the first thing you sculpted me was a heart of clay. you gave it to me in a crocheted purple and pink bag — full of small chocolates. between those sugary treats, wrapped in gift paper, sat Heart Dude. you said it was me. the heart flexed its bicep, smirking confidently. in my early 20s i was into lifting. nobody had made me a gift before. the back of him had slight lumps from your fingerprints, left from pressing the sculpture into shape. running my thumbs over those gentle grooves brought me closer to the moments you spent making him. having been together for 5 years now, i’ve seen how frustrated you get during the creative process. when the eyes in a face aren’t coming out right; or too much glue smears over the lashes on one of your dolls; you sometimes smash the works in progress altogether. other nights, you stop yourself from throwing them in the trash, only to wake up the next morning more appreciative over whatever detail had been agonizing you. and when i walk by as you’re sculpting, you shift your shoulders to hide the state of unfinishedness. because art’s fickle at that stage. so as someone who turns his laptop backlight down when people walk by, i get it. i really do. though, when i first held Heart Dude, i didn’t have that deep insight into your work. i was just in awe of the spell your hands cast to turn a plain brick of gray into a beautiful, personalized gift.
now if emotions were clay, they’d be hard to sculpt with. the more you knead into them, the more they slip between your fingers. sometimes you can make something decent out of a funk. but most times dwelling over it creates an even bigger mess. when you first gave me that gift, i couldn’t have lived further from my heart. i was a slave to an overactive brain. it picked everything apart. fixating over that ugly flap of fat around my neck and how i could never fully sharpen my jaw — no matter how much i worked out or little i ate. my mind was always brewing a toxic stew of all the ways where i couldn’t compare. both to people around me, or even just strangers off the internet. i’d made myself sick reflecting on where past friendships went wrong. stressed imagining could’ve been done differently. i pitied myself for what i didn’t have. bitched and whined and acted helpless. strongly avoided mirrors — especially the one at the gym with the banner above it saying “Believe in Yourself.” i spent hundreds of hours having visions of doom, only for none of them to come true. or if they did, for those worst case scenarios to turn out not TOO bad. even having hindsight, i still struggle with those thoughts. every day writing words nobody’ll ever read. but all that thinking hadn’t made me smarter. or willing to change. instead all i was able to see were plain bricks of gray.
like i hated how early on, you’d be comfortable enough around to fall asleep on my shoulder — in that way i always found cute and sorta funny, your one eye open but not moving, even if i dangled my hand in front of it — meanwhile i’d be staring our reflection in the glossy subway window, getting sad over one nitpick about myself or another. sometimes wanting to tear up while the train rocked you into a deeper sleep. but those days you were beating yourself up too. about having to have gotten your GED. that made you think you were too stupid to be the woman you are today: someone who’s about to get their first college degree. nevertheless, believe me, even while we were still standing outside that skating rink, opening up about the deep dread about ourselves we held — while others seem to effortlessly glide across the ice and be happy — i always saw you as not the greatest artist i’ve ever known. but also someone who was incredibly capable of overcoming that darkness inside her. ultimately, it’s only been through you that i’ve begun to see: Heart Dude wasn’t confident because he had nice biceps. to this day he’s smirking because the world hasn’t broken him.
your sculpture of old man Leonard wasn’t a gift. it was one of the first projects you trusted me to keep safe. you know i’m one of those people who keeps shit tidy. when we first met, you weren’t really like that, haha, and always had to dig through bags and closets to find the right tools for your projects. so not to brag, i feel like i’ve rubbed off on you in that way. nowadays you keep everything so neatly arranged, stacked under the bed in plastic containers, rubber banded together by type. i love that. and i love how, today, the shelf with all my books is lined with your creations. and that i’ve managed to keep them safe. but in the beginning there was only Leonard.
you’d sculpted Leonard one day as a person does when they make one of their most memorable works: on a whim, random day, without intending to create something great. immediately, he reminded me of the type of guy who goes to hardware and electronics stores to window shop. or sits in cafes every afternoon, reading heavy books about history and science. he was that old dude who keeps ketchup packets and napkins in his car for emergencies.
in a way, i guess that could also describe us. the aloof old souls. as long as i’ve known you, we’ve been old souls. after our first kiss, we went to get cheesecake at this late night pastry shop in the city and you watched in disbelief as i sent encouraging messages to strangers i’d found on the #cancer hashtag. we did and still do the same things most weeks. go to movies, two at a time — our “double whammies” —; walk around, looking at the metropolis both of us were born and had spent our every waking life in, yet still appreciate as if we were newly landed tourists. or you bring your sketch book whenever i want to go sit at one of my many favorite coffee shops, where i like to sit and drink coffee and read shit on my laptop. we both know those people who are always out traveling, and while sometimes we sorta envy them, and talk about venturing out of our comfort zone, the rest of the world just feels so bland compared to being home in the greatest city.
when we’re chilling inside, we keep to ourselves. like that old couple that is happy sitting next to each other on the couch, not saying much unless one of us has something interesting or important to say, or if i’m on a strong edible and can’t stop spilling the latest tea about people we both like to gossip about. and what’s funny about art is how, regardless of its ability to connect people, and give them all something to explore collectively, the actual grind of it is pretty isolating. yet, with you, being on two opposite sides of the room, being focused on our own little things, like we are doing this right now, is my favorite thing in this life. and then afterwards, once our fingers are tired from typing or sculpting, we come back together on the couch for a nightly movie to end the day.
you’d also sculpted me a can of beans with a loopy face. we were on the train to the city, headed for a movie. i remember calling it mid. i’m sorry! that was mean. but artists should be honest with other artists. so if any of this sucks, feel free to say so. but you’d sculpted that quickly. said it was made out of some spare bits of clay.
i’ve taken great care of your sculptures, constantly adjusting them away from the edge of the book shelf to make sure they don’t fall; even softly blowing dust off them every couple days; these works of art are delicate. especially your older pieces — made before you started coating your work with that glossy liquid at the end. still i’d knocked some sculptures over while wiping around with a rag. or as i tried to pull out a book behind them without thinking. so a couple have cracked; have parts becoming unglued. all but one of the petals of the clay flower have fallen off. i’ve kept all of them in a spare ashtray.
but that can of bean has remained unscathed. it looks exactly as it once did. with not a chip taken off the paint. so i guess sometimes it takes a while for the audience to truly appreciate. they think they’re above a work. while completely missing the point. because today i’d say that can of beans is one of your greatest creations. it has rolled over, hit the floor, at least twice i can remember. however, the clay has only seemed to harden, making it less likely to break year after year.
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