The Things We Choose To See

This painting is the first thing you see when you enter our home from the garage. It was painted by my cousin, who is also an occupational therapist, builds furniture, and has worked as a carpenter.

I like how it sets the mood – not for my house, but for me. Constant motion. Dancing. Under the stars.

My children and husband probably don’t even see it anymore, the way something becomes invisible when you look at it day after day after day. But I still see it.

My cousin who painted this portrait is two years younger than me. When we were little, the two of us, along with her sister and another cousin, would play together for hours. We played Barbies in the closet space under my aunt’s staircase – a storage area that only stored Barbie paraphernalia. We smashed clay colored rocks into powder to paint on other rocks from the small stream beside our Grandmother’s house. We made up plays, and dressed in our Grandmother’s skirts and high heel shoes.

It was on this cousin’s second birthday that my father drowned. There was a party with friends and family. I wasn’t there, but I am sure there are pictures. Part of me thinks I have seen them, but this may be my memory leaning into its sentimental tendencies.

My aunt has told me about this day, celebrating her daughter’s birthday when she got the news. The woman my father was with called my aunt’s house and said he was missing – he had been swimming and she couldn’t find him.

My uncles left the party and traveled the short ride up highway 150 to the lake at Buffalo Trace Park. I don’t know if he had been found by the time they got there or not. A newspaper report the following week said his body had been retrieved by two civilian divers.

My aunt says after he died, she would still hear the buzz of his two-seater, convertible yellow car outside her house. She told me she would look out her kitchen window thinking he was in her driveway and then remember he was gone.

In the same way our mind stops seeing the things we view everyday, it’s also adept at turning away from the things too painful to look at.

Heartbreak. Trauma. Betrayal. Death.

Aging.

It’s been cooler than usual this weekend, a sign that fall, then winter is waiting its turn. As with all things related to time, the seasons are coming on quicker, more swiftly, like the wrinkles I have begun to notice around the outer edges of my eyes.

I wonder how long the lines in my face have been there – how long did it take for me to see a face I look at every morning while I put pink on my cheeks, apply mascara? Just now, typing, I notice the fine lines stretching across the back of my hands, the thinning of my skin.

I’m not ready to claim the aging process as painful or difficult. More than two years in, and my forties have been my best decade yet.

I do sneak thoughts of what this all eventually leads to. The idea that death is out there somewhere, (hopefully) patiently waiting for us, like fall and winter.

I like to believe it’s not death I fear most, but the refusal to look at life and see all there is to see. The things that make me laugh. The reasons I cry, scream. The ugly and unsatisfying. The sublime high and fantastic low of feeling it all. The mundane moments that make up a day. The bright sunlight finally finding its way into a mid-September day, reminding me we are still in summer.

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