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The Art Show

Dancing couple

Never in my prudish life would I have imagined I’d be dating four men in one week!

It was a busy weekend on call, my kids gone to their dad’s, and I’d still managed to break my own record in that assembly line of platonic dates. The week had started saying goodbye to blue-eyed surfer (AKA Cheescake man) and ended with three prospects. Toto, I have the feeling we’re not in the DR anymore. As I headed to the Melbourne Art Show that Sunday, I tried to process it all.

The two online dates that weekend had been interesting. On Friday night, I’d had dinner with a handsome and wealthy estate lawyer (AKA Steak Man) and on Saturday, I’d gone out again with a delightful music teacher from Orlando (Brass Player). In another time of my life I would’ve considered either one an amazing prospect for another date, but something had changed since my Thursday coffee date. Ever since some college professor put in my mind the image of exploding Supernovas leaving stardust in my blood, I was a very difficult audience to impress. I’d previously been a picky eater for men, but I was now worse than ever.

Stardust Professor, David, had messaged me the day after our coffee date to share his contact info and I’d given him mine. The exchange had been similar to the follow up email after a job interview—you never know if the person contacting you is hiding true interest behind a poker face, or letting you down easily because your CV didn’t impress them.

Oh, yes, there was that small detail; I’d had those weird memories of the future when I was with David. But my skeptical scientific brain was committed to ignoring them, blaming that wild imagination afflicting fiction writers. Not only did he seem too good to be true, but also I was still wary of a man who’d never been married or had children after the age of forty. Wouldn’t that mean he was a player or someone with commitment issues? Given his looks and wits, I bet I competed with a dozen other online date candidates.

But I put those thoughts aside as I headed to the Art Show, my favorite annual outing. I relished the chance of spending time with myself and finding the hidden messages art always has for me.

In the magical thinking mentality where I grew up, receiving messages from another reality was considered a normal event. Back then we called it “messages from God, or from angels.” In current, more sophisticated times, we call it “receiving messages from the Universe.”

I can imagine Freud rolling his eyes, correcting me, “That’s nothing but messages from your own unconscious—like interpreting ink stains on paper. When you’re asking a question and don’t dare to admit that deep inside you know the answer, you’ll credit the answer to your Super Ego.” Whatever it is, I love the way art always brings epiphanies to me.

I’d attended the Melbourne Art Show for the first time shortly after leaving my ex. Back then, going out on my own was a big deal. It wasn’t that leaving the house alone or having friends was officially “forbidden” during my former marriage (which would not be surprising in Dominican culture); but if I tried to do it, I would face subtle punishment—the silent treatment, withdrawal of courtesy… After my separation, in a statement of independence and feminism, I pushed myself to go alone to the movies, the food and wine Festivals, and the local streets fairs.

So I was proud of myself on that first Art Show as I strolled the streets, admiring the exhibits at the different boots. In my rattled emotional state, I became easily tearful when facing any moving piece of art. My goal was finding myself in the art.

Who was I? I wasn’t sure anymore. I was no longer the wife of the doctor everybody knew in town. I was no longer Dominican, yet my thick accent denounced me as a “fake” (naturalized) American. And I no longer dared to call myself my parent’s daughter. After all, I was breaking their ultimate rule by pursuing a divorce—they’d been semi-famous in the Dominican Catholic circles for teaching couples to save their marriages.

Someone could argue I could find an identity by clinging to my career—I still was “Dr. Pichardo.” However, I’d spent years feeling the need to apologize for using that title, and old habits are hard to break. Yes, I often felt guilty for using my maiden name professionally. The fact that I was a “Dr.” instead of a “Mrs” was something my ex tolerated stoically but was never happy about.

Could I find myself among those pieces of art? The first piece I felt tempted to purchase was an artist’s self-portrait where the face was a puzzle half done—unfortunately, the artist was a bearded man. I didn’t have a beard, but I did feel like him: a half-made picture, still putting pieces into place.

In that first show, a headless Venus de Milo statue brought me to tears. She was a torso with stumps for arms and thighs; mostly breasts, a waist and a pelvis—a faceless sex object. That’s the way I often felt growing up in a male-dominated Third World Country, and in my former marriage. I had no head or face—no right to have a personality. I had no legs to run away. No arms to fight for my freedom.

At the end, I purchased a photographic poster of wooden steps leading to the beach. At the bottom of the steps lay red flip-flops. Hundreds of footprints going on different directions stamped the sand. Which footprints was I supposed to follow? I once thought that following my parent’s steps was the answer. Not anymore. I had to take my best guess to figure out my path.

On the second Art Show a year later, I felt stronger and my purchase reflected it. I bought a beautiful picture of a fairy-like woman emerging from a flower—blossoming. The artist, Lori Hlavsa, explained it was “an embellished reproduction.” She used silver and gold paint on top of the copy to make it iridescent, like the original.

