibly happened to ruin it.
And I remember the day I got the phone call vividly: Friday, July 9th.
“Mr. Johnson, your wife was in a car accident. She’s currently in surgery; there was massive damage to her eyes from the windshield shattering, we’re trying to see if we can save them-”
And that was all I heard before I told that man that I’d be there in ten minutes, and I sped the whole way there. When I arrived, they were still operating. I waited for a long time, eventually alongside her parents, who lived nearby.
The doctor came out. She reported, “She’s alive, and we managed to save the structure of the eyes... but her sight won’t recover. She’ll be completely blind for the rest of her life. I’m sorry.”
The news hit me like a ton of bricks. In fact, I physically staggered back, and I landed back in the chair I had been sitting in before.
It’s over, I thought. She can’t paint blind; her career, everything she worked so hard for… it’s over.
They led me back to her room, where she was awake. She already knew. Her blue eyes were staring at the ceiling, dull and lifeless. She was pale, she looked exhausted, and she’d been crying. I could feel my heart aching and groaning.
“Mrs. Johson, your husband’s here.”
Sylvia started at the sudden noise, but then nodded. “Thank you…”
I slowly approached her, my legs shaking. I pulled up a chair and sat beside her. Gently, I took her hand, and she jumped again. I rubbed it softly, staring at the golden band around her finger. I closed my eyes as I felt her grip tighten around my hand. I looked up and she had turned her head towards me, but was staring right through me.
“Parker?” she asked quietly.
“Hey…” I replied, because I was simply unable to say anything else.
She sighed, relieved, and then closed her eyes. “Parker, I’m scared…”
I placed my hand on the top of the one Sylvia was already holding. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m right here, and you’re okay…”
She chuckled, and then turned her head back at the ceiling. “No, Parker, no I’m not okay…”
The day she was allowed to go home was probably the most depressing, for both of us. She had the red and white cane in her hand, and had been taught how to use it. She wore dark sunglasses now, even inside. I told her we were home, I told her nothing had changed in the house.
And Sylvia broke down, right there in the middle of the room.
There were many days like this: the day she had to quit her job at the bar with me. There was the day she tried painting with help from me, but I simply couldn’t direct her because I didn’t know her vision. Her first braille lesson ended in tears.
For weeks, I couldn’t even bring myself put a brush to canvas, and there were two reasons. One, I was working more because Sylvia was out of a job, and we needed the income. Two, I didn’t want to, not with her like she was. I didn’t want to have the conversation of: “Parker, what are you up to?”
“Painting,” I would have to tell her. And then she’d break down again.
I felt like I was bragging, in a way. Rubbing it in that I’m doing the one and only thing she felt she was truly passionate about that she could no longer do.
Eventually, I did have that conversation, because I was painting while she was studying her braille, and she was bored, and wondering.
To my surprise, she asked, “What are you painting?”
Her question brought a small smile to my face, something that was rare now. She wasn’t facing me, so I was staring mostly at the back of her head, but I could see just a little of her face.
I explained, “It’s of the city, outside. The skyline, against the setting sun.”
I saw her lips turn up in a smile for a split second. “Do you remember that first art class we had? With the sunset paintings?”
“I do,” I admitted.
She nodded. “I loved your painting then... I was jealous, actually.”
“Just a little,” she declared. “But only a little.”
For a second, I chuckled.
“I like it when you laugh,” Sylvia confessed suddenly, quietly.
My brow furrowed, and I glanced at her again. “Why’s that?”
“Certain sounds now… they make me happy. Your laugh is one of them.” At last, she turned. “You don’t laugh very often anymore.”
“Well, I…” I didn’t have an explanation for her.
“Parker, come here for a second.”
I put down my paints and brush, and joined her on the couch. She extended her hand to me, and I took it gently, again looking at her wedding ring. I intertwined my fingers with hers so our matching rings touched. In the setting sun coming in from the window, her skin glowed. It made her blonde locks shimmer like gold. She pulled my hand to her lips, and kissed it.
“I know this is hard, and I’m sorry,” Sylvia said. “And I-”
“Stop,” I declared. “Please, Sylvie, it’s really not a big-”
“Yes it is,” she insisted. “Parker, I want you to be happy.”
“I am happy.”
“Don’t lie to me; I can hear it in your voice.”
I sighed, “This isn’t your fault, Sylvie.”
“I know, I know. And you shouldn’t beat yourself up over this because it’s not yours either.” She rubbed my hand gently. “I miss the happiness in your voice. I can’t see your face anymore, all I have of you now is your voice, and your touch. And they’re both great things, but… I don’t like the way you speak when you’re not happy.”
“I… I can’t paint knowing that you can’t either,” I confessed. “It just hurts.”
“Don’t let my inability to paint get in the way of your art, Parker,” she told me. “Don’t let your vision go unseen just because I can’t see. I love you, I’ll support you, and I’ll… I’ll find something else to do.”
I squeezed her hand tighter. “You won’t be as happy…”
She shrugged. “I have you in my life: my loving and supportive husband. I’m perfectly happy with that. I can be happy with a new passion, I know I can. I just have to find a way. And find a new passion.” She leaned in, close to me, and put her head on my shoulder. “There will be something.”
I smiled, and I kissed the top of her head. “I’m going to paint you.”
Sylvia chuckled, and I saw her blush. “What?”
“I’m going to paint you,” I repeated. “I’m going to… do some reading, and get some references on how to paint people, and I’m going to paint you.”
Her smile stayed on her face for longer than I’d seen it since her crash. “Why paint me?”
I laughed quickly, and her smile widened.
“There’s the Parker I married!” she exclaimed.
I kissed her cheek. “You’re my new vision. And if you can’t see it, that’s okay, but I’m gonna make sure everyone else does.”
I stood up, let go of her hand, and walked away. She called back to me, “Parker?”
She giggled to herself, and turned towards the sound of my voice; she wanted to look at me, even if she couldn’t see. “I’m really happy.”
I smiled. “I am too.”
I remember the day I met Sylvia Landers.