The Artist

I grew up six houses down from a boy I never got to know.

We were in the same grade, often the same class, and I never really spoke to him. I remember in second grade, when the rest of us were learning to read, and playing soccer at recess, he was drawing. Cars mostly. At first. And they were beautiful. He'd draw them in fine pencil lines and he'd smear the smudges until they looked like shadows. In second grade he could draw a picture of a car that looked like it could drive off the page.

My teacher often hung up his pictures, and sometimes I'd linger after class, looking at that simple pencil drawing, trying to figure out how on earth he did that. I never talked to him, but in my head, I called him the artist.

As we grew up, he started drawing more, and getting more attention for his art. He won a reflections contest that I had hoped to win, his pictures flapping in the stale air conditioning as they hung from the teacher's wall. Sometimes during math, I'd lean back in my chair, watching him as he drew. I never pointed out the smudge of lead on his forehead. I never told him I liked his work.

I think I was jealous, really, that he got to be something special. So I admired him, and hated him in the same breath, and I never talked to him. I wanted to see him taken down a peg. It wasn't fair that he always won those contests. It wasn't fair that his art was always on the wall.

So, in fourth or fifth grade, I took my most favorite Lisa Frank folder, the one with the dolphins that I had picked out special and prized so much, and I traced those dolphins onto another piece of paper. I drew my own water, drew grasses growing from the bottom, copied his style of smudging the pencil lines to create shadows and definition, and then I turned it in. My teacher hung it up on the wall, and for a shallow second, I was proud that my drawing was up there with his. Placed a little bit higher actually, because what is really impressive as a first grader, isn't quite as impressive once everyone else catches up.

Someone turned me in for cheating, but I vehemently denied it. I ripped up my prized folder when I got home. ripping it into tiny shredded pieces. I never showed my mom that art, because I knew she would recognize the folder she had bought, and she would know I was just a cheater.

My pride turned itself hollow. That win wasn't really a win. I defeated him, but I didn't. All I did was prevent him from winning. I would not say I won.

But he didn't really draw much after that.

The last time I ever saw his art was when I was sixteen. I considered myself an artist then, though my medium was drama, and choir, and writing on the side. I was taking a walk around my neighborhood, and there on the sidewalk was the last drawing of his that I ever saw. It was a chalk drawing of a naked woman in a lewd position. This was out on the street. Kids lived next door, and these were my streets where I played as a little kid. I couldn't believe he would do that. But mostly, it shocked me, because it was really really good. The eyes were sad. I remember those eyes. How did he make those eyes so sad?

I dumped my water bottle over the drawing and I kept walking. I didn't stop to see it wash away the chalk, or to see the colors smear, or see the contents of my water bottle destroying those eyes. I just kept walking.

And while my actions were strangely satisfying, at least to my righteous indignation, as I marched away, I couldn't help but be heartbroken. I couldn't tell if what I had just done was the right thing to do, or if it was wrong. Seventeen years later, I still don't know.

 At one point, he was my favorite artist. And I destroyed his art. His last art, actually.

I don't know what happened to him. I don't know if he went to college and studied art. I don't know if he dropped out of school, and is now a tattoo artist, or if maybe he never gets to draw at all. I don't know anything about him.

But then I never really did.


  1. That is such a beautifully written tale which I know I can relate to. I'd be wonderful to pretend that I never downplayed anyones talents or triumphs in an attempt to feel better. It would also be untrue. Sadly I continue to learn and relearn how hollow it feels when I try to console my insecurities by stifling others. Sheen, you are such a gifted writer. It takes a true sense of bravery to bare your soul in the compelling way in which you do.


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