As we talked, my eyes wondered to the painting of a dancing couple. She lay limp in his arms as he dipped her, and as beautiful as it was, my whole being rebelled against it. She seemed so powerless, and he seemed so dominating. I had just started recovering from my former relationship and wasn’t ready to surrender my control like that to a man.

And now, it was the third Art Show I’d be attending since my separation, and the first one since my divorce became final. As I wondered the streets, looking at the exhibits in that steamy day, my unconscious ruminated the four dates I’d had that week.

Deep inside I was relieved things with Cheescake Man hadn’t worked out. He had three children from a first marriage and adding that to my four kids, that would’ve made for a challenging household. Then I thought about Brass Player; he didn’t have any children and I’d interpret that as a reason for caution—someone without children would never be able to understand my challenges as a mother. (Yes, I admit it didn’t make sense; I was discriminating against both men for opposite reasons.)

Then I thought about Steak Man. He was divorced and had one kid—in theory the perfect scenario. Yet neither that fact, or his good looks, or his luxury red car had inspired me to want to go out with him again.

And, of course, my thoughts would go from time to time to Stardust Professor—David. I still couldn’t figure out if the distance I guessed in his follow up email came from cautious interest or lack of it. He was the ultimate example of someone I should’ve been careful with. He had no children, no previous marriages. Not even previous broken engagements. He had the word “commitment-phobe” written all over his face, and his clever remarks and witty conversation only added to the fear. If he’d managed to impress methe picky eater—how easily it must be for him to have “normal” women eating from his palm.

Why was it then that I seemed not to care? I felt more than ready to stop being cautious and say yes if he ever invited me out again.

Pushing that thought away, I stood in front of a photo on canvas of the sun rising over the ocean. In theory, it should’ve been exactly “my thing.” Yet something was off and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Was it because the colors were just a little short of what I knew a bright sunrise could look like? Was it because the canvas had a strange long rectangular shape, so wide and skinny? If I ever wanted to frame it, I’d need to pay for expensive custom work, because it wasn’t a standard size.

The photographer, a tall and trim gray-haired man, stood by me and asked, “What do you think?”

“It’s beautiful!” I answered honestly. “But it’s a pity it doesn’t have a frame.”

With a chuckle, the man shook his head. “Honey, if it had it, it would be the wrong color.”

I turned to look at him with curiosity and he added, “Obviously, this picture is not doing it for you. If it were, it wouldn’t matter that it’s not framed. Our brain makes up excuses to justify when we don’t want to buy something—but the truth is that it’s not what we wanted.”

I walked away from that booth, processing his words.

He was right. Cheescake Man was not It, and thus my hesitation about his three children. Brass Player wasn’t It, and thus my hesitation about his lack of children. Steak Man wasn’t It either, and thus my lack of enthusiasm about his “right number of children.”

Was that why my brain wanted to ignore Stardust Professor’s commitment-phobe red flags?

Wandering around the rest of the exhibits, I stumbled across Lori Hlavsa’s booth—the artist who painted the iridescent flower fairy I’d purchased the year before. She remembered me, and we chatted for a while. My eyes returned to the painting of the dancing couple and I confessed, “Last year, I almost purchased that painting too, but couldn’t. I just came out an oppressive marriage, and seeing the woman so defenseless and limp, lying in the arms of that man, made me cringe. I never again want to see myself in that position of powerlessness.”

With a soft smile, she answered, “Why do you interpret it as if she is powerless? The way I see it, she’s trusting him. She feels so safe and protected in his arms, she can afford letting go of control and letting him lead.”

I was in shock. I would’ve never interpreted the painting like that.

Could I ever do that? Could I ever put behind a past of oppression and truly trust a man again. Would I ever feel so safe in a man’s arms I would dare to let him lead me?

In an impulse, I bought the painting. I wanted to be ready. I wanted to learn to surrender control and stop protecting myself, and maybe the first step was admitting it.

Law of Attraction says that the biggest blocks to our dreams and goals are our own mental barriers. As I strolled out of the exhibits, carrying my painting I felt an energetic shift happen inside me. Between my conversation with the sunrise photographer, and my talk to Lori, I could feel the gadgets of the Universe moving.

And just then, my cell phone rang. I threw one glance at the number and I had another memory of the future of me taking that call many times. I had seen that number only once, yet I already knew to whom it belonged to.

It was David.

And that afternoon, as I found my way to my car, managed to stow away my painting, turned on the AC against the blazing heat, and got comfortable in my driving seat, we talked, and laughed, and talked some more. And just like that afternoon at the coffee shop, each stimulating conversation topic flowed into the next one in a nonstop string of mind stretching. And for the first time in my life I didn’t need to repeat myself even once to compensate for my accent.

And for the first time in my life, I asked someone, “Hey, have you ever have a memory of the future?” and that person didn’t think I was crazy.

“Yes!” David answered without hesitation. “I know exactly what you’re talking about!”

That mind-blowing fun phone call also lead to us to that future.

But that’s another story.



Sexless in the boondocks is approaching its last chapters

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