UNDERGROWTH WITH TWO FIGURES
Man, this museum is huge. It’s like a palace. Ah, there’s the exhibit gallery: Van Gogh Up Close.
Oh my God. There you are. Is that you? You actually showed up! I guess I couldn’t forget that pose, those mannerisms.
You see me.
Wow. I’m getting light headed. I’m still walking. I can’t stop this smile. My face is going to split. But you, you have a wry smile; you are squinting and looking askance at me. I am imagining that you want to run away.
I am saying, “I am so glad to see you.”
You are saying, “Hello.”
I can tell that there is not going to be a hug. I thrust my hand forward quickly so that you are obliged to shake it. I take your hand and kiss it. You are real enough to me.
You seem wary but I begin chattering so that you will not vanish even if I am dreaming you, saying, “You can imagine all of the speeches that I have rehearsed over the years for this moment. Now I’m just glad that you decided to see me after all. After all this time. It’s hard for me… hard to believe you are really here after all these years. You look great. Yes, really. I mean, your hair is shorter now, but it looks great. I mean, you couldn’t wear it like when you were seventeen. I mean, you could, of course, because that’s how I remember you,”
I am finally sighing for air and just smiling, saying. ”You look great.”
You are saying to me, “I wasn’t sure it was you. You’ve changed. Of course, you are mature now. You’re not the Wally Cox I used to know,” and you smile hugely.
I am relieved. Wally Cox is an old joke between us: that I resembled the actor Wally Cox when I was seventeen. Yeah. That’s why I could not believe you ever started talking to me on that tour bus.
I am saying, “Well, here we are. In one of your final letters you prophesized that we would meet again someday. And you said we would probably be embarrassed. Well, here we are, and I’m just glad to see you.”
However you still seem wary and you say, “Yes it is… strange. It’s been a long time. I am sure that we have both changed so much,” almost like a warning to me, “It’s hard to explain how it used to be.”
We start to walk the Van Gogh exhibition. I say, “I wanted to say ‘hi’ for a long time after I came across all your letters again… they were bundled in a suitcase full of notes. I read them all and it was like… reliving all those years in a week. But I was sure that I could find you on Facebook. You were always… interested in other people. But I couldn’t find you, not under your maiden name or… his name. Then I came across your cousin because she had that same maiden name. I sent her a message asking about you and, sure enough, her father said you fit the description I gave her.”
I am now watching your face for a reaction when I say, “But all of a sudden that cousin would not acknowledge any of my emails. I figured that someone told her to shut the door on me. I didn’t know what to think.”
You say, “But you didn’t give up.”
I try to say breezily, “Well, I was just your geeky pen-pal for several years. One can at least say ‘hello’. Especially after all these years.”
You are silent. While I am treading your silence I start noticing the Van Gogh paintings and I am saying, “Man, I never realized how many great paintings Van Gogh did! I’m used to the usual ones that they always show in articles. Look at this one,” and therefore now I can call your silence contemplation.
You are saying, “Van Gogh’s internal turbulence is clearly seen in most of his paintings,” and you say it in a way that takes me back to when I was tagging along with you on that tour, studying ancient art, but you are now saying, “As he became more isolated from society he began to pour all of his energies into painting,” and then I thought about what I had become.
I am thinking, “It isn’t your fault. But what the hell was the point of me having those feelings for you like I did?” I have to shake my head. Poor ‘Wally’.
I am finally bold enough to venture deeper into this current, saying, “So, did you ever go into Child Development like you wanted to? Oh. Well, that’s cool. A family business is the best thing to have these days. I admire that. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all yours. Did… your husband and you start the business after he got out of the Navy? Oh. Oh. I didn’t, I couldn’t know… I just assumed… I’m sorry. Hey, I think it’s evolution that women fall for the ‘Bad Boys’. I’m serious. ‘Good Boys’ do what society tells them to do. And what is more fragile than society? Nature doesn’t want the species trapped in a net like that. Evolution is always outside, ‘bad’ for the status quo.”
You trump me with, “I married his brother. He started the tractor rental business,” and you let that roll over me.
There is something spiritually perverse to me about all this but doubters don’t get miracles, and you then say, “Oh, ‘Wally’, I told you back then that you didn’t know me, that there were other sides to me that you couldn’t see.”
I am fighting back, “Ha! I figured there were at least four of you. That’s right. I’m not joking. There was the bright and breezy summer you that I… knew first. Then when you started writing to me about college I could see the crazy you. Then the way you wrote to tell me about the negligees that your… fiancé would buy you, I caught the ice cold you. Now I see the ‘scary’ you.”
Then I finally ask, “Why did you agree to see me again anyway…?”
You are icing up and you are saying, “Why did you publish my letters on your blog? I don’t want my children reading that. Or my husband.”
I say, “Well, there isn’t much chance of that, judging from the ‘hits’ I get. And besides, I thought you really had a lot to say in those letters; a lot that would inspire young women today. I tell you, your letters got more response, more comments and more ‘hits’ than any of my other hard work postings. I was actually jealous! My readers were quoting you. I didn’t… didn’t think about your children. I didn’t even think about that. I don’t have children,” then to change the mood I grin lamely and say, “I am a child. An emotionally retarded child. As you know.”
You seem surprised, asking me, “Didn’t you ever want to have children?”
I look hard into your eyes and I say, “Well,… DUH-huh?!”
Good, I think you are blushing, “Oh, ‘Wally’,” but you manage to change the subject and offer, “I thought your blog looked interesting.”
Grateful, I gush, “That blog is the best part of me. You want to know how my life has been? I’ll tell you how my life has been: my life has been nothing but causing disappointment to others. My life is rubble. That blog of mine is a hole through the wall of rubble to a better world.
You’ve heard of John Cage, the famous avant-garde composer? Well, his teachers told him that he didn’t understand harmony and that one day he would come against a wall. And John Cage replied ‘Then I shall beat my head against that wall’. That’s how I feel.
My last chance to be normal was when I was seventeen. And after… well, you know… we lost touch… I completely lost my sense of direction or caring. But you really had been an inspiration to me. And you were always nice enough to read my terrible stories. I started painting just for you…”
My God. Is it possible that I’ve been sabotaging my life to make everyone else feel as bad as I did losing you? Is disappointment the only outcome I understand?
But now here I am at the last painting in this exhibit, alone. Well, just me and my day dream, that is.
You never did show up here to meet me.
This last painting is named Undergrowth with Two Figures. Those two figures, a man and a woman, look lost in all that thick, bright undergrowth.
Van Gogh painted them almost transparent, almost like ghosts.
That’s you and me.
You are a ghost in me and I am a ghost haunting my own life.
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