As some of you know, a long time ago in a place a little farther away than here, I aspired to be an artist.
And having these arty goals, I developed a strange habit of doing a self-portrait every couple years. Sometimes more often. It was sometimes hard to get someone else to sit still for me. If I had a mirror or two, I could draw myself, and I was a great model. My face is quite asymmetrical, so I could look different at any angle. I could have the up-smirk or the down-frown. It was a great exercise in identity as well, which was a favourite subject of mine from age 12 until... well, I'll let you know when I figure it out.
In high school, my grade 12 art assignment was to create a pastel portrait of myself based on a photograph. A few girls with some decency and brains chose a cute baby portrait and gave the finished piece to their mothers. I know, so sweet. But me, for unknown reasons, chose a school photo from Grade 11, with my awesome layered shaggy hair and my big toothy grin, you know the one, with more teeth showing on one side and the collar of the shirt hanging crooked. I'm not kidding, my hair was awesome. I didn't consider myself any great beauty, I didn't have a knockout figure, and I wasn't particularly brilliant at anything obvious, but holy smokes I had great hair. I didn't colour it or perm it or curling iron it or anything. It was just naturally awesome. Maybe that's why I chose that picture.
When it was done, the pastel portrait looked pretty good. Except for the eyeballs that looked straight at the viewer rather than at the photographer like in the photo, it was decently well done. It even resembled me. I handed it over to my boyfriend, who went into his dad's woodshop and made a nice frame for it. He actually liked it and hung it on his wall.
As newlyweds, we lived in a big crappy apartment on the only bad street in a ritzy town, above a Scottish pub, a Portuguese hair shop, and a cockroach infested Chinese take-away. The place smelled funny. (Not funny-haha, funny-bad.) A few of my high school masterpieces came with us, including my huge crazy abstract painting, which I still cherish and always hang in a prominent spot, and the pastel self-portrait. A few more joined them as I worked my way through my one year of art college. Then we moved.
The job offer was in Memphis Tennessee. Since we were facing a possible 6 months to a year of paperwork to get through immigration, we packed up all our belongings, every single thing, including wedding gifts we hadn't even used yet. We were young and penniless when we got married, which made us easy to buy for, I guess. Most of the boxes got stored in a big and mostly unused room at his Mum's house, while a few boxes came with us to the farm. We lived for six months there, with our cat, in the room I'd slept in when I was a teenager. Cozy.
Then we stayed at his Mum's house in town a few more months before moving to a great apartment up the hill in the woods, where I ran into all kinds of life changing adventures which you might have to wait to read about. (I have to go out to the barn and thaw a water pipe, I ain't got all day to write here!)
Years went by. Eventually we moved into the cute bungalow in the subdivision and I got busy chasing my toddlers and unpacking long-forgotten boxes. And being me, filled that little house to overflowing over the course of 12 years. Now I've spent this year getting rid of, giving away, and saying goodbye to all kinds of things while I pack up the things I want to keep.
For the second time in my adult life, I am moving in with my parents. This time I'm bringing two children, a dog, a cat, soon a husband (same one!) and every last one of my pared-down possessions.
Squeezing two houses into one is not easy. It takes a lot of tough decision making, especially for two women like my Mom and I, who both like our THINGS. There's been a lot of purging.
In order to find storage room for some of my valued things, I need to clear out the old apartment/ summer kitchen on the back of the house. The last tenant moved out years ago, and since then it's been used to hold the freezer, recycling boxes and lawn furniture over winter. But you know what happens when you've got a big empty room, right? It's gonna get filled up with stuff. Now it's my job to clear out that stuff.
Yesterday I pulled a large box off the stack. My own handwriting commanded that this box be stored at my mother's place. It appeared to be full of brown packing paper. On closer inspection something appeared to be wrapped in it... I pulled some of the paper away.
I saw the handmade wooden frame and the strands of awesome hair in the picture.
I set the box down.
I didn't have time to dig into this. I had to pick up the kids from the bus stop.
I felt kind of disoriented though. This box had been there since... when did we leave our crappy apartment? 1992? 1992?
It's been out there for seventeen years????
I was just thinking or dreaming about that picture. I dream so much I often can't tell if a memory is real or dreamed. Never once did I realize that I haven't seen that thing in ages. I didn't wonder where I stashed it all these years.
It's been on my mind now since yesterday afternoon. I feel like a total slob for leaving it there for longer than my kids have been alive. I wonder what the heck else I've hidden away. I wonder if I'll ever find that skull collection I hid in the barn when I was a kid. (Relax, they were rodent skulls. I was a weird kid but I wasn't dangerous or anything.)
Today I must tackle that old apartment/ summer kitchen, because there are a few more things to come to the farm, and time's running out. I need room. I'm going out there with a jackknife to cut up cardboard boxes. I have no idea what I'll find.
I do know this: it is embarrassing to publicly admit that I packed up my precious valuable meaningful stuff and then forgot about it for almost twenty years. What does this say about me? That I'm forgetful and have a bit of a packrat problem. I'd be ashamed but I've made it a point to abolish shame. I will go face my face, haha. Speaking of my face though...
The portrait is kind of haunting me now. I mean, think about it. I drew it when I was about eighteen. I hid it away when I was twenty-one. I think I've aged since then -- I can see it, but apparently nobody else does. I've gotten used to being carded at the beer store. I try to be flattered by it. Just yesterday I got asked if my daughter and I were sisters, and I laughed it off.
But... but... what if I get out there today, take the paper off that framed picture and... find a hideous account of nearly 39 years of cold winters, working outside in the summer, bouts of depression, the stress of living with a workaholic man and not enough income to keep everything fed and paid for? Every day I go over my face looking for whiskers to pluck -- what if they're all grown in thick and black in the picture? What if I don't really take after my mother and her father, who didn't sprout grey hair until their 50s? What if in real life I have straggly witchy hair but it only showed up in the picture? What if my forehead is creased with visual evidence of all the worrying I do? What if I have much more than just my cherished laugh lines?
What if there's a murdered heart beating under the wooden floorboards???
Oh wait- that's a whole other story. Never mind.
Am I Dorian Gray????
(Apparently a movie came out/ is about to be released and I missed out on it. That's what I get for living under a rock surrounded by cardboard boxes!)
So do feast your eyes on this lovely fella with his fresh new portrait. I may not look so pretty by the time I turn 39, in like, a week or so. Wish me luck.