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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

mannequins (you can't go back)

E stands next to me at my desk, watching me working. She coughs once, a leftover of the light cold she is getting over. She rests a hand on my arm.
"Pop." She says, breaking the silence of the room.
I turn to her.
"I think I am ready to learn to draw right." She says. "Like you and grandpa do."
I have explained things to her many times, how she will never draw her characters the same once I teach her how to draw what she sees, not the ideas of hands and eyes, the ideas of striped stockings and impossibly pointed shoes.
"Are you sure?" I ask.
She nods once.
I find a white box, and place it in the light that comes through the big window, turning it so the sides and top are in different degrees of shadow.

E is sitting with her hands on her knees, a pile of cheap white paper in front of her. My good pencils are ready. I show her how to measure the box, holding the pencil out in front of her, showing how the box is so wide, and two times that and a little more than that tall. She starts to draw lines and I stop her, starting a drawing on my page of the back cabinets behind the box, leading up to the box's edge. She hovers over my page, then goes back to hers. I explain we are drawing the shapes of the shadows now, that we are not drawing a box or the idea of a box - we are drawing a flat shape that has some angles, and then another flat shape that is a little bit darker when we get to the top.
She gets it, and the late morning is flipping past us. 

Her drawing is wobbly and out of proportion but the ideas are there. I point out what she has done well, what she might try to work on. My big eraser comes out of the bag and she digs into her drawing. I finish mine, trying to give her an idea of certain things to work towards. 
We start a second time, this time blackening the center of the page with pencil and drawing the box with the tip of a kneaded eraser. 
"We draw the light." I keep telling her.
She frowns at one point. 
"Yours is really good." She says, stopping.
"Well I have been doing this for a long, long time." I tell her. "For half an hour, you are doing awesome."
She drops the eraser to the table. Her fingers flip at the corners of the page. 
E is starting to cry.
The phone rings. Her mother will take her in a little while. 
I pull her to my side, pointing out what she got right in her first drawing. The tears are still rolling down her chin. Her nose is flooded with snot.
"Did you expect to be perfect without any practice?" I ask, making a joke.
She laughs, snot bubbles popping from her nose.
We stop.
She slumps against my shoulder for a while.
We pack her laptop, her phone charger, a stray doll with a giant blue afro that she will bring.

The call eventually comes and I take her downstairs for that walk I never get used to, when I have to strap the seat belt onto her and say goodbye even if it is just for an afternoon, or one whole night. The moment of closing the door and turning away is impossible to be prepared for. I wander back upstairs, looking at the things we were just playing with like mannequins in a store window staring back at me.





Comments

liv said…
Oh, I so love her quirky little characters with their impossibly-pointed-shoes.
But for an artist, this is a right of passage. Learning to draw what you see - learning to see.

Closing that car door must be excruciating for you.

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