You have not slept well this week.
You are caught someplace between the fear of staying and the sadness of leaving.
You think: What if I am wrong about the other side?
You are in your bed staring up at the ceiling.
You think back to Tuesday’s prayer group. How you went to try and clear your mind. (You are your mother’s child even as you have been trying to run away from this very truth.)
Your eyes drift to the painting sitting against the wall next to your bed.
You squint at the scene: faceless figures in an unremarkable room with a blue-and-white tiled floor. The figures are dressed in pastel pinks and blues and white formal wear.
You think about the dead relative who gifted this to you when you were an infant, how you missed her last days, how she was down South when she died and you were not.
You were here.
You now notice, some thirty years later, that the painting is not necessarily a good painting — but it’s your painting. The first one you ever owned. An asset that might accrue value. You were always told that the acquisition of such assets and their accrued value is the key to closing the wealth gap. You read at some point that even this is not enough.
You know this painting has not accrued any financial value.
You recall something bell hooks once wrote. The way Black Southern families adorn the walls of their homes with images of themselves. The photographs arranged with thought and pride. Generations of Black cool on display. Entangled lineages seeking to be unraveled.
Your painting reminds you of a photograph: you are a child of seven or eight years old. You are wearing a pink dress worn by members of your church’s children’s choir. You are holding your grandfather’s hand. The two of you are standing in the church’s genesis hall where congregants would gather after service. The walls of the hall are a pastel blue. The floor is tiled white.
You know that your people are not “art” people. They are scrambling to cross into the precariousness of middle-classness. They filed bankruptcies during the recession. They are drowning in debt. They have little to no savings. They do not own their homes. If they own their homes, they have also become the caretakers of the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren, the wayward relative. They are working well into their old age to cover funeral costs — there have been many. They have been addicts. They have betrayed one another. They have been holy.
Your people are everything good about art: the nuance in their cadences, the richness of their drawls, the fullness of their speech. They have been self-fashioning since forever.
You hate the fact that you are so romantic about it all. It is not even a good painting.
You would have never chosen this painting for yourself.
Your gaze will not let up and you feel all of the things that you have ever wanted to say to your people forming a knot in your throat. How we have hidden behind our holiness. How it almost suffocates us. There is much to detangle. You do not know how to begin. You realize that waiting for you, on the other side, is a release. You are not sure if you can even do this: release.
You say aloud: If nothing else, we’ll always have the images of ourselves. (And the painting that reminds you of those images.)
You know this means you are afraid.
Perhaps this is why you are still here. Not there.