…And then there is a portrait of a young woman resting on a bench.
His strokes perfectly capture her delicateness, her sweetness, and her gentleness. Yet I had observed his semi-anguished faraway look as he ever so carefully worked to fashion the face of a woman who – though painted to sit at that certain park bench – wasn’t actually there…
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There is a young woman resting in this park bench. She is just several inches away from me. Her face is framed by delicate curls, her countenance is lit up by a sweet smile, and her eyes reveal that gentle, gentle light.
But I’m just pretending that she’s resting. And I’m just pretending that she’s there beside me as well. But her delicateness, her sweetness, and her gentleness – these are all real. Well, they were real. I pick up my brush, dip it in paint, and let it touch my canvass ever so gently.
“If you must go, then you must go. If that’s what it takes to make your dreams come true, then go.”
Her strength and conviction amaze me. I had expected her to beg me to stay, to ask me to never leave her side, to simply say, “Don’t go.” But she didn’t. She never did. That fact alone triggers a slight ache in my heart. But as I paint, I refuse to let the pain leak into my canvass. Ever so carefully, I let the brush strokes fashion her strong, determined, yet ever so fragile face.
“So you want me to go?”
“I want you to follow your dreams. I don’t want to hold you back.”
“Nathaniel, don’t. Don’t make it as hard as it already is. But I’m telling you. Go. You know I can’t come with you. You know that I still have to take care of Daddy’s business.” A pause. “I don’t know if I’m willing to wait for you either.” A faraway look. “When you go out there, there’ll be a lot of pretty girls calling out your name.”
“You know that you’re the only girl I have ever and will ever love.”
Fragile – I know her enough to understand how fragile she really is. She may pretend to keep a stiff upper lip when she so wants to cry, she may have the strength to face the world with a smile during her dark and stormy days – but she can never deny her vulnerability. Not in front of me, anyway. This painting must capture that fragility.
“You’re the only girl I have ever and will ever love.”
“You may say that now, but will you still be able to say it one, two, three, four, five years from now? I can’t do this, Nathaniel. I have to let you go.”
“I can’t convince you, can I?”
“I’m sorry, Natty.”
The portrait is now nearing its completion. In front of me, though magnificent from a bystander’s perspective, is a poor representation of the Isabelle that I have, and will always love. It has been two years since our parting and now this portrait is the only closest thing to having her next to me.
Two years. Two long years.
I now realize how right Isabelle was. No, not right about the pretty girls calling out my name. And no, not right about my affections for her changing in one, two, three, four, or five years time.
I realize her correctness in her saying, “I don’t want to hold you back.” In these two years of separation, I had produced more paintings than I knew I was capable of. I had observed more people, captured more lives in canvas. I had lived.
I now realize, in the same way that Isabelle didn’t want to hold me back, I now also do not want to hold her back. I know, like me, she has many dreams in her heart. And like this painting is meant to be hung up in a wall or gallery somewhere – not to be kept forever in my hands – Isabelle must be released from my hands as well. And she has been released. She is released.
I will come back for her. And then – God knows when “then” is – then we can share our lives and all our dreams together. If she’d still have and want me by that time.
But then there is a young woman resting in this park bench. She is just several inches away from me. Her face is framed by delicate curls, her countenance is lit up by a sweet smile, and her eyes reveal that gentle, gentle light. I’m just pretending that she’s resting. And I’m just pretending that she’s there beside me as well. But her delicateness, her sweetness, and her gentleness – these are, were, and in my heart I know – are still all real. In my heart, I know that they still are.
I still have to paint some more.