Samantha met me in the lobby, her eyes widening as I picked up the canvas.
“The assignment,” I said.
She grinned, started to look then stopped herself. “Okay. All right. Come on. I won’t look until we get to my office.”
When we got there I gave it to her and she set it on her desk, propped it against the wall. We stood in front of it, me with my arms folded, her with one hand in her pocket. I tried to not be so nervous but was afraid I’d throw up, anyway.
“Wow,” she said. “This is so great. I mean, it’s a beautiful painting. So still and quiet, like it’s holding it’s breath. Who’s who?”
I pointed out who was who, stood back.
“You went above and beyond the assignment, Violet. I’m so impressed. I love it. What do you think of it?”
I shrugged, turned away from it, walked to the door and back again. Twisted my hands together. “It’s one of my best, I think. Maybe the best. You’re right about it being quiet. Silent. Like we’ve shut our ears to each other, closed our eyes. Like waxen figures.” I turned away, began to pace, stopped myself, squared my shoulders.
Breathed. “I don’t know. I like it in an abstract way, like it’s my foot or my nose.”
“Why did you place them where you did?”
I walked over to it, pointed at Dad first, on the far left. “He’s leaving, he never was really there.”
Then I pointed to Mother, on the horizon. Like a far off goddess. Vengeful as Hera. “She’s looking away, too, thinking of other things. Always busy.”
Then Uncle Stephen, facing me. The only one facing me even though his face was down. Because he died. Because he had been taken away.
“He’s...” I started, stopped. He had been the only one who had ever loved me. “I put him there because...” I stopped again. I put him there because he cared for me, was the only person who ever really saw me. And then he died. To my horror I felt myself begin to want to cry, turned away from Samantha and the painting. “Where’s the bathroom?”
“Down the hall three doors, to your left. Violet?”
I hurried out, down the hall, closed the bathroom door. I leaned against it, willing myself not to cry. The room was dark and cool. I slid down the door, rested my forehead on my knees, pulled up tight to my chest. My hands balled into fists and I kept the scream in, silent. I jumped up, vomited in the toilet, rinsed my mouth out, washed my face, stared at it in the mirror.
I hated my life and I hated myself.
I didn’t deserve people loving me. Would I ever be good enough for that?
“Not good enough,” I told my reflection.
As I walked back to Samantha’s office I tried to think of a suitable excuse.
“Nauseous,” I said as I stepped in.
She stood pretty much where I left her, in front of the painting, but facing the door. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Just nauseous a lot, you know?” I sat on the couch in my spot, leaned my head back, closed my eyes.
“What about your Uncle Stephen in the painting?”
I shrugged. “Dunno,” I shook my head. “Dunno. I put him there because it felt right.” When I opened my eyes she sat across from me, leaned forward.
“Have you thought more about doing things correctly? How you said last week that you only did things right with him?”
I shrugged, spent.
“What was it about him that made you do things right when you were with him?”
He had loved me. That was all.
I crossed my legs, folded my arms against my stomach. “It’s not fair that the only person who ever loved me was taken away. Taken away before he even died.” I tightened my lips against my rebel tongue.
“How was he taken away from you?”
I shrugged, shook my head. I wasn’t going to talk about it.
“Did your mother take him away from you?”
I shrugged. Maybe she’d been jealous. Maybe she’d wanted him for herself.
All of a sudden I wondered what their parents had been like.
“Okay,” she said. “Have you been keeping up with your journal?”
I nodded, studied the ceiling.
“Is there anything from it you’d share with me?”
I shook my head. “What time is it?”
She said, “Twenty minutes after. How’s school?”
“Any classes you really like?”
“Art classes. My English teacher’s great. We’re doing Greek mythology. Serious shit, you know?”
“They were like, so petty, you know? Always falling in love with mortals that didn’t want them, fighting between each other. One big happy family.”
“Families aren’t always like that.”
“Aren’t they?” I thought about Hera, always jealous, and Zeus, who was never there. Mr. Grant was there, but kind of distracted. Mrs. Grant was nothing like Hera, though. So maybe not. “I dunno.”
“What do you think families are for?”
“To procreate so they can fuck their kids up.”
She cocked her head to the right, twisted a strand of hair around her finger. “That’s it? No other reason?”
I shrugged. “Humans are pack animals, so it’s a way of creating your own pack, you know? So you won’t be alone. Except sometimes it doesn’t work. People get tired of other people. They make new packs. People have families so they won’t be alone.”
Samantha ran a hand through her hair, pulled it off her neck, twisted it into a loose roll and let it flop over her shoulder. “That’s interesting. I’ve never looked at it in that way.”
“What do you think families are for?”
She smiled. “Oh, I don’t know. Security, procreation. Love.”
“They’re strange, don’t you think? Cross-cultural. There are so few things that are universal and families are one of them. In different forms, of course. In Papua New Guinea it’s expected for men to have more than one wife. That’s heinous here. In so many cultures boys are considered of higher value than girls. Is there anyplace where girls are of higher value than boys?”
