Wall Art of an Ocean

If you trace the contents of a painting— an authentic one you paid good money for— the grooves of your fingers follow the same path the artist made with a brush. Every impression, streak, and divot literally at your fingertips. 

If you trace the contents of a mass-produced T.J. Maxx canvas wall art, the warmth of your fingers will melt the faux brush strokes made out of Mod Podge atop the canvas to give clearance shoppers the illusion of fine art. Warmer, summertime temperatures make these paintings perpetually sticky for the duration of the season, tacky to the touch. Put the wall art in a cramped half-bathroom full of five third-grade boys pissing, it just might start melting off the wall. 

My eldest brother was born in July. His birthday parties had one stipulation: include your little sister who was miserably born in January and never had proper parties.

On his ninth birthday, after presents and cake, my brother and his guests split into two for a Nerf gun battle. The Red Team, comprised of my brother and his absolute best friends, set up base camp in the quiet luxury of his bedroom. The Blue Team, made of forgettable classmates and a seven-year-old girl, found our lodgings in the downstairs half-bathroom. Exhaustive guerilla warfare and failed sieges on the Blue Team’s part resulted in foam bullets to the gut and a somber retreat back to the ‘ol shitter, à la sad Charlie Brown. Conditions in the bathroom were poor, morale was low. The Red Team hoarded our spent ammo in their fortress, and all we could do was wait them out. Surrender was not an option. 

I was stuck in there for well over an hour, hearing the Red Team taunt us by enjoying a second serving of cake, fully knowing their Nerf guns were loaded next to their plates, like Tony Soprano. More waiting. 

The first kid who said: “I have to pee,” prompted an echo of concurrence amongst the boys. The Capri Suns reached their bladders, and rock bottom got lower.  

The rule was while each boy peed, the others had to face flush against the wall with our hands over our ears. It was a pissing contest inside a pissing contest. A turducken of third-grade-boy showmanship, prompting the boys to sneak peeks and giggle. I kept my mouth shut and followed orders, because I didn’t want to be the lame little sister. 

But, I didn’t want to be in that bathroom anymore. I suddenly had no desire to be included. 

I squished my baby face further into the spot on the wall I chose, where the T.J. Maxx wall art hung, ignoring the ongoing bathroom situation. The painting was of an ocean, madly blue in color. I softly swayed my skull like a bobblehead, feeling all the pseudo-brushstrokes of the art with the tip of my nose. My hands never left my ears, and the sound of pulsing blood in my head crashed like waves at sea. Up this close, I only saw blue. I only heard waves. 

Once all my brother’s goons finished their business, I peeled my forehead from the humid painting, like thighs on a leather car seat. The painting stuck to my dewy skin, just enough to sever from the wall and drop a hearty pile of red Nerf bullets onto the tile floor. The beloved T.J. Maxx wall art was my hiding spot from years of having my Halloween candy taken from me and being shot in the ribs with Nerf bullets. I learned, with the right maneuvering, it was possible to shove a bunch of junk behind the painting and have it stay there for as long as I needed it to. We used the ammo to fight like hell until the party ended. 

As I grew up in that house, I used the painting to put things away I didn’t want recovered, not even for myself. Nerf bullets I never wanted used against me. What the neighbor’s son begged me not to tell his mom about. Mascara tubes I took from my mom’s bathroom. Hopes of someone walking by the older boy’s bedroom any of the times he touched me in there. 

Like the child I was, my mind cleaned up messes by shoving it away behind that wall art of an ocean and forgetting it.

Sometimes, like at my brother’s birthday party, the junk behind the frame gets knocked out of place. There are moments in my adult life where I sit up in shock, because something got knocked loose. Something I wanted to forget forever. I see red; rage for what happened to me, but mostly for remembering it. 

Red is the color of Nerf bullets. 

Red is the candy wrapper I hid because I felt guilty for eating it. 

Red is the stain of my mouth from the phallic cherry popsicle I couldn’t enjoy on field day. 

Red is the scrapes on my knee from trying to get initiated into the same club as the neighbor’s son. 

Red was the color of the older boy’s team. 

I don’t care much for red anymore. And I know I loved this painting for a reason. It is blue. 

Blue like the clear, sunny skies back home. 

Blue like the curtains in my bedroom. 

Blue like my dog’s collar. 

Blue like my veins in my skin that’s regenerated hundreds of times over since then; skin that’s been untouched. 

Blue like the fabric softener my mom uses. 

Blue like the ocean. 

I don’t bother peeling the frame to see what lies beneath, instead, I only see blue. I only hear the pulsing of my blood. I only feel warmth. 

I am not what has happened to me.