Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Portrait of Tony

Tony at Seventeen, 2012

mixed media on Rives BFK, 22" x 30"

After my experience in the the stone shop, Tony has been on my mind. I have so few photographs of him, and could have sworn that I had given an envelope full of the ones that I do own to my son Eben and his wife. But they said, no, they didn't have them. And when I've searched for them in my albums and boxes and big Rubbermaid bins full of photos, I've had no luck. But one day last week, just before getting ready to leave the house, I felt compelled to look for them once again. I dropped everything and went to the closet in the spare bedroom where I keep all our old photos (this includes my father's massive collection - there are tons...) and like someone acting out a hypnotic command, like a homing pigeon, like an arrow heading for the bull's eye, I mechanically yanked out several of the large bins, took the lid off one, and there they were, the photos I'd not been able to find, including the one at the top of this post, Tony's high school yearbook picture, taken when he was seventeen. I quickly scanned this pile of images and put them in a digital file.

After finishing a commissioned portrait in my studio later that afternoon, after the sitter left, and I was alone in my studio, I felt compelled again - but this time to draw Tony's portrait. I brought up his image on my laptop and enlarged it until he was looking at me, filled my brush with paint and set to work. And while working on it, I cried. Alot.

Something has shifted inside of me this week. Some door in my heart has opened.

This brings to mind one of the last bits of wisdom imparted to me by my grandmother, who lived to be 100.In the final weeks of her life, Gramma took my hand and sandwiched it tightly between both of hers, then looked me in the eyes and pronounced simply, urgently,

"Never hate, Martha. Never hate."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How Spirit Works

Tony holding Eben, Scituate, RI, summer, 1974.

I got pregnant in late summer when I was 19 years old. The year was 1973. It seems incredible to me now, looking back from the wisened age of 57, that I thought of myself as a mature being at that time. Nineteen. Barely out of utero, psychologically speaking...
I was not married, and my boyfriend, Tony, was the same age as me. Well, one month older, to be exact. We were both so very young. And our relationship was far from healthy. When she heard the news of my pregnancy, Tony's mother decided not to send him to URI where he'd been accepted, but out of state to a school in Arizona (she was paying the tuition). I resented this mightily at the time, but later realized that she was protecting me. I attended a local Community College that fall while living at home with my supportive parents, and they were the ones who were there with me when I delivered a baby boy in the spring. Tony met our son Eben for the first time when he came home for the summer after finishing his freshman year. We found an apartment and moved in together - things were rocky, and I experienced the first incidents of abuse. Even so, in our naivete (thinking it would fix things) we got married. A sad but common tale, and things predictably (again, the prediction now voiced from 57 year old lips...) went from bad to worse. I had matured quite a bit by this point - having a baby sort of does that to a person! But Tony confessed that he was too young, and that he would have wanted to get married and have children with me, but much later, not now. He became increasingly abusive. I sought out a counselor at URI who told me that I had two choices: to get Tony to come in for couples counseling with me, or to leave him. Period. Tony refused to go to counseling with me, and after three months of this miserable marriage, I packed up and left.

I filed for divorce, and met Garry, my current husband of 36 years. We got married and moved to Maine in 1976. I never saw Tony again. I'd hear about him through his family - I knew that he'd gone back to school, and had spent some time in the service. Then I heard more disturbing news: his family's summer home had burnt to the ground, and Tony was suspected of starting the fire. I heard from some of his old friends that he'd been acting strange, how he would answer the door stark naked, and that he was delusional. They told me he thought that "some sailor" had fathered Eben, and they reported that Tony believed himself to be a CIA agent, and had even travelled to DC to do a "stake out" in a motel room. When he came back to RI, Tony went into a rage and chased after his mother with a kitchen knife. It was after that terrible and frightening event that he was institutionalized and finally diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Hearing all of this over the phone, far away and safe with my new husband and growing family in Maine, made me even more relieved that I had taken heed of that counselor's advice and had known enough to leave Tony. I had observed his strange behavior, and had frequently been the recipient of his verbal and physical attacks, but nothing this extreme. I had attributed these episodes to all the pot he smoked. Little did I know then that he was self-medicating. Poor boy.

