Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“In the Box”

         The two towheads leaned over the drawing, smiling broadly at their cartoon creation. The magical hero bore a resemblance to the boy with his broad toothy smile and spiked halo of hair. The champion’s steed, a winged Pegasus, carried the graceful lines of the girl’s art. The background art, a collage of trees, blossoms and lopsided huts, represented the best efforts of the pair. So similar their styles that even they couldn’t discern whose hand sketched which object.
         “I’m gonna draw when I grow up,” the girl declared with certainty as she colored a petal.
         “No. You can’t. You gotta be a mommy,” the boy challenged as he knocked her hand way.
         “Don’t!” she screamed, anger and frustration painted her face with red splotches.
         He wrestled her crayon from her tight fist, broke it smartly into two chunks, and threw the pieces hotly onto the floor, “You’re going to be nothin’ cuz you’re a gir—el!” he proclaimed in superiority.
         She punched his smug face and ran from the room, slamming the door behind her in a vain attempt to keep him from chasing her down and pounding into her.

         Golden hair fanned out from the teen’s face as she sunned in the sand. The ocean lulled her into a doze, made her slack with relaxation after a grueling final week of school. High school diploma tucked up into her closet, she relished the idea of holding still. She longed for lazy afternoons on the beach and late parties with her friends. She wanted to step away from making decisions about her future, and instead longed to enjoy every moment of “Now.”
         She saw his shadow through her closed eyes, yet she ignored his presence. Impatient for her to open her eyes, he tipped his beer onto her face.
         “You shit!” she bolted upright, wiping at her face with fingers covered in sunscreen, her eyes began to burn and tear. “Why did you do that?” Shifting on her beach towel, she dabbed the corner at her eyes, trying to clear the mix of beer and sunblock.
         “Dad says you need to go to the store to pick up steaks for dinner,” her brother sneered. “Now!” he commanded as he kicked at the sand by her feet.
         “You go,” she insisted. “I just got out here. I spent all morning finishing the wash. You’ve been on the beach all morning.”
         “Not my job, girlie-girl,” he teased. “I took a part-time job for the summer. You made the deal with Dad to take care of the house instead of getting a job. So--,” he dangled car keys in front of her smarting eyes.
         She swung her hand out, snapping up the keys before he decided to play a mean game of keep-away, reached for her t-shirt, and pulled it over her head in a swift movement while her feet slipped into her sandals. “Did Dad give you any money?” She extended her hand to receive a few bills from him.
         “Pick up more beer!” he called after her as she stomped up the beach to the car.
            “All I want this summer is time for my art,” she grumbled as she pulled the car out of its slot and yanked at the wheel to turn it onto the road. “I want to get up at dawn to do photography. I want to capture sunsets on canvas.” She pounded her fists onto the steering wheel, “I want everyone to leave me alone!” She sped down the road, her fury planting her foot on the accelerator. “But, noooooo!” she wailed. “This is the first summer Dad’s ever expected my god’s-gift brother to work. He got three summers to do whatever he wanted. But, noooooo! That’s not for me. Daddy’s little girl’s gotta either ‘earn her keep or find a new place to sleep.’” Hot tears streaked down her face; she let them fall onto her shirt front, mix with her sweat, the beer, and smudges of Coppertone.

            The white veil hid the wild look in her eyes. She ignored her mother’s incessant chatter on the beauty of the gown, on how thankful she should feel that her father paid for such a lovely dress. Her lips pursed into a straight line to hold back the panic that welled in the back of her throat, and that threatened to escape in an unending scream.
            “He’s such a lovely young man,” her mother prattled as she plucked the dress this-way-and-that, “With a wonderful job! You’ll never have to worry a single day!” Her mother stepped back to appraise her work. “Once you have a baby, you’ll settle into marriage, just like I did,” her mother glanced up at their reflection, saw the fear in her daughter’s eyes, and continued, “This is really the best future for you, darling. All that nonsense about being an artist!” she waved her hands in dismissal. “You’re father wasn’t about to support you forever, you know.”
            “Not even through art school,” resentment filled her heart, spilled out in her words. “He paid for college for both of my brothers—,”
            “And not for you, dear, because he knew you’d just end up getting married and raising a family. Just like you are!”
            “I—I can’t go through with it!” she stepped away from the mirror, searching the room for her purse and car keys. “This is a huge mistake. I don’t know how I let everyone pressure me into this. It’s insane! It’s not what I want!
            “Now, dear,” her mother stated with harsh practicality, “It’s never exactly what we want, but it’s what is expected. You just square your shoulders, march down that aisle, and make a commitment to that fantastic fiancé of yours. All of your life, you’ve wanted to do your own thing, be your own person. You wouldn’t even color within the lines as a child! Always drawing your own little world, never staying in the box.” Her mother grabbed her by both hands, her grip surprisingly firm, “You’re a grown woman, so act like one!”
            Realization flooded through her, resignation weighed her shoulders into a slump. That special piece of her that exploded on each canvas or edged into each photograph suddenly folded into itself. Corner-by-corner, she tucked away the hope of the artist until it became a tiny speck. Her spirit, sensing no future now, walked slowly into the box.  

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman




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