learning silence at nautilus teachings


2010-Studio-In my dream I am alone with the empty chair against the white wall of memories and I am trying to paint my way out when the clanging of his coffin startles me back to the reality of my unfinished world.
1975-My father teaches me the need to pull inside myself, to live in a fantasy world and to bandage pain. I try hard to outwardly love him. To share my love, my life, my dreams, but they are never good enough. I am never strong enough to climb down from the desert wall of loneliness he makes me feel. I cannot hold a shield big enough to stop the pointed cuts of his jagged words to my mother. My mother who has left our home tonight.
2010-Studio-“When are you going to get a real job? Aren’t you going to do anything with your life? It’s your job to keep the family together.” My father’s words from our conversation today are echoing through my head. My father does not believe in me as an artist. Does not think, “art” is a true occupation. Each time he pulls me backwards with his words, I stroke harder the azure blue upon my canvas and make sure the yellow is bright enough to breath air into my soul. I begin to weep in silence as he once taught me. To dream in solitude. To wear a facade of love for the world to see, allowing people the illusion of happiness. I am grieving for my mother’s warm arms to hold me. Each day I pull myself out of bed and look up at my sea glass window sill and school of fishes swimming across the glass and know I am safe as long as there is silence and as long as my fish friends protect me.
Do not speak your mind.
Do not seek your dreams.
Obey, serve and care
for each person
in my life
and be thankful for the silence,
the aloneness.
I am floating, feeling the gently, swaying rhythm as I place my brush softly down and know in my studio, I am home. My black lines will protect my colors until one day the blurry mush of his hurtful words bounce off of me instead of splattering across my heart like paint being hurled at an empty canvas.
1975-Mom comes home later that night, and as I get up the next morning the smell of breakfast greets me.
“Morning, Sheri!,” my mother said gracefully.
“I am taking a personal day today. How about after breakfast we head to the mall and then lunch? You can miss a day of school.”
I smile-BIG-my mom was back.
“I would love that!”
We are at the mall by ten and in my mom’s favorite store by 10:30. We buy a couple of suits for my mom and some clothes for me. We walk the rest of the mall with a few more purchases and then stop by the bookstore she loves so much. Brian the owner greets us, “Hello, you two-playing hooky?”
We both grin and nod our heads.
“Hey, Vivy, I have that new Barbara Taylor Bradford book for you.”
As I walk around the small store my mom concludes her business with Brian.
We say our goodbyes and drive across the street to the restaurant. Over cheeseburgers and fries mom starts talking to me.
“Sheri, I am sorry about last night. I was over wrought with emotion between the social worker calling about your brother and stresses at my job, then your dads reaction to my first solo purchase. It was just too much. I had to get out and at least drive around. I sure wish I still had my convertible. You know I would never leave you, right?“
I shook my head yes. I was starting to shake.
2010-Studio-Green was the color I thought of when I pictured my father. This small 18” x 24” canvas is layered in apple and kiwi greens. The stroke runs bottom to top representing an upward movement. There is a daddy and baby turtle floating amongst the tangerine and lemon yellow blossoms of the seagrass. “T-2,” is my father and me. I am watching, following, floating:

dad and me
                       dad and me

I await movement or direction. There is neither. I grow up in the shadow of a man that I do not understand. A man who I want to take my hand and walk me down the paths of my childhood.
Stepping back I see us floating. Opposite sides of the canvas, yet speaking volumes in our silence.

