My Portrait

When I was six years old my grandmother, Harriet, came to stay with us. My parent’s had recently moved us from Alaska to Ohio were my dad was working with a new company. We were living in an apartment complex and this was the first place I remember having a fully decorated room that felt finished and cozy like a little girl’s bedroom. The rooms prior were small, in a trailer and I scarcely recall any decorations at all save a metal Snoopy trashcan, which doesn’t even seem like it would be something that was mine.


When my grandmother came to visit, it was such a surprise and I was very excited to see her, as I’d spent so much time in her care when we lived in Alaska, that she was a welcomed sight in this new place that had not been the nicest place so far.


In the morning my mother was gone, or left, I don’t recall, what I do know is that it was just me and Gramma again, just like before. She was very good with me. Today, she was going to practice her portrait painting, and I was going to experience my first ballet performance, Swan Lake and what it’s like to sit for a portrait.


Gramma dressed me in an off-white blouse my mother had made; it buttoned up the back and had rows of lace ruffles running down the front, it looked very appropriate for the theatre. She swept my long blonde hair up and back into a barrette and positioned me at my small child’s table. I sat up straight in my chair with my hands resting on top one another, found a relaxed expression and waited.


For entertainment, Gramma found Swan Lake being performed on TV and without knowing it, had found my next love, ballet dancing. I was transfixed and sat quietly as she painted a portrait that, 50 years later, hangs in my mother’s home.


That weekend, when my mother returned, I remember her sitting me down on the couch to have a talk. I distinctly recall her asking me if I knew what a divorce was, and I know my brain was telling me, ‘yes, I know what that means, but I’m going to make you tell me’. So I replied that I didn’t know. She told me that she and daddy weren’t going to be together anymore. I don’t think I really responded. And I don’t believe she elaborated.


What my mother had returned from was a weekend trip to Illinois to surprise Rick. She knew he was cheating, and it was apparent when he nearly refused to leave the hotel in which he was staying. They ate in the lobby restaurant and he didn’t want her to meet anyone he’d been working with. She didn’t meet the woman he was seeing, and for many years she believed it was his 4th and final wife, Trudy, with whom he was ‘hanky-pankying’. That weekend was enough for her.


In present day, at 84, my mother has been more forthcoming with some of the real details of hers and Rick’s marriage. She told me about Rick Wood coming home from Illinois drunk that weekend; hearing him sobbing and wailing outside. When she looked out the window she saw him below, in the snow on his knees, dramatically raising his fists in the air. She said he liked drama, he liked to act it out. Since she’d seen this act before she went to bed. It wasn’t too long when she heard a loud crash and came out to find Rick had kicked open the front door of the apartment. An unnecessary move, as the door wasn’t locked, and even it was, he drove home, why didn’t he just use his door key? She said it added to his sense of theater.


Thankfully, I don’t recall any of this drama or turmoil. I don’t have many memories of Rick. As for the move, I don’t remember him being there at all; he was just gone.

And that’s when we started a new life in Florida. Little did I know, Rick would also come to make a life in Florida, and for all of my life, he lived only an hour’s drive away.