The J in your face

Try something different – surrender. – Rumi

President’s Day, 2020. You’ve just had brunch at Pastai on Ninth Avenue with a friend you call The Preacher and are walking down Eighth Avenue to catch the C train at 14th street when you see a triangular sign propped up on the sidewalk with these words written on it: Psychic readings, 10$. You happen to have a ten-dollar bill in your wallet, and you’re in no rush to get home, so you head up the stairs and knock on the door. Inside, at the sound of the door opening, a middle-aged woman looks up from her phone. She takes your ten dollars, motions for you to sit down beside her on the couch, and stares intensely into your face.

Water stain for Lionne à la queue de cheval

“I see a J in your face,” she says. “Someone you loved.”

“Well,” you say, “my ex-husband’s name is Jerry.”

“There is something not finished, there is still connection.”

“No,” you respond, “there’s been a divorce. With papers and everything.”

“You still have feelings to deal with,” she tells you, “There is conflict surrounding this J.”

“No, it was an amicable divorce,” you say, “No conflict.”

“Let me do full reading. Only 75 dollars. I can help you.”

“No, I’m good,” you say, grabbing your purse and slinging it over your shoulder.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she says, “You came up here for a reason. Let me help you.”

“I don’t need any help,” you say, standing up now and moving towards the door, “Thank you, though. Have a nice rest of your day.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” she repeats loud enough for you to hear through the door that you have closed behind you.

On the street, with the fortune teller’s words echoing in your head, a few questions come to mind. Didn’t you just spend the morning analyzing a couple passages from the novella Mondo as part of a paper you’ll be presenting at a conference in April, and didn’t those passages develop the theme of rebirth and new beginnings? Over brunch, didn’t you tell The Preacher that if Jerry were to reach out to talk about reconciliation, that you would be open to envisioning a new union? Granted, you have zero idea why you said those words since you know deep in your heart that it would be a mistake to return to any life with Jerry, but you did say them, and The Preacher had encouraged you to reach out to him. In the moment, you had dismissed the suggestion. But didn’t the psychic just tell you that there is still a connection between you and Jerry, and that you still have feelings to deal with? Haven’t you recently learned from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to set aside your skepticism and pay attention to what the serendipitous coincidences that arise in your life might be trying to tell you? These can’t all be random coincidences! All these things align to mean one thing: you must reach out to Jerry! He’s probably regretting his decision! He’s surely hoping you’ll make the first gesture!

Here is the problem with the human mind: it is limited in scope, it harbors delusions, it runs around in circles. Sometimes, it can even be downright dumb as bricks. So fine, go ahead; go home and write Jerry the letter you will start formulating in your head on the subway ride to Dekalb Avenue and finish on your walk home on Adelphi Street through Fort Greene Park. But you will do well to do with that letter what your mother has always said people should do with those kinds of letters: rip it up and throw it away. Or better yet, crumple it up and burn it to ashes in the kitchen sink. Enough already with Jerry! He is not the J in your face!

Who is it, then? Who is this J in your face? Who is this person you once loved, with whom there is something not finished, around whom there is conflict?

The answer comes quickly, in less than a month, in the twelfth of your paintings: the lioness with the high cheekbones and sporting the thick ponytail. Thick and long. At the end of the day, she would take the elastic out, and her hair would fall almost to her hips.

Lionne à la queue de cheval (19 March 2020)

Her name was Ritza Cotts, but also Aunt Rita. She called you Patsy Wiggins, but also Uncle Pete. There was childhood play, rich and creative and endless. There were beautiful long letters with funny drawings. There were long phone calls. To Massachusetts where you worked as a nanny, she came to visit you. To France, also. Twice. In Paris, in the subway, you laughed so hard you had to crouch with the heel of your foot pressed up hard between your legs to keep from peeing your pants. What was so funny? You don’t remember. You don’t remember a lot of things. Like why you stopped talking to her all those years ago. Something to do with Jerry. She never liked him. He never liked her. And you had chosen. Jerry over Julie, your boyfriend over your sister: the J in your face.

In the painting, she is a lion. If I may borrow the fortune teller’s words, she is a lion for a reason. And the reason is this: you are to throw her a stick. She will turn to face you; that is what lions do. And when she does, for the love of Pete don’t do that thing where you revisit harsh words and hurt feelings from the past as if they even matter anymore. And don’t you dare do that other thing where you suggest a simple turning of the page and moving on to some impossible hunky dory future time, either. Try something new, try something different: surrender to the moment. In the moment, and only in the moment, will you be able to resolve once and for all the conflict that surrounds you and the J in your face.

Throw the stick.

Throw it.

the moment, will you be able to resolve once and for all the conflict that surrounds you and the J in your face. Throw the stick. Throw it.

Thank you to Kristin M. Stanton for her article on lion meaning and symbolism: https://www.uniguide.com/lion-meaning-symbolism-spirit-animal-guide

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