by Melinda Fay
Cohabiting like marriage is tough on the ego. Particularly when you come together later in life after all your bad habits are formed and respective tchotchke collections amassed (many given to you by your exes).
Constant negotiation about which things get placed trophy style on a shelf or coveted mantel while others are begrudgingly buried behind books or worse yet rotated in out of guilt or on the occasional visit by the relative who gave you the damn thing in the first place.
And so the journey begins. Moving in together. Who’s stuff wins? And ultimately who’s taste is better when it comes to picking out the color you paint your walls, the furniture you buy together or the art you hang on your walls. Some couples make this journey seamlessly. They have similar tastes. They dress alike. They look like they could be long lost cousins. And when they finally have kids people can’t decide who they look more like. As they sit unpacking their moving boxes they realize that they have many of the same books, records and collectible figures from whatever pop culture vortex they were living in separately at the time.
Well that wasn’t me. My husband Mark and I are opposites which is great for our record/book collection but quite a relational strain in the myriad decision making that comes with decorating and redecorating a house. Luckily we are both nostalgic at heart and appreciate that in the other. We love honoring the past especially when it comes to family (I give extra bonus points when said family member had good taste).
15 years ago we began dating. And then spent years doing the back and forth dance of breaking up and getting back together. Decision making and commitment were hard back then. Some things never change. (Note to aspiring wives and non aspiring girlfriends alike–ultimatums are a wonderful thing. I know they get a terrible rap. But believe me. Nothing works better than saying you’re awesome and I would love to be with you but don’t waste my time because there are other fine fellows waiting to be mine)..anyhoo I digress.
When Mark finally got his act together, he did an incredibly romantic thing which sealed the deal in my mind. He bought me a piece of art. At the time there was one artist in particular I adored. Her name was Becca and she used to have her paintings wheat-pasted all over alleys and utility boxes around Silverlake where I lived at the time. Simple renderings of little old fashioned girls with pixie haircuts like my mom use to give me in the 60’s at our kitchen table in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
At the time he bought me this art we were broken up. In fact I was on location in Miami with a girlfriend making an Oliver stone football movie. Man, those were some long and wild nights. One night as “movie folklore” has it the set had to be shut down because there was the smell of smoke and a suspected fire which turned out to be a roach that Mr. Stone had burning in his pant pocket…
So while I’m in Miami healing my broken heart with wild nights on the set and lots of Cuban food not on the break up diet, my boyfriend tracked down this Becca painting to woo me back. Forever.
In the painting the girl wears a crown of bay leaves. She dons tube socks with red stripes that likely make her Maryjanes too tight. There are bloody scrapes on her fingers which she tries to hide. Her dress is a simple white pinafore with faded yellow dots. Bright pink ruffles trim her neck and collar. A blue bow trails behind. She stands alone gazing somewhere thoughtfully. Her expression is not very happy.
I remember being that girl. A tomboy forced into clothes that were somebody else’s idea. Standing uncertain in my girliness. But after three boys my mom couldn’t help herself; she was under the spell of designer Florence Eiseman. I bit my fingernails until they bled and picked at my cuticles. Sometimes I still do. My husband saw that painting and recognized that little girl.
On the day i returned from Miami, I found a path of bay leaves leading through my front door and into my bedroom closet. Inside i found this little pixie head peeking out and waiting for me. She has gone with me on many journeys. Looked over me during darker times. Schlepped from room to room without complaint.
Today she hangs to the left of my bed under a skylight next to my reading chair. She is the first thing I see each morning on waking. She reminds me of the vintage me. And the vintage us. And the incredibly romantic gesture that was.
Art is like that. It heals. It connects. Lives with us and through our stories.
Melinda Fay is a Marriage and Family Therapist with a specialty in Art Therapy. She began collecting art in her 20’s while living in San Francisco. Her most recent enterprise, Good Eye Gallery in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of L.A. grew out of Melinda’s idea that art, much like people, fails to thrive and live up to its potential when marginalized and labeled..