All I see is pea-soup green. All I hear is the wind.
I remember a year ago…
“You should try it,” said Jake as we walked across Fifty-ninth Street.
“I don’t know…I don’t want to end up like that guy.” I dropped my change in the young veteran’s tin can and stepped over his one leg hidden under a newspaper blanket. A handful of crisp leaves skipped across the sidewalk at his foot; I wondered if that newspaper helped at all against the nip in the air.
Five years ago, Pastor Mike had taken our youth group to Central Park and stopped to pray with this same guy. “What’s your name, sir?” he asked.
The man slurred. “Douglas.”
“Lord, you love this man, so we ask…”
Douglas hadn’t changed at all. Pastor Mike had prayed over me too before I left for college four years ago. Was I different?
I tossed my hat next to Douglas when Jake wasn’t looking.
“It’s not like I’m doing hard drugs. Man, it should be legal. Smoking pot loosens me up; my artwork is better, more expressive. And I’ll be honest, bro, your paintings could use some loosening. You’ve got talent, but it’s all caged up in perfectionism. You’re afraid to experiment.” He handed me a card for a Soho gallery with his name on the front. “Hope you can make the opening.”
“I’ll be there,” I said, smiling like it was the greatest news since microwave cooking. It would’ve been if it was my own show. How did we go to art school together, take the same classes, get the same straight A’s, yet he got a gallery show, and I was selling pastels at Pearl Paint? Maybe it was the pot. Could it help my art? I wondered.
Jake’s art show was impressive. Abstract figures and landscapes painted over black and white city photos, nothing like his realistic still-lifes in school. I patted his back. “This is awesome.”
“Hey, Liam, thanks for coming.” Jake handed me a glass of red wine. “A group of us from school started what we call: ‘The Art Club’ in an old warehouse. You should come; we meet every Wednesday. Plenty of stuff for inspiration.”
The first Wednesday passed. I couldn’t get myself to go, didn’t want to let Mike down; he was like the father I didn’t have. He warned me that living as an artist would be challenging.
After a week of lousy painting, the idea of something inspiring me to reach a new level hovered over my thoughts—sat there like the mold in my studio apartment fridge. I had to go. Just a little might jolt my creativity…just once. I’ve never gotten high before. What was I missing?
The alley was covered in graffiti—words and symbols surrounded the title, “The Art Club.” I liked it, even if the warehouse was a bit eerie, a great place to get mugged. A skinny, shirtless guy with nose and cheek piercings answered the door. “Who are you,” he grunted.
Before I could answer, Jake pushed him aside. “Hey, man. Come on in.” I stepped into the fog. “Everyone, this is Liam. Liam this is everyone.” No one even glanced my way…but art was happening everywhere: painting, sculpting, metal scrap molding into three-dimensional work. A sweet, earthy scent filled the room. I knew this smell from the two parties I went to in high school; a loner, Christian artist explains all. Here was a group of unique individuals like me, who I doubt went to church, but knew what the outside of a circle looked like.
Jake offered a joint…and another…and another.
My canvas would’ve looked blank to any bystander, but I saw green hues and composition, even a title: My Storm. I squeezed out purple dioxide, cadmium red, and oxide green, swirling the colors together to get a rich black and sketch my idea.
Wednesdays were great until I started wanting more. Could I do even better art with something stronger?
Soon my life swirled into a routine of drugs, painting, euphoria, coming down, depression, and waiting for the next high. After a while, I forgot to paint. Until I stopped breathing.
All I see is rainbow stripes. All I hear is Pastor Mike praying…and my name.
A year later…
I walk up to Douglas. As he sways back and forth to Elvis’s “Love Me Tender,” played by a street musician on the opposite corner, I ask him if he wants to change.
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