When I was little, I loved watching my dad paint. It amazed me how he could take a paint brush and create something so beautiful. I would stare at his blank canvas in wonder as lines became strokes which finally, became pictures. When I slept, my dreams were filled with dazzling fantasies - arid deserts, lush green foliage, sharp jagged mountains, trickling brooks, rich brown earth and rolling hills. I wanted so badly to take what was in my mind and make it come to life.
My mom had bought me a set of finger paints, as my fat little fingers could not hold a brush. I would jab them into the tiny little pots and smear them all over the paper on my activity table. Why couldn't my pictures look like my father's? Frustrated and defeated, I would cry. If it was Mom, she would run in and soothe me, give me a treat and snuggle. But I liked it much better when it was Dad. He would pick me up and take me to the Scenic Outlook and we would watch the sun set.
I vowed that as soon as I was able, I would recreate all of the lovely images that tormented my mind.
* * * * * * *
Marilyn was sitting on the floor, listening to her youngest child chatter away. Unlike her son, Lilly had started talking at ten months old. She learned her first word and in a month, had started forming simple sentences. They hadn't been able to shut her up since. Soon, she would be following her big brother to elementary school.
Marilyn already wondered what she would do with her free time. She had quit her job to raise her children. It wasn't an easy sacrifice and she had had her occasional regrets. But she couldn't imagine her mornings without cleaning mushy bananas and cereal off of a high chair, Yo Gabba Gabba blaring in the background. Her afternoons consisted of playing on the playground and then putting Lilly down for a nap so she could help Gabe with his homework.
Her boss, Anthony Petitt, had already promised that if she ever wanted to come back to work for him, her job was waiting for her. Not many composers had achieved so much at such a young age and her talent was unmatched in Hidden Springs. Nate had assured her that there was no pressure to go back unless she wanted to. They still had most of what they had made between his album and her musical score.
Her husband was content with the simple family life he had always craved. He took Gabe on weekend fishing trips, and performed in local dive bars once in a blue moon. Nate, being the sensitive artist, had also developed a love for painting. He had passed his passion onto their son. Marilyn had a hunch she already knew what Gabe wanted when he barged into Lilly's room impatiently.
"Mom, can we get it NOW?" he whined.
"Gabriel Alexander," she said patiently, "what have I already told you?" They rarely called him by his full name or even just Gabe. He had always been their little "Van Gogh" since they had first set him down at his activity table. They had boxes filled with his first works - macaroni art, crayon pictures, and watercolors. Marilyn had dropped the pretentious "Van" from his nickname and started calling him, "Go". It was only meant as a pet name but stuck once Go had gotten older.
"But Mom, I've been waiting forever!" Go had decided he was ready for his first easel. Marilyn and Nate had both promised that he would get it if he helped out around the house and worked hard in school. The boy was a dreamer, with his head constantly in the clouds. He reminded Marilyn of herself at his age, except she had been a little girl with her nose in a book. She feared that they had something else in common as well. She had been so lonely growing up. She desperately wished Go would make some friends.
Marilyn shook her head. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, but not tonight. Your father is playing down at the Tavern and I've got to get your sister ready for bed."
Go scrunched his little face up defiantly. "You love her better than me!" he yelled.
Marilyn reached for her son to comfort him. "Now you know that's not true," she admonished him gently.
He glared at Lilly. "I hate you, you stupid baby!"
Lilly stared up at him, bewildered by his tone. "Go?" she wondered. "Go mad?" Was this the same older brother who read books with her and gave her kisses every night? It was too much. She burst into tears.
"Go, I want you to go upstairs and get ready for bed. I'll be up in a minute after I calm your sister down." Marilyn sighed. Why did it seem like she was always the parent who was responsible for the disciplining? Why couldn't she be the fun one who took him fishing? Why couldn't she teach him how to play the guitar? Why wasn't she allowed to go on camping trips?
"But Mo-" he started to protest.
"No buts, Mister. The only thing you've earned tonight is an early bedtime," she said firmly. They might hate her some day but her children would never be able to accuse her of not caring about them, even if they wouldn't be able to see it until they're older.
She picked up Lilly, who was still wailing, and cuddled her close. "Mommy and Daddy love you very much. And so does your brother. He's just in a bad mood."
Lilly continued to whimper into her shoulder, until she drifted off to sleep. Marilyn placed her gently in her crib and started walking upstairs. There a very angry, very rebellious little boy would be waiting for her.
* * * * * * *
Mom, Dad and Lilly all stood in front of me with big smiles on their faces. They had thrown me a birthday party, complete with cake and everything. And I was speechless.
"So...what do you think of the cake?" Mom grinned expectantly.
I knew that they had tried really hard to make it a special occasion. But even back then, I knew that something was wrong with me. When you're seven, everyone is your best friend. So when your parents invited your entire first grade class and no one shows up, what other conclusion can you come to?
I was a loser.
I tried to smile but it was just as much for my sake as it was for their own. I was afraid that at any moment, I was going to burst into tears.
"Thank you Mom and Dad," I managed to choke out. "You too, Lilly."
"Go!", she clapped her hands. At least I was someone's biggest fan, even if she was just some silly baby who wanted to be carried around everywhere.
The three of us stood there quite awkwardly, not knowing what to say. My mom's face fell in disappointment and my father looked uncomfortable, still grinning like a weirdo. I'm sure both of them had tons of friends at my age. So what was wrong with me?
Dad cleared his throat. "You know, son, the cake can wait. Why don't you go upstairs to your room? There's something waiting for you."
And there, on my balcony, was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. It was the key to my hopes and dreams, the vessel for all of my fantasies.
I had finally gotten my own easel.
* * * * * * *
Marilyn went to Alba's party later that night. Go had assured her that he had a great birthday and all he wanted to do was paint. Nate whisked her out the door amid many protests but not before she had given the babysitter a to-do list complete with bath times and water temperatures, bed times, emergency phone numbers and age appropriate DVDs. They might be friends with Daniel and Alba Hughes, but really, they only had one motivation for attending this particular party on their son's birthday. She was going to find some friends for Go.
After making a play date with Katelin Clark's children...
and getting hit on by Dewey Ellis...
Marilyn finally was able to talk to Macey Hughes, Alba's oldest daughter.
Too bad not everyone was happy about that.
* * * * * * *
I stood at my easel for a long time after Mom and Dad left. And all of the visions I had ever imagined suddenly vanished from my memory. I couldn't recall a single image that I wanted to paint. The blank canvas stared back at me, taunting me to deface its pristine surface.
The doorbell rang. Addie, the dumb-as-a-brick babysitter was probably putting Lilly to bed. I sighed, momentarily abandoning my project.
I cautiously stepped outside. Only to come face to face with the
oldest most interesting lady I had ever seen.
She smiled like a queen, not unkind, but proper like the ladies on television. "Good evening, Gabriel. Is your father home?"