Love is forgiveness

Just listen, the inner child, let it whisper in your ear. – Grigoris Deoudis

Early evening, early September. Your partner of seventeen years, your husband, says you need to talk. It is day three of the silence that has reigned between you since the last fight. The one you’ve had too many times. The one you’ll keep having like a song in three stanzas on auto replay that neither of you is willing or able to turn off.

In the first stanza, there is the fight. You are frustrated. Again. You are sick of wasting the best years of your body on this guy who doesn’t even notice it. You make a disproportionately angry statement in which you might call Jerry a fucking amoeba or something, and then it’s off to your corner to hide from the immediate and tremendous shame and confusion and disgust with yourself for having, once again, just like Jerry has told you a million times, showed yourself incapable of thinking and behaving like a rational, sensible adult.

Water stain for Amour (Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn)

The second stanza consists almost entirely of cold and awkward silence, broken up only by essential questions like those regarding what you all might be making for dinner. You hate this stanza just as much as Jerry does. It’s so dumb, it’s such a waste of time. But this song is on auto replay, remember, and you don’t know how to shut it off. And no wonder. You were never taught how to have difficult conversations. You were never taught how to articulate your feelings in a kind, gentle, productive, and constructive manner. What you were taught how to do is this: from your father, make disproportionately angry statements which cause immediate and tremendous shame and confusion and disgust with yourself and from which you will go hide, alone and in silence, in your corner. You were also taught how to do this, from your mother: keep your mouth shut. You’re feeling sad? You’re feeling neglected and dissatisfied? No one wants to hear about it. As for the anger you’ve been feeling all these years, no one wants to hear about that either. Be quiet. Shut up.

In the third stanza, Jerry says you need to talk. And so you talk. But not really about the fight. At this point in the song, it doesn’t seem important anymore. Not as important as getting back to business as usual. What you have with Jerry isn’t so bad, after all. It’s a great partnership, in fact. It’s a nice life. You enjoy it, both of you. It’s why the third stanza always ends with the two of you making up.

Not so this early evening in early September. Jerry does the most unexpected thing: Jerry hits the stop button on the song.

“I think we should separate,” he says, and suddenly it’s a new song you hear. Track ten of Don Henley’s The End of the Innocence, to be precise:The Heart of the Matter. You don’t remember the last time you might have heard this song, nor if you ever even liked it, but here it is. In your head for weeks and weeks this song on auto replay.

On your walks, in the shower, on the elliptical machine, when you’re cooking or brushing your teeth, over and over, this little phrase from one of the lines in the refrain: I think it’s about forgiveness. And though you might be an idiot sometimes, you’re not dumb. You at least know that this song has nothing to do with Jerry. Why would Jerry even need forgiveness? The only thing Jerry did was have the courage to do what you couldn’t: hit the stop button on the terrible song that had become your life as a couple. Who is it, then, that needs forgiveness?

Amour (28 April 2020)

You paint Amour in late April 2020, a year or so after signing the divorce papers. The piece intrigues you. Unlike the others you’ve been making these past couple months, the subject matter is not a solitary figure with missing or broken body parts1. The theme is not friendship, either, but filial love. As for tone, it is not playful and joyful, but rather peaceful and calm.

One of your sisters is a therapist, and she often has her young clients draw as a way to communicate what they are feeling. So you send her a photo of Amour. Why would you have painted this? You are not a mother, nor have you ever desired really to be one, so who are these people?

“That’s an easy one, Frankie!” she responds.

The painting reminds your sister of a picture she’d seen of you sitting on your father’s lap when you were just a small child. Your father was not a big man, she explains, but in the photo he looks larger than life. He has his arms around his little daughter, and he is looking at her. He loves her deeply. In the painting, the baby is wearing blue. It’s a boy. This boy is dad, she tells you, and the woman is you. You have your arms around your father, and you are looking at him. You love him deeply.

It’s an odd thing to hear. Did you love your father? If so, wouldn’t you have cried at his funeral? Wouldn’t you have cried at least once in the ten years since that funeral? Wouldn’t there be at the minimum one framed photo of him somewhere in your apartment? You love your father deeply? Hardly. You barely even knew him. Had you ever even talked about anything worth talking about? Had you ever even enjoyed each other’s company? Laughed together, played together, sat together quietly in peace?

If we are talking about the man you and your mother and your siblings buried in the ground in 2007, then the answer to all your questions is no.

If we are talking about the man in the photo you will discover this summer in a box of old papers you’ve left sitting untouched for two decades now in the back bedroom of your family’s home in Maine, however, then the answer is yes. That guy played guitar and smoked a pipe. He loved birch trees. He loved you, his little Toothpick. And you loved him. Deeply, just like your sister said.

The artist with her father (1977)

How is it, you wonder, that I came to forget all of this? What happened to that man? What happened to me? When did it end, this love I once felt for him and from him? How did it end?

Since you asked, let me tell you.

It’s a fine summer day. You’re seven. The two of you, you and your father, are horsing around as you often do in the sitting room just off the kitchen. It gets a little rough. You kick him so hard in the balls that he sees stars. From the threshold to the kitchen, your mother directs an angry “Ça bon!” at him, and everyone in the room holds their breath, all eyes on him as he turns his back on you to hobble away. You’ve caused him physical pain; this is easy enough to understand. The shame you’ve brought upon him, on the other hand, you do not. No one will ever explain it to you. Least of all your father. You will never speak about it. Not this day. Not ever. The father you loved so deeply is gone. Just like that. Never to be seen again. And it’s all your fault, see? You killed him. You deserve to be punished. But oddly enough, no one will punish you. So you punish yourself. With words. Awful, terrible, vicious, malicious, vile words. With actions, too. You marry, for example, a man whose neglect of your physical presence is the daily whipping you think you deserve.

But you’re not married to that man anymore. All of that is presently over. You are making art now. Or rather, and even better, your inner child is making art through you. This kid is funny and spontaneous, creative and playful and bold and fearless. She is so lovable. Unconditionnally so. Did she kill her father that day by kicking him in the family jewels? Maybe, but it was an accident. She didn’t mean to hurt him. She didn’t mean for him to feel humiliated in front of everyone. Someone should have talked with her about it; someone should have helped her process what happened. Nobody did, and that’s not her fault. So who are you to keep punishing this innocent child for something she didn’t even mean to do? You’re not the judge of anybody. That is God’s work to do. Luckily for you. Luckily for all of us. Because God is love. And love is forgiveness.

Toothpick drawing at the kitchen table (1981)
  1. See Get to it. ↩︎

5 thoughts on “Love is forgiveness”

  1. Charming and spiritual, and self revealing! Love the art and the deep significance that art reveals our inner truths and heals. You should combine writing with your art more often, not just for yourself but for what it can bring to others. Tres bien,merci!

  2. Oh Adele, this blog left me in tears!
    In my childhood there were so many emotions we couldn’t express because of lack of our parents understanding!! Too many shhhhh subjects! Not enough real feelings were discussed!! So we brought that into adulthood!😢


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