art by Lily Smrtic
CONTENT WARNING: RACISM AND ASSAULT
I used to believe that my father was secretly an artist, hiding the masterpieces he created while he wasn’t working for the MTA, ferrying around the denizens of New York City on a bus I thought he owned. My suspicions originated from the wall I would gaze at every night until I dozed off. It was pristine blue, with a mural of the entire Mickey Mouse Clubhouse crew in the center. I watched that show every day before school on TV, captivated by the escapades of Mickey and his pals. Every night they were there when Mom kissed me goodnight and Dad tucked me in, and every morning they were there as Dad helped me get dressed and Mom prepared breakfast, a stack of pancakes with syrup that melted the chocolate chips resting on top. It was my father who painted that mural. While my suspicions about him being an artist were correct, looking back, I wish they weren’t.
See, I was only half-right. You could certainly call what my father did on his off hours “art,” but only if you were also willing to call his “muses” a dubious set of people he met on a particularly late bus route. Only if you were willing to call his “canvas” himself, and the high that he was desperately chasing. Only if you were willing to call his “materials” the countless arguments in the living room that not even Mickey’s smile, half-shadowed in the darkness, could overcome. I spent countless hours staring out a dusty living room windowsill, waiting for him to come back, wondering why he didn’t.
Years later, during my first year of high school, I repainted my room, burying Mickey and Co. and their azure paradise under a crimson red. As I dipped my brush into the bucket for the last time, I didn’t feel particularly sentimental, and was both thankful and worried that I hadn’t experienced a stronger reaction. While I needed to move past the legacy of my father, “the artist,” it was surreal adjusting to a blank wall. I had not only erased him from my life but the childhood he was a part of, and believed — or at least wanted to believe — that I didn’t need him in either.
However, as the days turned to weeks and the rain turned to snow, I found that something was missing. The wall felt lonelier than I, having lost six of its dearest friends after the great Paintbrush-Wall Conflict of 2017. I needed something to fill that void, and found it in the strangest of places: on my walk to school. I saw two well-dressed men exit an apartment complex, each holding one side of a painting that was wider than them combined. Yet, even as it was being discarded, the bright colors and stark contrasts present in the piece called to me. Against all sanitary reasoning, I decided to carry it with me the entire day. It was only on the bus ride home, that same MTA route that my dad had followed all those years ago, that I realized I could put it on my wall.
When I finally got home, I realized that it wasn't a painting at all; it was merely a print of abstract art that some concierge had decided was out of style. However, that didn’t detract from the beauty I saw in it; regardless of whether or not it was “real” art, I was the one who had found it and hauled it home. Even though I was never the artist in my family, my father had nothing to do with this masterpiece. It was wholly mine. It meshed perfectly with my wall, the painting itself blending a mix of red on the top and blue on the bottom to create a vibrant purple in its center — right where Mickey’s wave would have been.