I'm still here, still busy doing mirrors and jewelry, and working on collage type art with glass, mirror, fabric and drawn elements. I love the challenge. But interwoven with those pursuits come the jobs it seems I was made to do-portraiture is still a love. And some stories should be recorded and shared.
This has been a hard year in certain ways. My marriage didn't prove as resilient as I'd hoped, my faith teetering on the brink, at least outward expression of it-I became reclusive, not going to church, not really praying, not really doing things I'd done for the last hundred years of my life. A reformulation of priorities, who I am as a person and an artist and other things were going on inside that simply couldn't be denied. Still are. But in the midst of all of this, news came that a friend I'd known through recovery ministry had passed away. Bonnie was young, but had struggled most of her adult life with addiction, and the struggle finally took her. It is so hard to put into words what her life story meant to me and how the threads of her existence wove themselves into my life at the time when someone who could understand the violent side of life, the unpredictable nature of addiction, the pain it causes and the hope that might be found in the midst of the struggle seemed to come along at just the right moment. I met her mother, Juanita, first of all, and learned from mom Bonnie's story of how she had the choice of jail or rehab, chose Teen Challenge (a Christian based program) and apparently beat all sorts of arrest warrents in various states, not trying to get out of a sentence, but because of the mercy of the court. God's hand seemed so evident, or something beyond herself, in all of these circumstances. She got out of rehab and I met her in person. Her personality was so charismatic and dynamic she was impossible to ignore. Bonnie's laughter, her way of bedeviling me and always finding ways to embarrass me teasingly-she was absolutely unique and just that type of person who could go into the tender spots left by my son's imprisonment without damage, always encouraging-she was so real. You knew she'd seen some hard, hard places and still managed to survive.
When I got the phone call from a mutual friend that she was gone, I was enraged. I just couldn't keep the tears back, couldn't keep myself from feeling how much of a waste it all was...I was angry with the pain of life, at God maybe for not pulling one more miracle out of the basket for this woman who fought so valiantly...she died choking on a cheese sandwich. I offered to do a portrait for Juanita and Bonnie's daughter, Stephanie. My friend Lisa went to Steph and had her pick out the pictures of her mother and herself that she wanted done. Lisa brought them to me and I let them sit for days. Usually I'm on a project immediately, but this one brought nothing but grey to my mind and recurring rage. It tore at my heart and I couldn't look at her picture without weeping. Finally I thought to stretch paper and dye it, a technique I used to frequently use in portrait drawings but hadn't in years. I chose light, heavenly, sky type hues of bright pink, blue and purple. The paper dried like an evening sky. It was really lovely. But I laid it down and didn't do anything for more days.
I began to try to compose the double portrait in my head, and at work, in a random moment, the anger left me and I could hear Bonnie's laughter in my mind clear as a bell. The portrait took shape as I looked at the pictures and started drawing. I spoke to her in my mind and told her I needed help getting her smile, which had to be right! I finished finally, using a mixture of charcoal and colored chalks. Steph's portrait was so easy once Bonnie's was done. I had a frame already put together of a dark grey metal that fit perfectly-I dropped the picture in the frame and let it sit more days facing the wall. I couldn't look at it.
I called my friend Lisa and asked her to come with me to drop off the picture. I was afraid I'd break down honestly, so she gladly agreed and we went the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. I'd never met Steph, who lives with her grandparents. She shared a little upstairs apartment with her mom until Juanita finally asked Bonnie to move out. She started using again. Steph gave us a little tour of her digs, and the tv room she had just redecorated. I looked around the room and could not believe my eyes. It had grey walls, black and white accents and hot pink curtains and pillows. I knew before she unwrapped the picture that it matched the room as if it were made to be hung there. I started tearing up and we were all crying and laughing when she finally realized that it was perfect.
We visited over pumpkin pie and Steph had to leave for basketball practice. After she left Juanita told us that Stephanie had wanted to see her mother's body and the last memory she had of Bonnie was a corpse on a morgue slab. Juanita said Steph could not get that image out of her head. She said the portrait would help to erase that awful memory and couldn't thank me enough. I was simply overwhelmed by all of this and just knew that somehow, in the midst of a terrible tragedy, this gift became blessing. I realized, too, that whatever questions I have about my life and faith, I know the artist is led of God and He approves this message. Chuckle. A great feeling....! In this one area of my life, I know I can surrender my heart and my hands without qualification and they are used.