By Antoinette Carone
Two days before he died, Julian experienced a surplus of energy. Not like a power surge, it was really more of a gradual build-up. He barely noticed it at first.
___It started around eight o’clock in the morning, right in the middle of his second cup of coffee. He had the impression that someone was stroking his hair, and this enlivened him.
___Years ago, when he was a child of five, his mother would stroke his hair when she woke him up or when she picked him up after kindergarten. Many years after that, his wife would often stroked his hair when they made love.
___Now it was an alien yet familiar sensation, like an almost forgotten secret greeting. His mother had died ten years ago. His wife, three years later. His mother, of course, stopped running her hand over his hair when Julian was about thirteen and wouldn’t stand for any “baby stuff.” His wife – well, the last time was just after her diagnosis. Then she couldn’t bear to be touched.
___So at eight-thirty in the morning, two days before he died, Julian’s spirits were uplifted, although he didn’t bother to search for a reason. He felt like working. He walked into his studio and began to paint. He was working a study of a house, but he could never get it right.
___The house was made of yellow brick, an unusual kind of brick, but often used in parts of Appalachia. Most important to Julian, the painting was asymmetrical. One could see part of the house from the street, but half was obscured on the left by an overgrown hedge. A bay window occupied the center of the field of vision. A small portico extended it on the right.
___Julian had no idea how this image had originated. It felt like someplace unexplored. He wanted to enter but didn’t know how.
___The walk from the street to the portico was barren, stark in its emptiness. The ochre of the brick and the dusty brown of the yard rendered the painting too monocratic. Julian decided to add color. He roughed in a rose bush beside the entryway. He filled the space under the bay window with white and purple irises. It was lost on him that his mother’s name was Rose and his wife’s Iris.
___Julian painted all that day, and all the next, stopping only when the daylight did. He liked natural light. He died believing he was on the verge of something new.
The Imperfect Child
Ann watched Joshua quietly playing with Legos. It was a good day. He was calm and content. No tantrums. Thankfully, they were becoming fewer and farther between. No medication. Just creation of structure and a calm environment.
___Joshua was a beautiful little boy. Light brown hair. Dark brown eyes. He was a difficult child and had been from birth. He had cried for the first six months of his life. Loud noises, stiff fabrics and too much activity going on around him caused him to be irritable.
___Ann loved him. Beyond reason, according to her husband. When Joshua was two, Joe wanted Ann to put him in daycare and go back to work. Ann’s instincts rebelled. She felt she could do better than daycare.
___Nevertheless, Joshua went to nursery school five mornings a week. He was tired when he got home, so became easier to manage. Unless he was overtired. Then he was hyper, bouncing off walls.
Joe had a hard time coping with this bright little boy diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. It took Ann two hours to coax Joshua away from toys, into his bath, out of his bath, into bed, and then to have “one more story.” Joe began leading a separate life. No girlfriend. He just became absorbed in his hobby. He set up a photography studio and worked until late each evening.
___Ann took care of Joshua. She helped with homework. She took him interesting places on Saturdays.
___Joe was disappointed in Joshua. He didn’t like pictures or baseball. He liked climbing and especially building with Legos. He liked taking things apart and putting them back together. He could focus for hours on end and could not be distracted. All part of ADD. Joshua was not the child Joe had wished for. Joe felt his life should have “been free to overlook this sadness.”
___Ann embraced the sadness of an imperfect child. She saw Joshua’s joy in building, in making connections from disparate things. Sadness and imperfection are, after all, part of life.