The painter, my husband, considered the primed surface before him. He made a decision, selected a brush, and began.
It was his fourth year of undergraduate study, and already our home was filled with the offspring of his education. His taste was bold and abstract. Chromium oxide green and cadmium orange, large format, palette knife, and heavy strokes – these were his signature elements.
On this new canvas, he melded the tendencies of his favorite artist with the professor-prescribed style: abstract expressionism. And as visions of Jackson Pollock danced with Wayne Thiebaud in his head, all the best of his skill and style came together. Color, composition, and technique – he wielded them well, and the result was his finest work yet.
The painting was highly favored. We deemed it too valuable to sell.
But in time, a high school art teacher asked to buy it, and her offer was high. After some discussion, we reluctantly sold what my husband had made. I was surprised at my own sadness when his masterpiece left our house. I really did love that painting. It would now hang on a strange wall, admired by some and ignored by others, but never so deeply cherished as by the one who made it and the one who shared the joy of seeing it made.
It was still ours. Not in ownership, perhaps. But in the stretching of its form and the cutting of its frame, in every sweep of color, in every bend of line, in every choice of making, it was ours. In affection, it was ours.
Years passed. The painting hung in a teacher’s lounge. We moved away. My best hope was that we might one day produce a print of it from slide film.
A month before Christmas this year, my husband crowed that he already had my gift. I complained at not knowing what to get him. He assured me that he needed no gift. In fact, he said, my gift was really for both of us. It had been that costly.
On Christmas morning, he waited while the children gaped at their gifts and ravaged their stockings. And when the excitement had faded, he presented me with a small box. Inside was a postcard, and the photograph upon it brought a flood of memory.
The university quad. A white pickup truck. A diamond ring.
This was our painting.
He’s finally done it, I thought. He’s made a print of his finest work and framed it for me. Sure enough, on the back of the postcard was a note: “Look in the garage.”
I knew what I would find. It would be like his painting, but it would only be a shadow. Too flat, too sterile, and pressed behind too-perfect glass. I felt a flicker of fear that I would not be able to react well enough.
In the garage, a blue blanket concealed a 3-foot rectangular form. Here goes, I thought. While he watched, I pulled back the blanket at its corner.
I couldn’t help it – I thought of Thomas Kinkade. Had my husband made one of those add-a-few-brush-strokes-on-top prints? Had he really made a cheap copy of his own work, and then tried to dress it up? To hang in our own house? The idea seemed obscene to me. What I had feared was going to come true – I was not going to react well.
The blanket fully fell.
I knew that cherry frame. And there was no glass. And this was more than a few brush strokes. And no printer could dream of daring to lay down color that rich.
It was home.
Our beloved image was home from across the miles and the years. We joyfully prepared its place and raised it up to glory and to rest. I imagined that if this painting could speak our language, it would have quite a story to tell.
But it does speak our language. Beheld once again by the ones who first knew it, the painting tells how it was wrought of glory, and owned, and loved. It whispers of when it was lost. It creaks and moans at the memory of the long solitude, the greenness of fluorescent light, the eerie red glow of the exit sign at night. It shudders at the noise. It grimaces at the memory of cold cement on its back.
It never belonged there.
Now it sings, telling of warm hands on its frame. It is covered and carried. Voices speak from behind the veil. It has heard these voices before. It laughs, for it has not been forgotten. It is still known. It is still loved.
It shouts, for it has been sought. A distance has been closed. Someone has come to close it.
And now it weeps, for a price is paid. It is no small price.
The painting sighs at the touch of new hands – oh, but not new at all. Firm, sure, and so blessedly familiar. And now it stops and says no more, for no more need be said. It simply is, and just by being, it tells a story.
Of being made.
Of being known.
Of being loved.
Of being home.