Jackson Pollock is in Iowa, and I’m losing it.
I drive my dearest friend to the Sioux City Art Center, where the artist’s largest work is on loan, sirening me in the middle of my nightmare. My infant son is in the backseat. My friend and I sip on lattes she made at her coffeeshop. We haven’t talked for months. But we spill, brave and heavy. And we find we’re each not so alone. And we can carry each other, if only for a little while.
I wonder if I’ll see my old sculpture professor who works at the art center, one who greatly influenced my style, the style I found, the style I make nothing in anymore, because I’m lazy, because I’m depressed, because I’m a failure. This is the same sculpture professor who wanted to paint in the color of his wife’s placenta, after their child was born, because he had never seen such a red, and probably never would again.
We enter a room off the gallery. And there it is. Like a pulse. My friend starts to cry. I want to cry, too. But my heart can only hold pain. We grasp hands and stand in front of the massive watershed of Abstract Expressionism. My son is sweaty on my chest.
Maybe this is like our lives, my friend whispers to me. Maybe our trials and challenges appear haphazard, but like Pollock, the experience is the point. Maybe one day, we’ll stand back, see all the drips and scatters, and say, Oh, isn’t it beautiful?
No, I think—No. Mine is falling apart. And I don’t know how to stop it.
But I don’t say that. I just stand there and hold my dear friend’s hand.
We talk to the security guards. Strange Midwestern women who see 666s in the oil paint. I see my old professor. He encourages me in my art. But I don’t feel it. Everything’s a blur. Everything’s been a blur for awhile.
I sit on a hard couch in front of Mural and nurse my son. For a little while, I’m art, too. For a little while, I melt into Pollock.
My friend gives me a watercolor she painted with four feathers on it, one with each of our names—mine, my husband, our two children.
I pray it will be like this again, she says. Whole, she means. I even left room to add another, she says. Baby, she means.
I roll it up and place it in a tube with some bad art I just made, art in the same style I found with the placenta professor. And I sink back into myself. Numb.
On vacation, I slip my wedding ring onto a dead tree branch in Yellowstone. A week later, my husband will toss his into the Pacific.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
And Mount Saint Helens erupts.
A cataclysmic rift, we sweep everything in our path. People. Homes. Plans. Dreams.
Ashes, ashes, sackcloth and ashes, dumped on our heads, rubbed on our palms.
Ashes, ashes, sackcloth and ashes, crossed on our foreheads, filling our lungs.
And I hum with the Cascades,
a low and steady tone.
And I hum with the Cascades,
a mournful song.
I’m driving to my sister’s. Driving to the Oregon desert, east of the Cascades. Driving from the rain, the gray of Western Oregon, crossing the mountain range that includes Saint Helens. The range of my destruction. Every time I drive to her house, I stop on the Pacific Crest Trail. It crosses the highway. Or the highway crosses it. I slow, slow, slow my car and pull off. I know I would have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail already, if I didn’t have kids. Deep in despair, I would have hiked it, at some length, I would have hiked it, searching for my redemption. I don’t think I would have found it.
I found Cheryl Strayed’s Wild just before my life fell apart. And I devoured it. My stopping to be in the presence of the Trail is some small measure of faith, it seems, a nod to something I don’t yet understand. And maybe never will. But I do it. I stop and light a candle, so to speak, in the cathedral of the PCT.
I get out of my car, and breathe, breathe, breathe. I am here, yet not. Present, yet not. Feeling, yet not. I set my camera on timer, place it on the hood, and run, run, run away. Like the blog, Running from Camera. How far can I sprint down the trail before it takes a photo of my back? I think the camera takes the shot, so I stop. And walk. Deep, deep, deep in thought. Thinking of everything, yet nothing. I don’t know it, but it is then the shutter clicks. In the photo, I’m walking into the Wild. I feel free.
In three days, the Temple was rebuilt. And in the three days before my divorce is final, I hear the still, small voice of God.
Look at what is happening around you. Slow down, and look at what is happening.
What the heck is that supposed to mean?!
But I try to follow. I slow down. I look around. But I keep hearing creepy K-LOVE songs I think are speaking to me. And I want to yell back at them. So I do, sometimes, when my kids aren’t in the car.
And somehow, I realize, I don’t want a divorce. And somehow, I discover, my husband doesn’t either. And somehow, together, we start the awkward, messy work of restoration.
Beauty from destruction.
A year passes. Nearly a lifetime.
My husband and I pull up to Oregon’s Cannon Beach. And I see Haystack Rock, rising like a majesty out of the Pacific. I am too tiny to comprehend it. It is wondrous.
On the beach, I sit on the sand and meditate in front of it, eyes closed, while my kids, dog and husband swirl around me.
I am gone, yet here.
Emily Sweet, Editor-
Emily Sweet is a writer and artist living in Oregon with her husband and two children. She loves her job at the Pacific Northwest’s premier film lab, PhotoVision, and has become smitten with medium format film.