Tony received treatment and was released from the hospital in the early 80's. His family recounts that he was the best they'd ever seen him, that he was taking medication and in good spirits. He embarked on a cross country car trip, planning to relocate to Riverside, CA, where he was born. He made it as far as Yosemite National Park, then disappeared. He's been missing ever since.

My husband adopted Eben when he was two, and we had four more children together. I rarely think of Tony, until Eben turns a certain way, and there I will see Tony in their same chestnut brown eyes, or graceful curve of lips. Or when he shows up in a dream. My dreams about Tony all have the same theme: I'm surprised and delighted to see him somewhere, or I'm calling him from a phone booth (remember those?) eager to tell him about Eben, who is now a grown man, seventeen years older than Tony was the last time I saw him, and a college professor with a PhD in American History, married to a terrific woman, with two beautiful children of his own. "Tony!" I say, "You need to come meet Eben! You'll be so proud of him! You two have much in common!" In the dreams Tony can almost hear me, and after the dreams, I always feel like I've been with him.

Last Friday while checking my Facebook page, I saw the birthday notices and remembered that it was Tony's birthday, February 17th. "Oh, he would be 58 today," I thought to myself, and for a fleeting moment, all negative memories of Tony lifted and I was left with a warm sensation in my heart, and a feeling of compassion for the beautiful but wounded and troubled young man he had been. That was that, and I got dressed and went on with my day.

Later that afternoon I went shopping for a birthday gift for my granddaughter, Cecilia, Eben's oldest child. She turned 8 on the 20th. Cecilia is fascinated with stones and minerals, and has started quite a collection. At Christmastime I gave her an apple sized chunk of amethyst which I bought at a little shop in Portland called Stones n Stuff. I chose the amethyst at the suggestion of the store owner, Heather, who told me that this would be an excellent choice for a little Pisces. Heather has vast knowledge of the healing power of stones, something I don't know much about, and had never taken much stock in. On Friday I told her that I was looking for a birthday gift for this same granddaughter, and she helped me select an amethyst pendant. I wanted to also buy one more stone for Ceci's collection, and was drawn to a display of shimmering spikes of fluorite. As I stood there trying to decide which piece to give Cecilia, another customer walked in the door. Heather called out to her, "Happy Birthday!" and I quickly looked up to see an attractive dark haired woman about my age. I knew immediately that she was born in 1954, the same year as Tony, yet I said aloud, from across the room, "Today is your birthday?" "Yes!" she exclaimed, smiling broadly. "Do you mind me asking what year you were born?" I continued, knowing what her answer would be. "No, not at all!" she beemed. "1954."

"You were born the same year and day as my ex-husband who has been missing for over 30 years." I told her. "He doesn't come to mind often, but I did think of him strongly this morning when I saw it was the 17th." "Oh!" she said, "That's a powerful story!" I agreed, "Yes. Yes, it is. And what a bit of synchronicity to bump into one of his birthday buddies on his birthday."

I selected a deep purple and green piece of flourite and completed my purchase, then walked out into the bright winter afternoon. And it wasn't until my drive home, as I sped northward on 295 with my car flooded with the light of the setting sun that it occurred to me: I was buying Cecilia her birthday gifts, just then, when this strange thing occurred, when that woman walked in. Cecilia, who is also Tony's granddaughter. And then it hit me, that he was there today in the shop - that the woman who came in through that door brought with her a bit of his spirit, and that he helped me choose a gift for Cecilia.

Can this be how spirit works? Is there really a plane beyond all earthly squabbles, misunderstandings and trouble, beyond illness, beyond anger? A realm where we are all connected by love of the purest variety?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Earth, Wind and Fire...

Some elemental images from the past two weeks. We have had a mild winter with very little snow. Will we get an early spring? Or get hit with winter in March?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Monday Afternoons at Barnfire Studio

I've filled my first private class, an afterschool drawing class for 8 - 12 year olds, including two of my grandsons. What fun! Have a wonderful weekend, all!