The picture had been above my couch for over a year—ever since I moved to Austin about a year and four months ago. But in actuality, it had been above the couch for much longer than that. When it hung over the same couch in our living room. Back when it was our couch. Not exactly “ours” because we weren’t married and my parents bought it for us when we moved in together, but in my mind it was ours. Until we split, of course. Then, it became quite obvious what was yours and what was mine.
The picture was not of us, but you had given it to me among the many old objects of your Great Aunt’s belongings that your family was giving away since her passing. I remember that one day when I was helping to clean out the bathroom drawers of her home, with you and your family in the other room, and found a Tiffany’s brooch and envelope stuffed with cash that your Aunt had hidden from potential thieves. I liked her even more then, though I’d never met her. I recall feeling startled by the treasures—still a stranger to your family then—so I gave the items swiftly to your mother and was relieved of them.
I still have many of her old things though in and around my home. They sit well with me, being the old soul that I am, and they remind me of my Grandmother, as well, their sharing a similar style and era. I used to think whimsically at one point that your Aunt and my Grandmother became friends in heaven and put us together. For a time our love felt that way.
When I moved three states away though and went about creating a home of my new place, I never once thought to throw or give any of your Aunt’s things away. And because I’m frugal and don’t like change so much, I put the same picture above the same couch in my living room now, as if nothing was different. It fit well in the space, its black frame matching the black-framed mirror in my entryway and the Toulouse-Lautrec print I’d had forever of a woman at the theatre, also in a black frame, in my nearby kitchen.
But just recently, this little 5x7 picture began to catch my eye in a different way. The image is a reproduction of a “The Parasol” by Francisco Goya, which features a a young man holding a parasol to shade a woman, likely his lover or bethrothed’s face from the sun as she rests on the ground with a dog in her lap—a most benign, inoffensive painting—and yet I couldn’t stop staring at it one recent Saturday morning. What bothered me about it?
It was an odd coincidence that I had actually just visited a Goya exhibit taking place at the Blanton Museum in town. I am sure that the court painter’s career had many phases, but the works at the exhibition entitled, “Goya: Mad Reason” were far different than this idyllic scene of young lovers: rather, images of gored bulls and matadors, a bull charging a crowd of horrified spectators, harrowing depictions of war and pestilence, and dark supernatural creatures of the night.
The picture over my couch was laughable in contrast to these images. It also struck me that Saturday morning how silly a scene it was for someone like me to have in her apartment, in the middle of the room, informing her awareness at every passing.
It’s not that I don’t believe that love could be like this. It can be, and it has been for me at times. But to look at it every day felt like a longing I didn’t want to have. And the reality of it is that I can hold my own damn parasol. I can move myself three states away and start over. I can live on my own again and maintain my car, my livelihood, my finances, my health, my home. I didn’t need anyone shading me from the sun. I was staring into it now. Life and my happiness was on my own terms again, and mine alone.
I felt an impulse rush up in me then that morning, and I immediately took the picture down from the wall. I’d throw it away or give it away. But after thinking about what I would replace it with, and knowing I’d have to wait and buy something new, I found a better solution. I went into my desk drawer of old photos I have from travels—from the first time I drove across the country, moving myself to Savannah, GA in pursuit of an easier, more affordable life and being able to tour for my music project. As I flipped through the photos, I was reminded of just how far I’ve come, and of all the lives and adventures I’ve lived, before I lived with you.
It was then I found the perfect photo. A dark, open highway road at dawn with the sun just rising above horizon. An image to remind me of my courage in the face of the unknown, the promise of new beginnings, and—most importantly—to remind me of the flame that burns inside my heart.