February 27, 2017

Josh Sommer and friends at camp

Above: A photo from that year at summer camp. I definitely took this picture off of someone's Facebook. Josh is the one on the far right. He still wears that shirt sometimes.

This is a story about art I made because of a boy. (Spoiler alert: we got married. Sorry to ruin the ending.) I cleaned out my studio last week and found an entire crate of sketchbooks and journals. A lot of the work in those sketchbooks shaped my future as an artist today. And a lot of those pages are filled with stuff about a boy. His name is Josh. Today I’m going back to the time we met. It’s a prequel to a lot of the art that came later. I have no paintings of this one, just a story, a photo, and a poem.

When I was 14, I went to a whitewater rafting camp in West Virginia. It was a camp for high school kids, but I was younger than a lot of the girls in my cabin. I remember feeling shy.

One day I found myself sitting at the piano in the dining hall. It must have been just before or just after dinner, because I remember a handful of workers wiping down tables and moving about the kitchen. I sat and filled the room with bits of Chopin, Kabalevsky, and Mozart. (Yeah, I was the nerd who played classical piano because it felt safer than flirting with high school boys.) After finishing one song, I heard a voice behind me:

“That was really beautiful. You should sing, too.”

His name was Josh, and he was 18. He was the object of much flirtation; my cabin had an ongoing prank war against him. He had longish blond hair and deep blue eyes and was the kind of boy that girls would call “beautiful”.

I was embarrassed by his attention. I mumbled something like “oh, thanks, I guess.” And that was it. He left me sitting alone, my face burning. I stood, closed the cover to the piano, and left.

For some reason, we both remember this brief interaction vividly. Years later, I wrote a poem about it. Because, you know, that's what angsty teenagers do.

The valley is rich and green all over again,
Just as we find it every summer when the boys gather to play killer games of Red Rover
and the girls sit on the hill under the pretense of making bracelets,
all the while watching, each girl with her eye on someone in particular.
The sunset is rich, sweeping yellow and gold over our faces,
Tanned from hours of hiking, rafting, swimming, and sweating.
I am young, only 14 years old. Too shy to join the games,
I make my way to the dusty, tuneless piano in the dining hall
And play quietly among the workers preparing for taco night: everyone’s favorite.
There is silence, and a voice behind me: “That is really beautiful. You should sing, too.”
You are 18, handsome, long hair and a headband.
I notice, but too young to think much will of you,
I am focused on the embarrassment I feel at having been caught.
NO TRESPASSING, I want to say, like the brown and yellow sign that stands before the lake.
But I don’t need to say anything; already you are gone from my life for almost three more years,
when our lives will wander together again
and you will slowly work to take down the sign I hung in my heart
until I learn to trust you, and I start to love you.
But there is none of that today. There is only NO TRESPASSING.

It was a beginning, a prequel. A lot came of that little moment. And I have loads of sketchbooks to show for it. You can see the first page of my sketchbook and read what happened next here.

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