Thin Black Line

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Part 1: The Introduction to the Conclusion of My Father

People who tell you that your socks don’t match must live pretty unsatisfied lives. This stems from humanity’s horrible belief that symmetry is the simplest form of beauty. Well, I wasn’t able to find my other black sock that day and when I pressed the soles of my feet together it resembled a yin-yang symbol, which is rather beautiful in its own right. Good against evil, joy fighting sadness, and life defying death. It was just so morbidly appropriate for that day.

There was so much going on, yet, whenever my suit pants leg would rise up two inches, someone would comment on my mismatched socks because they had nothing better to say. “I’m sorry for your loss. You know your socks don’t match, right?” A pretty girl once told me that it is unlucky to wear matching socks. And I had been rather unlucky up until then. So, why not turn it around? We could all use some luck at a funeral.

Now, my father was a good man. He was a celebrated painter from France. At the age of 27, he moved to America to integrate himself into the modern art world of Brooklyn. At the age of 29, he integrated himself into my mother, and thus, I was born. A few years later, my sister, whom my father called his greatest masterpiece, was born. That’s all that’s important right now. I decided it’s best to write important information when it’s needed for its context.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. The funeral.

I remember sitting in a comfy chair, playing with my broken watch, as I stared at my father’s casket. It was a peaceful moment for me. I couldn’t help but trace the outline of his casket with my eyes. We picked a hard wood. Mahogany. Or at least, I picked a hard wood. I was the son and I worked with wood, so naturally the decision fell upon me. The casket was crafted so intelligently. I guess all caskets are. We find a way to comfortably bury our comfortable dead in a comfortable fashion. I never quite understood the human lust for comfort. Anyway, This casket was absolutely beautiful. During the wake I was asked to go up to it and say goodbye. And I’ll tell you; it was even more beautiful up close. Straight sanded grain, perfect ridges carved into the side panels, and the smoothest poles a grieving son could ask for. I even snuck a touch in while I was up there. I find it is so interesting how we frame our dead. I sometimes wonder what our intentions for it are. Are we imagining the deceased as a photo or as a painting? Are they just some picture personifying a lifetime within our own lifetime that we’re burying up in the attic to collect dust? Or are they a painting that we are forever cherishing with its intricate brushstrokes and deeper meaning to be hung up in a museum somewhere? I guess it just depends on how many visitors they get.

Either way, I digress. You’re not reading this to listen to the ramblings of some lonely frame maker. No no no… You’re reading this for answers.

And we will get there. I promise.

My father was never proud of me. He would never admit it, but I knew. I knew from the moment I told him I didn’t want to be an artist. I knew it from the way his eyes dropped, as his head rose while he smiled and told me that it was okay. I went to all of his art shows and admired the work of the frame makers. And I admired the mentality of the frame maker. You create something to house another’s work. Keep it safe whilst not stealing the attention from it. Isn’t that beautiful? Who made the frame that holds the Mona Lisa? Do you know? “If you do your job just right, they won't have any idea you’ve done your job at all.”

At least I chose a craft similar to my father’s. Like if a mechanic’s son chose to design garages or if a star athlete’s daughter became a trophy maker. Why isn’t that more desired than simply following in their footsteps? We are doing something to honor our parents, even if I chose frame building to spite my father. He didn’t know that. He just thought I was betraying the family niche of painting. Didn’t painting teach him anything about perspective?

After his funeral, I took a trip to my father’s native Paris. I decided to visit the Louvre. Which if you haven’t been to already, I highly recommend it…such lovely frames. I know that’s not the point, but for God’s sake if we stopped for a moment to appreciate the things that keep us held together, I wouldn’t be in my current state. Sorry to bring that up... There’s a time and a place.

And we’ll get there. I promise.

Anyway, I stopped and stood at the good ole’ Mona Lisa. And by stopped and stood, I mean pushed my way through a crowd of cell phone wielding, Instagram using, half awake 20-somethings caught in between their last cup of Starbucks and their next cup of Starbucks. Why did I go there? Just to look at a painting of a woman who had no idea what she would become. I like to think if she did, she wouldn’t be smiling. But I wasn’t there to take a cell phone picture of a failed theft. I was there to appreciate the works of the frame makers that came before me, and more importantly, to be alone. Alone in a museum of ghosts we know by name and ghosts that we never even consider. And there, while I was staring at the Mona Lisa, alone, I decided to write this note.

I miss her.

Why don’t we ever say thank you to the trees that are still standing after a storm? As if the anger towards the fallen somehow overshadows how gracious we should be to the ones strong enough to never collapse in the first place. This is an odd transition to bring up my sister’s drug problem, I know, but this is my note and I’ll write it how I want to. My sister had good intentions growing up. She did and still does to this day. She chose the road Robert Frost famously spoke of. She took that road and then took the next road less traveled and the next one and so on until she was so far gone there was no amount of backtracking that could bring her home. And if she is reading this, I forgive you.

And I’m so sorry.

Following my sister’s infatuation with escapism, my father asked me to make a frame for his final art show. Where he would be showcasing his masterpiece, a portrait of my sister before the drugs stole that innocent look from her eyes. I firmly believe that this painting was the beginning of her decline. He called it perfect. Not her, it. I’ve always believed the worst thing you can do to anyone is call them perfect. Perfection isn’t dynamic. Perfection is fixed to a biased definition. However, my father didn’t just define perfection, he crafted it. She became the opposite of Dorian Gray, constantly reminded of her failing and fading beauty. Haunted by every mirror that didn’t resemble the masterpiece hanging above our fireplace. She started drinking to take her mind off of it. She started taking pills to take her mind. And I never quite understood why until now. I accepted my father’s offer to make this frame. Because this frame would be my masterpiece.

I put everything I had into this frame. I spent sleepless nights planning it and carving it into perfection. I wanted to do what frames weren’t meant to do. I wanted to overshadow my father’s masterpiece and show him that I am something worth talking about. I chose to use mahogany, my favorite wood. I carved the corners of the frame into a perfect Victorian style dream. The light shone off the finish as if it were coated in gold. It was perfect. And once I was finished, I slept. I slept for far too long. Framed within the white sheets of my mattress. For the first time in a long time I didn’t dream about the accident. No. I dreamt of my father apologizing for never believing in my craft. Don’t get me wrong, I love frames, however, the dreams that this bed frame contained were far more beautiful than any piece of wood could ever be.

Now, if you’re reading this, you know the final show never happened. My father passed away a couple of weeks before the show, so a posthumous show was held in his honor. My frame held the innocent gaze of my sister but no one noticed it. No one cared about the frame holding the late painter’s work. They just honored the painter. My father never saw it and died disappointed in his son. And now I have decided to write this note,

my masterpiece.

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