Observer Portrait: Draft 1

Narrative & Argument:

Typos and all!

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When we walked up the pathway to the house and I saw all the trendy Nebraska-bohemians lounging around the porch in their vintage dresses, leather boots, dyed hair, and loud prints, I had the burning sensation of being an outsider being brought in to display. I was introduced to the first person, a girl named Jacquie, could see her a flash of recognition in her eyes and then a distinct evaluation of my responses as she put together the pieces of stories she’d heard about me. This is what happened when you introduced two different worlds to each other.

Privately, I mention my discomfort to Evan who shrugs, “I don’t think they’re judging you. I think they’re just curious.” I got the same feeling the first time I met people from the art the department, where Evan was already a much-loved figure by students and faculty. What was someone like him doing with a goody two-shoes like her? We didn’t even look like a good couple. At just under six-foot four, Evan was an exceptionally tall person and at exactly five feet, I am an exceptionally short person. My Vietnamese heritage has given me a petite frame, straight dark hair, and a slightly tanned complexion whereas he is an ideal Swede with his curly white-blond hair, blue eyes, a prominent nose, and fair skin that he himself has described as “impressively white.” And Evan did leave an impression on you. Even in the plain gray t-shirt, dark slacks, and brown shoes he was felt more special than the people on the porch advertising themselves as unique. On a shorter person, his muscles would have allowed him to pass for a lean man, but because his limbs were so elongated, he appeared more gawky than strong. Combined with the blonde curls that cap his head like a well-brushed sheep and no matter what he wore he’d be memorable.

The porch crew exchanged stories about some of their friends’ exploits and novel encounters. Many involve drinking, drugs, or brazen complaints about work as they experiment with different topics for the crowd.  They had decided their preferred method of mosquito repellent would be cigarette smoke and are all working together to keep the entire lawn pest-free. I was trying to breath as little as possible in improve my calculation on how many hours of my life this second-hand smoke was taking. In my hand, was an undesired bottle of beer that was growing warm from neglect.

“What did you do today, Evan?” A boy asks, tempting Evan to do more than respond to conversation.

“Painted,” he says confidentially, and then with the proper dramatic pacing, “I ate cereal and I painted.” The listeners grinned at this comical response. Simple as it was, they were charmed. The vagueness allowed their imaginations to run while as they pictured the creative at his play, trying to figure out what “muse” he used for his bright surrealist paintings.  The modesty of the response belied the truth of his statement. More than half the time I’d meet him at his house, he was in the basement painting with the sound of his favorite jazz or blues filling up the small workspace. Evan would wake up, start painting, and then keep painting all day for hours only stopping to eat. He was the most diligent young artist I have ever met. Without an exhibition coming up or assignment required for school, he’d be working on a painting day and night for weeks. He had just finished a series of neon paintings of melting flowers and bar scenes created by merging hundreds of lines of different colors that definitely had the feel of music posters for psychedelic rock music. He had just completed a large canvas of a single, small beer glass surrounded by gold glitter. These canvases would be measured in feet, not inches. Many were taller than him.

I remember around this time last year we were walking around downtown together to look at different galleries, small as the art scene in Omaha was it could be covered in a day. We stumbled upon a new building that called The Kaneko that was functioned as a art studio, exhibition space, and library founded by the international artist Jun Kaneko.  As Evan would explain to me, Kaneko created enormous ceramic pieces with meticulous patterns painted on them. I enjoy learning about art, but long after I felt satisfied and was fidgety to move on, Evan would still be engrossed in an art book completely oblivious to how much time passed and would write down little notes in a small pad he kept in his pocket. Eventually we walked to a larger contemporary art gallery and, after looking at the exhibit, Evan struck up a conversation with one of the employees at the desk, the natural outcome of which was for them to give Evan the curator’s business card and tell him to reach out to them. They could see his sincerity about his work and enjoyed his honest conversation. We walked to other galleries on the list and he would ask whoever was willing to talk to him about the possibility of having an exhibition of his work.

The kids on the porch were willing him to be the hell-raiser they had partied with on some other night all of the time, but Evan always knew when to work and when to play. The inspiration they were looking for wasn’t drugs, although he quite enjoyed them, it was all his experiences of the world and how he interpreted them. In the eight years I’ve known him, I could see how the different categories of his life were all on the same plane and gave him the same level of enjoyment just in different ways. He collected things he learned from this or that to redistribute somewhere else. He was just as inspired listening to scratchy recordings of his favorite blues musicians or talking to his favorite person, his grandmother, as he was thrilled by artistically vandalizing a building or a good bottle of whiskey.

I can’t blame them, when I first met him in eight grade, I had gotten it wrong too. With his lanky figure and acne-prone pale skin made me think he was a shy kid that got lost in the teenage crowd. The fact that he was extremely quiet only confirmed this. I found out later he that it just never occurs to him to say frivolous things and interrupt the world he is watching.

It had been a year since we’d broken up and here I was meeting the new people in his life. They knew me only as the girl that dated him for four years and now they were trying to puzzle out what made me interesting enough to have had this privileged. Just lucky I guess.


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