“There are a few matriarchal societies.”
“Really?” I fidgeted with the line of earrings along the edge of my right ear.
We were quiet for a bit, then Samantha sighed and smiled at me. “I like how you think about things, Violet.”
I’d just been relieved to stop thinking about Uncle Stephen. I shrugged.
She looked over at the painting, back at me. “Tell me about your color choices. You’ve gone with what? Symbolic colors?”
I nodded, stared at the painting. I felt like I looked at my insides there, my intestines spread on the canvas, too personal, much too vulnerable. I shrugged, crossed my arms over my middle.
“There’s an interesting tension between warm and cool colors. What does the purple mean?”
“It’s sorrow. Death. What was taken away.” Uncle Stephen.
She tucked a bit of hair behind her ear. “There’s a lot of orange. What does it mean?”
I shrugged, picked at the denim fabric of my jeans. “It’s like the place I was born. It’s power and anger and energy. Mother’s orange because she has the power in that picture, like she made it all, the landscape and everything, but then she turned her back on it. She didn’t care about what she made.” I shut myself up, before I could say anything else.
“What about the blue of the sky?”
I shrugged. She waited a bit, curling a strand of hair around her finger.
“How about the gray?”
I yawned, leaned back, stared at the ceiling. I could see her foot begin to swing up and down, the left one crossed over the right. Up and down, up and down. I closed my eyes.
She suddenly said, “Have you thought about college?”
I sat up straight, eyed her. What would that signify? Would I be giving anything away if I told her? I shook my head. Paranoia, anyone? It was harmless information. And she could do a little research and find it out for herself, if she really needed the information. “Yes. I’m going to get a scholarship and go to Maryland Institute. It’s an art college.”
“Have you visited?”
“How do you know you want to go there?”
“I just know.” Uncle Stephen went there.
“Then you know what you want to do with your life?”
“I’m going to be an artist.” I figured I’d have to go to New York for awhile. Maybe. Anyway, I’d travel. Go to The Louvre, see London and Tokyo. Sydney and Singapore. Then I’d settle in Santa Fe. “Uncle Stephen left the house to me. I’ll have someplace to go, once I’m no longer a ward of the state.”
“Do you resent the state?”
She bounced her foot up and down. “You don’t resent them at all? For taking you away from your mother?”
I shrugged. “I’m not my own. I’ve never been...” Stopped myself. I’d never been free.
“You’ve never been what?”
“Are you happy?”
I stood, paced around the room. “Happy? What is happy? Is anyone happy?”
“I am. Sometimes. Not always. If anybody tells you they’re happy all the time, they’re either lying or on drugs.”
I breathed out a laugh.
“You know, Violet, it’s okay to share your emotions. I won’t use them against you. I just want you to be okay. To be happy every once and awhile.”
I stopped, my back to her. She wouldn’t use my emotions against me? “Why would I want to be vulnerable to you? I won’t give you power over me. I won’t.”
“Violet, I don’t want power over you. I have no intention of controlling you. I want you to be in control of yourself.”
“I can’t be while I’m forced to live with the Grants.”
“They aren’t controlling you, Violet.”
“Then who is?”
She didn’t answer. I turned to her and she studied me, frowning.
“Who is?” I said again.
She held my gaze for a long time and then I looked down at the floor.
“I think you maybe know that and don’t want to admit it to yourself.”
“Do I?” I walked back to the couch, sat in my spot, stared down at my hands, folded on my lap. My jeans billowed out around my thighs, which looked like sticks. Wishing myself away.
Mother had always controlled me, before now. She had given me my parameters.
“It’s almost time for you to go. How ’bout you do a drawing of yourself and write about families? Your family specifically, but also the different types of families you mentioned earlier. See how many different kinds of families you can find. And in your self-portrait, you should be doing something. Anything at all, okay?”
I nodded, stood. The assignments were really the only interesting part of this whole thing. I rather liked them, even.
After I got back to the Grants’, I went downstairs and pulled out my journal for my obligatory after-the-visit-to-the-shrink entry.
Journal Entry - October 10
Who is controlling me? Who has controlled me in the past? Mother, Dad. Maybe Dad. Uncle Stephen? No. I don’t think so. Mother, mostly.
I remember when Uncle Stephen died, how I went to my room, shut the door and cried. Mother came in, stood by the bed with her arms folded across her stomach. She was wearing linen pants and a woven flax sweater. I crawled away from her, leaned against the wall. She got hold of my shoulder anyway, dug her perfect fingernails into my shoulder. I bit my lip against the pain. She hated it when I hollered or said something she was doing to me hurt. She said I deserved pain. So with fingers digging into my flesh she told me that I had no right to cry, that she would not allow me to cry. My lip started to bleed from me biting it and she slapped me across the face, over and over and over... No signs of vulnerability allowed.
So isn’t she still controlling me? She taught me how to talk and act. I gave her that control. So was I controlling me? I gave her that power. She didn’t take it from me. Did she? How can someone take power from another person? I was so young, though. I don’t know.
So who is controlling me now? Me or her?