36x36 Acrylic/ Canvas/ Resin/ Glitter. Ready to hang.
We sit in silence for a full two or three minutes until I can’t stand it anymore.
“You seem like you know yourself, Nancy. How did that happen? What did you do?”
“I listened to the silence.” She says concisely, with a dead straight face.
This woman is bat shit fucking nuts. I’ve heard enough.
“I’m ready to go now.” Popping up out of my chair she escorts me out of her office and into the empty waiting room. The darkness of the night outside suddenly seems very real.
“Don’t I need to pay you or something? Or do paperwork?”
“We will worry about all of that at another time. Do you think you will come back?”
“I think so.” Making a mental note to cancel any and all appointments I make with her at the start of next week. I was absolutely never driving through Robbins and coming back here again.
“Why don’t you just give me a call if you decide to come back.”
“May I give you a hug?”
I just look at her lime green shirt.
“Uh, sure.” My whole body bristles, I step toward her nervously, but I hug her.
She holds onto me for an extra second.
Walking out into the night, staring at the beat to hell, pothole-filled parking lot pavement under a faded and blinking street light I stop. Turn to the door. She is watching me walk to my car through the glass.
“I’ll see you later Heather. Be well.”
The calm way she said that felt like slap in the face. I was everything and too much of it, except well. I was not fucking well. I didn’t even know how to be. Let alone well.
For 14 years she signed every card, ended every visit and phone call with “be well.” At first it felt like sarcasm. Then a challenge. Then a prayer - and in the end, a knowing.
The last time I saw her I sat at her kitchen table with my best friend Michelle. We spoke together for hours. I walked through her home as slowly as I could, trying to memorize everywhere she had put my art. The titles of the hundreds of books on her shelves. Her magic tree in the backyard. The way the house smelled like soup and juniper. The old quilts, steep long staircase, family photo collages in wood frames and stacks of things she kept meaning to mail to people. Every time I saw her for years I would mentally prepare myself for it to be the last time. But death has a way no matter what of coming out of nowhere. For me in my experience it’s just that nothing can prepare me for the shock, followed by the permanence of that loss. I have afternoons now where I think of her, and I try to imagine that I will never see her ever again in this form - and it’s like time stretches out into a feeling of incomplete eternity. A mountain I can’t possibly ever climb. A career I will never have the emotional stamina to balance out. It balances with the depth of how much I know she gave me absolutely every single thing she could in every possible way so that it would stick and I could heal my life. And because of how she gave me everything, I have no choice but to accept that is what I have. It was never because I was special. I was because that is who she was, her talent, and how much she cared.
She held onto me an extra second that last day, just like she did on the first day as Michelle and I prepared to run out to the car in the pouring rain. I turned to walk out and she said “Write the book. And be well.”
“I’ll be well.” I told her with a laugh.
In the seven months since she’s been gone I have asked myself daily what she would tell me. At her job her nickname was The Boot - and she lived up to that. The power of her talent and ability to get through to even the most gone of us was unmatched.
On my thirteen year clean date the other day I was going through an old box of photos. Stuck between two pictures was a card with the serenity prayer written on the front with the number 1. I was taken aback at the sight of her handwriting filling the inside of the card. Nancy was writing to me about how much I had grown up in one short year my first clean, and reminding me that the greatest power on Earth is walking forward, even when I feel alone and afraid. She signed the card Be Well. My husband was out of town so I just sat on that floor with that card for the rest of the night. Contemplating writing the book. And being well. And the kind of stamina both of those tasks will take.
We sit in silence together all of the time now - and that is how I know myself. As unhinged as that sounded so many years ago and heare I am. I wanted to paint a visual picture of that sacred silence - the illumination and sparkling pops of light that represent benign alive in a body but also the shadows of doubt, fear and illusion of separation human life in form can cast.
Sometimes the whole experience of life is a slap in the face, or a challenge, or a prayer, or a knowing. It is hard to see and even harder to catch from moment to moment - in between how far we’ve come and how far there still is to go. This art is a portrait of those tiny moments of alignment in time and silence.
Be well. Be well. Be well.