The opening was at the PAFA ( The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) museum, I don’t recall the show, but it was the first one of my new year as a Certificate student. I had signed up at a table pouring drinks. He worked the table with me, opening wine bottles. Dressed in the uniform, black and white, his white shirt was buttoned too tightly as were his pants. Still, he was attractive, and we started up an easy banter, which is his way. I found him annoyingly charming and rewarded it with sardonic depreciating humor, which was my way. At 25 living in the city of men I was well guarded and prided myself in castrating humor. This did not get me many dates, but that was the point. He would later recount my behavior with disapproval and yet he was still disappointed to find at the end of the night I had gone out with some other students. He was left that night to walk home alone in the pouring rain.
They say memories are not distinct data bits, but rather reconstructions each time we set those neurons afire. The early days of a love story are easily canonized as we draw and redraw them affirming their place in our story. I have read that this is a key part of a successful relationship, mutual canonization. First sight, first date, first kiss and then the anniversaries. Time is a series of curated place markers. Like buoys strung across the ocean of uncertainty we build, mend and savor, perpetually reaffirming them; those people we once were, those dreams we used to be.
How many subsequent openings have we attended together? The trail of our personal openings started and stuttered for me after my graduation and my M.Ed. detour, and ended for him with his abbreviated MFA and attendance in the Police Academy. Which, like a neutered puppy named “Responsibility” was laid at my feet after our marriage. His dream of being a Police officer pushed his Artist’s dream aside, when given a choice over who to carry into the future, how do you choose between your children? We choose, we don’t look back or it all turns to salt.
When I finally started showing work professionally in Texas 17 years later, he was there for the first opening. I was nervous as always before an opening. More so because he had recently taken a contract to work overseas in Iraq. He drove and we argued in the car over directions, our first level of marital purgatory. I am certain if we just could stay out of cars, Bliss would come flying in on her white unicorn and at least stay for coffee.
During my time in Texas, 2 years of back to back openings solidified my commitment. With children still in car seats and occasionally without I, alone would stalk the juried shows of North Texas an anonymous new comer, a Yankee singing the songs of Penelope with her handmaidens weaving and unweaving Laerte’s shroud. I was welcomed into the community of artists, yet always mourned the lack of my friends and family far away and back in Philly, leaving a salty taste in my mouth.
My recent return to The PAFA Museum, for the Alumni show Downriver in the Multiverse, 22 years later, with boys almost young men, closes a circle I had not known I was drawing. After the opening reception, while sitting at the dinner table I realized my desire for friends and family at my openings is less about celebration and more about strength. I do solitary work. The acknowledgment and recognition of that work is a solitary joy and difficult to share without seeming narcissistic. On the other hand, like a quorum, a minyan, or a protection spell our loved ones amplify our ability to be vulnerable, exposed and open to the public eye. Every exhibition is gratifying, but no less an “opening” and no less “exposing” particularly for a cave painter like me. So if I am able to speak openly about the naked imperfection of my life and my work it is because of the flotilla of friends and family that buoy me on the waters of uncertainty. For this and for you, I am most thankful.
And if all that comes out of it is love, that is always all that it ever was meant to be.