Some things can be hard to write about because they are so beautiful that words aren't adequate. Some things are hard to write about because they are sad or tragic. Some things are hard to write about because they are the truth. The truth can be painful-- the truth can be painful to other people too. Sometimes the truth feels like a secret. Sometimes telling the truth feels like a betrayal. This post is a little bit of all of these things. This post will be hard to write.
When I was about 5 years old my parents divorced. I lived primarily with my mom. There were a lot of challenges as I was growing up, but one of the biggest was that the second man my mom married was very very mean. Just thinking about him as I write this, makes me feel a tightness in my chest, and the fight or flight hormones sweeping through my body. He was a bad man. He punched holes in wall, beat our animals, and was physically, emotionally and psychologically abusive. He also hugged, kissed, and sometimes touched my friends in ways that were not appropriate, but not inappropriate enough to identify.* He was a bad man.
While they were married there were times I wanted to move to my dad's, but my sister lived with my dad. I was afraid that if I moved too, my mom's husband would kill her and no one would be there to call the cops. As an adult I wondered if this was just a child's imagination running wild. I didn't think so, but this type of situation is so confusing for children. As an adult my mom told me that he tried to run her over with a tractor when they were going through their divorce. He was a bad man. He was mean. He blamed me for adult problems, he acted like I was the problem. No doubt this type of abuse created emotional wounds, trauma, and confusion.
They divorced right before I started high school. Home life after their divorce continued to be hard. I don't think I could write about this tumultuous time succinctly enough for this post, but suffice it to say that my mom did not have a stable foundation. She found new men, most of which were equally unstable and/or aggressive. She and I did not get along much of the time.
I remember the day that I moved out. I was a senior in high school. During the school year I went to school during the day, worked horses on a ranch after school until late evening. Sometimes I worked so late that I ate dinner at the ranch before heading home to do homework, shower, and get ready for school the next day. I was not home much, but I was responsible, worked hard, and made good decisions. On this particular day I was eating dinner at the ranch. My mom called me angrily asking me where I was. I told her I was eating dinner. She began yelling at me that I needed to be home and help clean the house. An argument ensued. I remember at one point, suddenly feeling a strength and calm that I had never felt. I knew that I did not have to listen to someone yell at me. I very calmly said, "If you yell at me any more I'm going to hang up the phone."
"Fine, hang up the phone," she yelled back. So I did. I texted her later that I would "be there the next day to pick up my stuff," and I was.
After I moved out I had so many wonderful people help me in so many ways. My life has had some really really hard times, but I have been so blessed by the people who have helped and supported me along the way. People who have helped me far more than could have even been asked.
This painting, titled "Inner Light" is for two such people. My friend's parents who took me in, gave me a room, fed me, took me on vacations, fixed my truck, and even helped me with my prom dress. I wrote a letter to go with this painting and I want to share part of it here because I think it is a good explanation about the piece.
"John, I think you were the first person to recognize that there was a sadness in my bison paintings. I wonder if it is because we both, in some ways, cherish the sadness we have experienced. Not that we put it on a pedestal and worship it, but we recognize that looking it full in the face provides some wisdom, some perspective, some compassions. Because looking away from sadness (our own or others) is cowardly. Some people try to run from sadness, some people try to ignore it... But life, in all its glory, can't escape loss and sadness.
I think people like us cherish it because we find the immensity of it grounds us in the world, a communion with humanity. Maybe sadness is about acceptance-- accepting what is, what can't be changed. But equally wise is to cherish our joy, to breathe in the good things in life with helpless abandon, not tamper them down in anticipation of pain. I'm learning that within myself there is a power and strength that I never knew I had, and I think maybe that is because I'm learning to be brave with sorrow and with joy. I don't have to diminish them. This painting is titled "Inner Light." It is about finding a deepening of strength and wisdom in joy. It is about a holistic way of being that looks sadness and loss in the face while also enthusiastically celebrating the happy, joyous things. It is about trusting one's self.
Vicki, most of my bison are female, and this one is not different. I often find them to be very motherly-- or a representation of good mothering. I suppose that is a bit of an ironic motif for my paintings-- maybe it is a way of mourning, and trying to create what I didn't have. So for you, this is a tribute to being "Mother," not just to Vanessa, but to all those who you have mothered-- and I know it is quite a few. Bison as "Mother" is a guardian, a keen and watchful eye. She is a protector and a provider. Thank you for being "Mother" to me. Thank you for opening your heart and your home to so many who needed just that."
*Even though we couldn't fully identify what was happening our instincts told us it was wrong. We felt uncomfortable about it. We would talk to each other about it and would "rescue" each other from uncomfortable situations. Finally, we told adults, which did get it to stop.