MY FATHER APPEARS BEFORE I CAN KNEEL.
He is on the ground next to my mother, “Vivy, Vivy wake up,” he is screaming.
“Sheri, get me a cold cloth.” I run the cold water on a dry dishtowel and hand it to my father.
He places it on her forehead and is stroking her cheeks.
“Vivy, Vivy,” he is crying.
“Come back, I love you.”
He is patting her hand and I am standing above in shock. My mother appears lifeless, yet her breathing is clear. Her eyes open a bit and she glances at me then to my father.
“Shhh, “ he says, “don’t speak.”
2010-Studio-I did not want the grumble of your voice to inkblot my day. My previous week had been excellent, full of childhood dreams, wide glistening young eyes and small hands filling my soul, my heart and my studio. I am a good exhausted. I feel like the spaghetti sauce on the second day-half gone, richer, fuller and with tons more flavor.
THERE IS NO ROOM FOR YOU.
I LET YOUR CALL GO TO VOICE.
I glance up towards the pinwheel blue sky and see there are storm clouds looming. They are big, marshmallow white clouds which hold the cornered shadows of my past. I think to myself, “ I know you are knocking dad, so please go away…” I hold back my tears and am reminded that if I let this come to a full boil my day will be ruined. I bite anyway and across the long, barren miles on my recorder comes his message. As it begins with his typical, “Hi, Sheri, it’s Dad….” I hit erase and shove my phone back in it’s holder.
1975-I decide to color while I grow. My palette doubles in size, my sea world blossoms and my voice diminishes. I develop a stutter from fear of saying the wrong thing. I feet stupid, weak and lost. My father forgets to feed my soul. It’s like he planted me in the glorious green apple field with rich chocolate dirt then forgets to water me and his salty tears of pain from helplessness are not nourishment but tiny shards of frozen water which cut me off at the beginning of my growth cycle. His silence, I know now, is a reflection of his inability to know what to do. I need his strength. I need his voice. I need him to hold me and tell me I am good, worthy and loved.
2010-Studio-Over the years my father tries to be loving and kind yet he comes across as silent or negative. So every time my phone rings, I cringe and think to myself, ‘how is he going to cut me or my children down today?’ My hands are balled up in to fists and I am on the verge of tears. “Please, God, just take his voice away, “ I cry. “Then I can still see him yet do not have to hear what a failure I am, how I disappoint him or better yet fail to keep his family together.”
I grab my wooden canvas and thrust it onto the easel before me. I search for answers, inspiration but mostly for my father.
1975-My father lifts my mother from the floor like she is a feather and carries her to their room. He shuts the door. I sit in the corner outside the door with my knees drawn up to my chest. The tears flow down my cheeks. I am scared. I listen for words, any sign of communication between my mother and father. I can hear low whispers. I get up, get my photo box and return to the corner so I can hear what is going on-only I don’t hear any true words, just mumbles.
Inside this lid
of faded burgundy cardboard
Are my memories
I look happy
in this black and white photo
Bangs covering my forehead,
hair in a ponytail,
my hand is placed upon a baby goat
I close my eyes and remember
the warmth of the day
I have on knee high socks, red ball tennies
and a baby blue and white small check sundress.
WE ARE AT THE ZOO.
I can see memories.
I know my dad was there.
I know he took the photos.
What I don’t know
is why I can’t remember him.
He is like the black and white photos:
stark, bleak, quiet silence
that hangs on the wall
expecting to one day burst forth
in color and conversation.
THAT NEVER HAPPENED
NOT WITH ME AT LEAST.
While I remember my mother’s hands always being in prayer, I remember my fathers differently. They hold the belt which punishes the demons, a pencil while he works, they are pushing the lawnmower, putting up the storm windows, driving the car, holding a cup of coffee and loving my mother. My father’s hands are building the fortress for his family, they are building my mother her tower of safety.
I remember my father always reaching over in photos and juggling my cheek with the palm of his hand and saying, “smile, Sher.” Did my father know my stories?
Did he really care that I was being tortured daily? Did he explain to the demons of love and kindness?
I BEGIN TO LIVE IN MY FATHER’S SILENCE.
I do not know how to grow up enough in order for me to be accepted, for him to be proud of me. I always lay in the shadows of the stubby, rough canvases of my past knowing I cannot paint over my memories or shred them. I must place them within the pages of my life story, run my fingers over the image occasionally and hope one day I will wear them smooth with touch and tears. I will color my way out of sadness. I will retreat to the closet under the steps and live in my under the sea world. My father taught me this. He taught me-
2010-Studio-I splash kiwi green next to the black and I feel as if I am given an oxygen mask. “I must swim toward the light, toward the fresh air…”
The canvas begins to take on life. The black is lost amongst the palette of my mothers love which was the only healing power, besides my faith. I allow the black space, not to breathe, but to define the depth of sadness and allow the viewer to stop, look, think, “why all the corners of color?” I can make out wise old Mr. Hawksbills familiar flipper and I feel safe. I know I am protected and home.
“In the Lime Light”, is a 2 1/2’ x 3’ wooden canvas. The black is now mixed with the kiwi at the bottom and has blended into a soft sea green. The kiwi floats at top and the citron yellow is illuminating the upper left corner flowing down upon and lighting the way for my new friend. He is a sea turtle filled with the tiny pieces of memory. Hundreds of dots in almond, sunrise orange, kelly green and a myriad of others. Wrapped in soft black, the memories are “cornered, I am safe from them.
He gently floats above the waving grasses with carnation pink and bluebell flowers. The tingling of the bells sing to him and encompasses him with healing melodic light.
1975-My father’s voice is rising now. I begin to tremble.
Silently I sit in corners
Of my life
Just for one
To love me.
Silently I watch
As the two plaid shorted demons
Who I now call
“Remote and control”
For the oldest always
Tells the younger what to do…
And run away.
Silently I endure
The pain and torture
And as I gaze
Up to my father for guidance
His sad eyes
Tell me he is lost.
Teach me to hush
In hurtful silence
In the CORNERS of my room
Or the closet.
Silently I wish to be a mermaid
Or that fish
Swimming far away,
So far away I never
Have to watch the
I never have to sit in the towered room
And call out in silence,
“Save me, heal me, hold me…”
The silence I learned
Became my blackness
It was the endless hole
In the nightly tears-
The unhealing wound.
Has allowed me to speak
Through my writing
My fathers attempts to
Cloud my North Star work
Until I somehow find the strength
To step from the walls
Of silent control
Into life at 45.
“I’M LEAVING YOU,” screams my mother.
“VIVY, NO!,” cries my father.
I am startled to a standing position and step back. The door flies open.
I am there, crying, staring into her damaged eyes.
Her rage softens when she sees me.
I look downward and notice she is carrying her old blue suitcase.
“Sheri,” she cries, “I just can’t….” her voice trails off as she walks quickly and now silently past me.
“MOMMY, NO, PLEASE DON’T GO, DON’T LEAVE ME!” I am screaming at the top of my lungs. I run to her and grab her arm.
She stops, turns her head, and says, “I am of no use here, Sheri. I am a failure as a mother and wife. I must go.”
With That She Walks Out.