I am a man. Why can no one see it? Why am I a number? Sexless? Existing not living? Unsure of my goals, meandering along a path that has been trod so many times before by equally faceless people. Trudging along, seemingly achieving nothing. Without a face without hope, aspiring to nothing. How did this happen?
I was once a vibrant, enthusiastic student at a varsity of my choice, studying art which gave me so much satisfaction. My parents had tried their hardest to convince me to take a business course as a backup. But who needs a backup if you know what you want to do and you have a conviction that you were meant to succeed?
Almost from an early age I can remember grabbing paper and pencil or crayon and drawing my own things. Colouring in books bored me. They belonged to someone else. Colour fascinated me. A blank page was a white sheet crying out for colour. When I started preschool no other activity gave me the satisfaction that I got from drawing. Where other children drew items that were meaningful to them my “art” was just colours radiating out from an inner point in my soul. When I was in High School I was fortunate to have an art teacher who recognised that I had something that I wanted to express and colour was my medium. She encouraged me, gave me purpose and directed me to make the colours function in a way that others could benefit from and interpret and understand. She encouraged me to continue with my studies.
I excelled at art school. I walked away with numerous awards and a coveted bursary that would pay for me to go to Paris to study with the artist of my dreams.
My family were gradually coming around to understand what I was meant to do and it was with great excitement that the time finally came for me to make that trip to Paris – to the city that had nurtured so many artists in its prime.
It was with trepidation that I attended the first session at the Paris Art Institute. There were many classes to be got through before my first meeting with “HIM”.
He had a preconceived notion of how we were to be seated in the room and we were each directed to the position of his choice. I was in the middle row next to the wall. My neighbour was an intense young lady who didn’t take her eyes off her art, the teacher or the subject.
I attempted a shy greeting and was met with a blank wall of contempt. She was here to study and not to socialise. That was the beginning of my destruction. Now and then her contemptuous glance summed up what she thought of my so-called talent.
The Master was a good teacher and brought out what was best in all of us, however she never seemed to consider anything that I did was worthy of her attention.
As the days went by it became a burning desire to see some warmth, some encouragement in her face. When I was out of the class I could think clearly and could realise that her commendation was worthless but there in class all I longed for was some praise, some acknowledgement that I had what it takes.
I was stupid to let it become an all-encompassing desire to win her approval. Nothing else mattered. It did not matter that the Master approved of me. I had to have her recognition.
This slowly began to eat away at me, eat away at my confidence and yes, eat away at my talent until I was producing work that was barely good enough for crediting me with a pass and so I came to fail at the one thing that I loved.
I came home like a dog with its tail between its legs. I walled myself up in my room and negated any attempts by my parents to get me functional again.
In desperation my mother called in someone who I might listen to – my high school art teacher. We sat in silence for a while until she broke the silence with the one question that I was dreading.
The dam wall broke. I’m ashamed to say that I cried. Me, a man, broke down and sobbed. I still could not explain what had happened, how I could have let someone who was relatively so unimportant to have such a huge effect on my life.
I just kept on saying “My talent has gone. I am nothing.”
After she had gone I heard my parents whispering and soon I was shipped off to a rehab centre where it was hoped that I could regain some sense of who I was. It was assumed that I had suffered a break down. In a way I had, my resolve, my talent, my dreams had all been broken down. Broken down by one insignificant woman whose commendation I craved, I did not understand why I had craved it but there it was, an undeniable fact.
During this time I was encouraged to express myself in any way that was meaningful to me. I was not drawn to the palette and brushes that were dangled enticingly in front of me.
The doctors became despairing of me and finally gave up. I moved back home still spiritless. My father arranged a job for me. He felt I needed something for direction so here I am in a mindless, repetitive, boring job. I walk in in the morning, my body takes over, I do my work and I walk out at the end of the day. My mind is locked. My spirit is dead. I am without hope.
My life has been taken away by an uncaring individual.
One day as I trudged home I became aware of someone else who was walking the same route as me. I was trudging but she was walking as if on air. There was an air of expectancy in her, wonder of what she may find at the next step.
As the days went by I noticed that she was there every day, travelling the same route but definitely not in the same way.
One day the inevitable happened.
“Hi” she said. “You and I walk the same route every day. My name is Elsa. What is yours?”
“Fred” I mumbled.
“Hello Fred” she said and we continued the walk in silence.
Each evening she would greet me with a “Hello Fred” and then there would be silence. Gradually I came to enjoy the silent passage of time. I realised that she understood I needed my space. A soon as that realisation kicked in I lost some of my trepidation and one evening I got the words in before she could.
“Why hello Fred. Nice to see you again.”
And then we walked on in silence. Gradually we conversed a bit more each day until I began to look forward to our walks.
Maybe there is hope for me after all. Well, let’s wait and see.
© Vera Alexander
© Vera Alexander