As a boy in church, I drew war scenes. A red hymnal as my easel, my soldiers were real, their guns authentic. In adolescence, I painted apples and pears. When I began to meet women, I painted them.
Still, I paint. When lucky, I get paid. Though the pay is meager, and I am prone to celebrate, so the money never lasts. But I am put in such a grand mood to do what I love. And I am surrounded by sculptors and poets. I pay for their good time as well.
I dream to be recognized as a real painter, my family knows this. Though never do I show them my work. I’m afraid they’ll see me as a stranger.
My father, most of all, does not approve of what I do, working at a factory to support myself as a free artist. He believes I am too smart for a factory. He wants for me a career that will support a family of my own.
These things are unspoken between us, but I know he believes them. He did not spend years doing what he did not love to have his son do the same. All the money he made went to my sister and I, so we could go to university.
My sister is a teacher now. My father is proud of her. I can see it when we’re all together. I’m proud of my sister too. She has a home in the country, and she and her husband and their child have an amber view of the world. Though not so long ago, my sister was alone and yearning. She once said I would watch her dance at the Bolshoi. Dancing was always like breathing for her.
Now my sister is a teacher, and in the letters she sends she encourages my painting. There’s a part of her, I believe, that wants me to become what I dream to become so she can be assured. If only life had taken a slightly different path, she could have made it. I do not discuss my painting with my father.
I should have news for him. I should tell him of a wife, my growing children, expanding wealth. I cannot tell him of passing romances, money donated to leftist causes, abuse at the factory. I do not want to see him discouraged. In the letters, I tell him as much truth as I can, which is very little.
“Yes, work is the same. I’m often tired, but I do have some time to myself in the evening.”
I do not tell my father what I do in the evening, my painting. I dream to be something elusive, and I fear that maddens him. Yet I continue. Because I cannot stop.
In the letters my father sends, he gives the same advice. He cannot bring himself to remember the last time I told him, and the time before that, that I do not want to go into the work he wants for me. He writes what he has written for years.
“Have you thought about going back into the work you began after university? A career in business. I don’t know how much they pay where you are but you could well for yourself. You could do well still.”
My father has sent me this letter a hundred times, more perhaps. I love my father. I know he does what he does out of love. He has always seen great things for my sister, for me as well.
Though whatever he sees, it is an illusion. I am a painter, and I can be nothing else.