2010-My Bedroom-Here is the dream.
Last night my mother, all dressed in her white suite with matching hat and shoes, brightly sat next to my diminishing father on the old nappy green tweed sofa. Her robins egg blue eye shadow upon her lids covered her sparkling chestnut brown eyes each time she blinked. Her lips were strawberry and looked nearly wet. Her hands were clasped upon her lap, feet gently crossed in front and sitting straight up she spoke.
“Sheri, your father and I are getting a divorce. You need to know the whole truth, the reasons behind my leaving, go see your Aunt.”
I do not speak at all. I am caught up in the dinginess of the room. It is a muddy watercolor of our old living room. Only the sofa is not butted up against the window it is protruding from the wall and if you glance to your left while sitting on the cigarette burned, smelly, nappy green sofa you can see Bishops Park. My dad is shriveled like a prune. Mom is vibrant. I am looking through the curious eyes of myself when I was 5. My hair is a tangled woven mess of sleep, dreams and tears. I am standing in the corner across from them. I look to my right and take in the green glory of the large expansive park I used to play in as a child. I want to shoot myself out of the window like a rocket and fly above the leafy grand oak trees until I land softly on the shamrock filled grasses of childhood. I want to watch the coconut colored swans with their ink black beaks glide along the water’s edge waiting for the next innocent small hand to toss creamy breadcrumbs their way. I want to skitter with the baby raccoons and watch them climb the gnarly oak tree in a scurry to safety, their big black eyes so enormous I can see my reflection in them. Where is Mr. Caterpillar? I want to inch along the heated sidewalk with him to the next fern colored grassy area that holds all my lily of the valley, then place him next to the little lady bug and marry them off like they were royalty. I can see all the lilac blooms waving to them and the sweet, fat dandelion yellow and black bumble bees hovering-their buzzing playing a beautiful melodic symphony. The tiny ants are carrying the food upon their backs to the log tables just waiting for the bride and groom to feast on pretzel pieces, berries and cake crumbs. I want to go back to the innocence of childhood where I am barefoot, sleep still resting upon my baby brown eyes and twirl in my white nighty that is so silky upon my skin it feels like my mother’s soft kisses.
“Talk to your Aunt, Sheri. It is time to take this journey dearheart. One cannot go forward until the truths are known. Sheri, they are my truths. Listen, and learn from them. Know how much I loved you and that I am still walking your life story with you, still holding your hand and embracing you. It is just that my physical being gave out, but Sheri, my soul, my love, my beingness still lives sweetie. In you, through you and with you.

mom in the car SHE bought without permission from him
               mom in the car SHE bought without  permission from him

1975-“Sheri, hey, are you listening?” says my mom.
“Yes,” I say.
“Good listen, we are not getting a divorce or anything like that. I just need you to know that sometimes my life is just too much. I am so proud of you dear heart. You are such a good girl…..”
As my mother is singing my praises I begin to feel pressure. Pressure to be perfect, to never fail, to only please and succeed. I am overwhelmed with the thought, ‘I can never let my mother down. I must always be the good girl and do what she wants.’ I keep smiling at my mother and wonder if I will ever be able to paint outside of life’s lines.
My mom is my protector.
My mom is my hero
in every sense.
She is my mentor
as I become a teenager.
She is also a learning tool for me.
From the time I can remember
my mom is always there.
She is the color in my world.
I love her
more than anything else
in the world.
I know my mom lives
in a sad and lonely world
I know she wants to work
and help our family.
Yet, I also know
my father will never allow it.
I know he is the ruler
of our home.
Life from the time I can remember is sweet and warm, like a soft, ripe orange. It is bright like the yellow in an all day sucker or the first sip of a glass of cold lemonade. My mom is all the colors in the rainbow. The red is her passion for giving, the yellow is her smile, the orange is her warm hug. When she is creating table toppers for cub scouts or teaching Sunday school she is full of purple passion. Her yard and flowers bloom like the green thumb she carries with her. The blues are the encompassing comfort of her hugs. She is my everything.
My mom believes in me, though quietly. She beams when I walk into the room. When the demons hurt me in any way she is my life saver. I know she would scoop me up and wrap me in her arms and I will smell her scent and be healed by just being close to her.
I never speak up. Never tell her how I feel. Never purposely disobey her or let her down. I know as long as my mom is alive I am doing everything she wanted. My mom has been hurt too much. I want to see her colors bursting forth from her body again so I began to hide mine in secret spots, dark corners, and blank pages, knowing each time they itch for release, I must only push them deeper inside retracing edges with black bandages of security.
This pressure was mine
It was self induced
I felt that to fail
Was letting her down
I watched and I listened
From corners
behind doors
I peeped through key holes
I snooped through her drawers
I wanted to please her
To be perfect in every way
So maybe it would make up
For my brothers behavior
And all the pain…
I tried, I really did
I always wanted to be good
But building inside me
Was a flame of hurt and anger
In colors I could not paint
For to place them on canvas
Meant giving in…

i accepted this as my truth
                  i accepted this as my truth