Saturday, February 21, 2009

Matt and the Wall

Category: Contests, Contest - February, Short and Tricky

Matt sat in the dining room contemplating his work. He could feel his arms growing heavy and sore in protest to the exercise he had subjected them to and knew the nagging pain in his back would flare up and bother him for days, yet he felt happy. More than happy, in fact. He felt liberated. Sitting in his ripped and paint splattered jeans, nursing his well-earned beer, Matt let himself fully enjoy the feeling of a job well done. He hadn’t felt this good since Whippet died. He actually hadn’t felt much since losing his loving and loyal bloodhound to cancer, and this tiredness and feeling of accomplishment was, he felt, the first step in turning the page and reading on to the next chapter of his life.

Being a freelance illustrator wasn’t always easy, but Matt was a talented guy and had quickly gained a well-established reputation. Working from home doing what he liked best made him happy, and being happy had always been at the top of his list of priorities. He didn’t care about fame or money – to him, life was about enjoying every moment and waking up looking forward to the day’s challenges. He had never married, in part because he had never fallen in love, but mostly because he found it difficult to commit to anything else than his art and quest for happiness. The women he had met over the years had always come to expect more than he was willing to give, and eventually moved on in search of men who would make them the number one priority. Matt didn’t grieve or miss these relationships and was quite content to be single and in total control of his life.

Whippet had been the perfect companion. From the moment he had brought her home from the pound, she had fallen in stride with his routine and had quickly become an extension of his happy self. She knew his moods, understood his needs and appreciated all he had to offer. She willingly and selflessly provided companionship and sloppy kisses. She had no expectations and never whined for attention, even when Matt spent days bent over his drawing table finishing up a project. It was easy to commit to this relationship; in fact, committing to it was a pleasure. Matt found that giving back to Whippet, who gave unconditionally, was even better than receiving.

The cancer that crept up in Whippet’s liver and eventually greedily spread throughout her body had changed all that. Matt fought the deadly intruder tooth and nail, driving miles away to get second and third opinions from the top vets in the country. Money was no object, and neither was time. But cancer had its way in the end, and Matt had to resign himself to the fact that Whippet had become too tired and sick to fight back. He said good-bye to his best friend and their 13 year relationship on a sunny spring afternoon. Sitting on the porch with Whippet slowly dying in his arms, Matt realized how much he’d miss the little things that had come to mean so much to him. That had, in fact, been the pillars upon which his very happy life rested. Some time in the late afternoon of May 28, Whippet closed her eyes and went to sleep for the last time. Matt sat on the porch and held her tight until long after the 29th had come along.

Six months later, looking at his wall, tired and well on the way to being drunk, Matt allowed himself to grieve. He had fought the cancer, had fought the death of his dog, had fought life itself. Had fought so hard in fact that his happy life had become an angry one. He stopped drawing and answering the phone, which eventually stopped ringing. His angry agent had given up and moved on to more responsive clients. He had replaced his daily walks on the beach with bouts of drinking, which quickly ended up replacing pretty much everything else his life had held. Anger isn’t always about violence, except maybe the violence one directs onto himself. And like any other emotional state, it cannot subside without fuel. Matt’s fuel eventually ran out. He burned all the anger and was left with nothing but an empty case of beer, a half year’s worth of unpaid bills and a feeling of emptiness so deep and sudden that he was shocked back into a reality he had come to forget. He staggered up from his chair, navigated his way through the empty bottles littered on the porch, and walked back into his life.

Between sweet-talking his agent into finding him more work and cleaning the dust off his drawing table, Matt slowly resigned himself to stop denying grief. He learned to forgive himself for losing a battle that wasn’t his to win and woke up every day facing life’s rituals on his own for the first time in years. He learned to accept that all those little things he missed could be part of his life even if Whippet was no longer there. That in fact those little things made her linger in a way that he enjoyed; holding on to memories made him enjoy what she had been, and life with Whippet, as ghostly as she had become, was better than life alone. He came to realize that the best relationships are taken for granted, because that is the only way to truly appreciate them.  Not having to worry about not giving enough or taking too much leaves more time for simply enjoying what most people spend their life never seeing. And so Matt stopped blaming himself for not fully enjoying what he had while he had it and started waking up looking forward to the day again.

Matt grabbed for another beer and realized the 6-pack was empty. He thought that was ok. He could get drunk on watching the wall. Art was enough for him once again, and the portrait of Whippet staring back at him with its acrylic eyes would make it even better.


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