It's wonderful to be loved by an artist. When they paint you over and over, it makes you feel beautiful.
The painter and I were pen pals before we met. My roommate was dating a sculptor. The sculptor was friends with the painter, and voila!
I loved to get his letters. I ran to the mailbox every day. Each envelope was a work of art. Even his signature was aesthetic--a swoop of a first initial, a period, then his last name. You can fall in love with someone who writes you a lot. Happens all the time these days.
He sent me a birthday present before he ever saw me. It arrived snuggled in bubble wrap and brown grocery bag paper. I snipped the Scotch tape carefully with manicure scissors. It was a painting, sort of--all aqua paint, real live dead butterflies, pictures of pickles and torn out pieces of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. I fell in love, right then, with the idea of being loved by an artist.
He was older than me and that felt cool. He'd been a hippie, a druggie and a lush. He'd climbed twelve steps, more than once. He did all the wrong things right. He wore leather pants and had his right ear pierced.
The painter liked when people told him he looked like Rod Stewart. Even so, he let me dye his eyebrows and hair the color of a carrot even though it was beautiful just the way it was--the shade and texture of a palomino pony's forelock. My dad took one look and pulled me into the kitchen. "Is he a homosexual?"
The painter picked me up for our first date in a convertible Cadillac--once upon a time powder blue. He called it, The Landshark, probably 'cause it rode so low to the ground it felt like the Flinstone-mobile. He took me to a jazz club in Charleston. I don't care much for jazz, but I was willing to give it a try, if it would make me cool, like an artist.
The painter ordered me a shot of Ouzo and a glass of ice. He demonstrated how to melt drops of water into the licorice-smelling liqueur to make little cloudy jetstreams. He wanted to smell my Ouzo breath. "So I can remember." Me, or the Ouzo?
He called me his little prairie chicken. He liked that he could pinch an inch over the top of my Levis. "When I hold a woman, I don't want to feel like I'm hugging my brother."
He only had one brother. He was ten years younger and his face looked like Cream of Wheat with raisins for eyes. He was a certified genius.
The painter's dad was a big man with a done-lopped belly. He worked at Union Carbide. The painter's mom was tiny, like Carol Burnett. She worked at the DMV. She used to tell me stories about people with weird first names. "I think the topper was Placenta," she said. "This woman told me her mother heard the word when she was in labor and that's how she got her name--Placenta Ann Jones." I never forgot that. Or, the twin girls named Christy and Chanda Lear.
My family and friends never did take to the painter. It wasn't like he tried to isolate me on purpose. The split--me and him on one side, everybody else on the other--happened naturally, like the parting of the Red Sea. I didn't mind too much 'cause I was love struck, baby. I was absolutely certain that love . . . love would keep us together.
My best friend growing up had a habit of dating all the wrong guys. The fact that she was the only person I knew who approved of the painter should have been a do-not-enter (this relationship) sign, but it wasn't . . . 'til later.
One night, the painter grabbed my arm and squeezed it 'til I screamed at the top of my lungs, right there on Campus Drive. The next morning, I talked to myself as I leaned over the bathroom sink to get closer to the mirror to put on my mascara. "I'm not gonna be like my best friend. I'm not gonna keep lovin' Mr. Wrong, over and over."
There was lots of stuff the painter wanted me to do that I didn't. I reckon that's why he left me for another prairie chicken. I saw them sittin' in the window of the Boston Beanery in matching, paint-spattered overalls. I looked away quickly, but not before I noticed that she looked like a girl Bugs Bunny. He must like her 'cause she's an artist.