“I had a rare and precious independence in all this isolating exclusion from convention. That I knew”.
Many years ago when I was in my twenties, a time long in the rear view mirror when I think of all the life since, I interrupted a walk with my dog Princey to sit down on old border barricades of an empty lot in Brooklyn. It was past midnight. Intensely quiet. A moonless early spring night of impossibly bright stars and a night I have never forgot.
Princey was a collie shepherd mix. I found him months before, racing on the city streets from some cruelty with a bum’s old rope for a leash around his neck, scared and cowed and desperate and starving, and took him in.
Somewhere in the dark behind me by many blocks was my apartment on Atlantic Avenue. I lived on the second floor of a 3 story walk up, small building. There was no heat, the newly widowed Greek landlady drove in from Jersey to collect the rents but never filled the boiler. I used to run the hot water in the shower to make steam, somehow there was endless hot water. Turn on the oven and open the door. It was bone cold that place.
A Puerto Rican family lived above with two beautiful daughters. The father worked in the Ex-Lax factory half a mile away. The Black Panthers rented the store front on the ground floor below, filled with black uniforms, army boots, guns, bullet filled bandoliers, pot and incense in the air, secretive 24 hour conspiring, meetings, music, muscle and talk of revolutions.
The apartment was a good size, most were in those days. Lots of light from Atlantic Avenue through big windows. In the back the kitchen window could be opened onto the bit of roof of the room on the ground floor that extended into the crusty back yard. My apartment was filled with rescued cats, sequestered in what would have been one bedroom and a new room of chicken wire I constructed in the kitchen corner, and three dogs. And my child, less than six months old, my Trevor, left sleeping in his crib this night, so many nights, while I finished the endless day.
Mornings came early and nights ended late. I waitressed, tended bar, went to Coney Island on weekends to earn sign painting money. I’d wake my little boy from sleep before dawn to dress and bring him sometimes unfed to the babysitter and picked him up, hot against me from sleep in a strange crib by ten or eleven at night to bring him home. And lucky to have that in an age unknown to day care. There were clothes to hand wash in the sink, his and mine. Animals to feed, the dogs to walk. I’d even found a rooster on the sidewalk, a refugee from cock fighting and was trying to keep him alive in a closet fronted by a door I’d made of chicken wire. And it was during these months in that place that I started and finished a commission of a life size portrait of William F Buckley, Jr. in the front room that doubled as my bedroom and my studio and my everything else. Because of the animals, to not be found out, have them seized and killed, and us evicted, I kept the whole place clean and odorless as possible. That was its own career I’ll tell you that.
And through much of those early years like that I never understood my child’s crying because I did not allow crying for myself. The life I was in I had somehow made and was I in it. And the child with me, in it. And I didn’t know why I hurt when I hurt, or was angry or confused, or happy when any of those things hit. I’m not sure I questioned it. I had no idea how to care for either of us. I only knew I wanted to learn it for myself and being taken care of or married was not what I could stand, not deep in me, not that sacrifice. But I had put myself in therapy to reach it all, a slow grueling and liberating process. I had a rare and precious independence in all this isolating exclusion from convention. That I knew.
And in that night out under the benediction of starlight on that empty Brooklyn square feet of dust and quiet with Princey sitting beside me and welcoming my hugs and thoughtful of my agony I cried out to the universe
When will my time come.
When will my time for painting endlessly with all the supplies I need in a wonderful studio and house all safe and warm, a busy kitchen filled with food and color and life, a wonderful man who loves me and will raise my child with me, when will MY time come to paint and draw and write my books. How do I make that happen. I don’t know how to make that happen.
And weep I did.