18x24 painting resin coated. Ready to hang. 24x28 in frame.
The last person I dated before I got clean had a thing for diners. It was like the shittier the diner the more he liked going for breakfast. I still remember his order, just like I still remember all of the things he called me when I wouldn’t take him back after I broke up with him on a curb in the rain on Milwaukee & Rockwell in Chicago. It was corned beef hash, the order. My only experience with corned beef before that was being nine months pregnant in a nursing home. I served pureed corn beef on the dementia floor where I worked as a dietary aid. After dinner service, I’d scrape out dozens of bowls of it when I did the dishes hours later. 20 years later that smell still makes me shudder.
I would hold my breath when he ordered that every morning though and smile through the hangover because his cheap motorcycle made me feel special. Of the many bullets I’ve dodged in my life, raising a kid with a person like him until he leaves me and the kid for someone else has always been one of my greatest accomplishments. Something I would never discuss actually, it’s normally just a silent satisfaction and gratitude but - here I am. This was so long ago - it’s kind of embarrassing to even put it into my art - but there is a point to this - to what it takes to fight to get to the outside and look through and not be stuck in the inside trying to get out. The miracle of pattern recognition and change. The way the hauntings of my life within my memory get lit up, one by one - until it’s all just a beautiful reality of what is in front of me, not a ghost of what was.
The last time I got to visit my daughter in the Chicago suburbs we drove all around looking for crystal shops. I am my daughter Olivias' birth mother. For many years of her life, I watched her grow up only in photos her parents would send me. I saw her at first in person when she was 8. She asked me “Will you wait 8 more years to see me?” I had just gotten clean like a week before. I wanted nothing to do with “those people” in recovery and their books and chants. They had no idea how cool I was, everything I had lost, what happened to my body, and how it felt to try to act like a regular person serving a lunch buffet and dinner six days a week.
But I did not want to wait 8 more years to see my daughter because doing drugs and dating terrible men was more important. So I did it. I stayed clean. I did the work. I changed the patterns. Not because I knew how. Not even because I wanted to. I never wanted to be in a relationship with a person like corned beef hash dude ever again. And I didn’t want my daughter growing up knowing I chose to be a perpetual victim of everything around me- a using addict - that didn’t bother to heal instead of being in her life. It’s been thirteen years. Olivia is one of my very best friends. She is the most brilliant, beautiful, hilarious human being. Even now, seeing her move can stop my breath because to me, she is illuminated and perfect. I came so close to never seeing her move and knowing her voice.
She loves crystals, jellycat stuffed animals, anime, and this really fancy yarn store. She makes the most incredible clothes and can play anything on the piano just by listening. Olivia loves costumes and learning Russian and dressing up but has no desire to do social anything, which is endearing, as I could not agree more. She remembers me when I was younger, just like I remember her when she was younger. Often she says that we are the exact same person but I got the color gene and she got the number gene. I do not disagree. Our identical mannerisms would startle you. I would be happy to move in with her parents tomorrow and stay there forever. It has taken a lot of years to understand how much they love me, no matter what. They are one of the best gifts this life has given me.
That summer day Olivia and I were driving on some road somewhere. It was sunny with big fluffy white clouds in the sky. She is playing me a Blink 182 song she loves and life feels surreal. It was my favorite band when I was sixteen and her birth fathers too. At the stoplight, I look to my left.
“It’s that fucking diner,” I say in its direction flatly, and then laugh. “Remember I told you about that guy whose name I haven’t said in 14 years so that’s what I call him?” “Oh yeah, the one who you give the Voldemort treatment. The guy whose name you haven’t said in 14 years.”
She looks out the window in the direction I’m looking.
“Ah!! That place!! My friends and I go there” She says. “We have had a lot of fun eating waffles in there and just making a scene. It’s so greasy and weird but we like it.”
Suddenly the 2009 me I could see in that parking lot getting onto that cheap motorcycle is replaced with my daughter laughing at midnight with her friends and waffles - because I can imagine that in my mind. Because I know what she looks like when she moves and how she sounds when she laughs. Suddenly I am on the outside going back in but to somewhere else that isn’t just about the momentary recollection of trauma I overcame as a result of some far-off, irrelevant situation.
The ghosts and their shadows vanish into the light of what is real in my life today. The parking lot of the shittiest diner I’ve ever seen sparkles in the sun. This painting is a portrait of the way that smug validation and weaponized gratitude in silence can rob us of the light that is right in front of us, if we let it. The way the shadow can take over and spin in every direction until suddenly the pops of sparkling light emerge - uncompromised and perfectly imperfect - a portrait of the ghosts & shadows they cast giving way to the truth - to the light.