My friend Courtney and I sat across from each other at a high top table at Zeno's, a small, crowded dive bar just north of downtown Columbus. It was on this night that I finally confided in someone that I was "...maybe ready to think about dating again"... "maybe", being the key word. After riding solo for over two years, following the breakup of the most toxic of pairings (insert a lying-tall-dark-and-handsome-fillet-mignon-and-lobster-eating narcissist at a country club, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, paired with a girl that doesn't brush her hair, smokes trashy cigarettes, and drinks cans of bud light and wine from a box), I had wanted NOTHING to do with another human outside of cultivating a circle of friends, which had to be grown from straight drought and bedrock. Fast-forward from that night at the bar a whopping 10 or so business days... and insert Andrew. It was as if the universe had heard my big dumb "maybe" and absolutely launched herself at the opportunity to nuke every wall that I had worked so hard to construct over the last two years in my defined pursuit of singularity. After mastering my craft of perfectly denying a date to every man that contacted me for two years straight, on April 3rd, 2017, Andrew sent me a message... "If you ever find yourself near Delaware, let me know! Or if you ever wanna grab a drink"... This sparked something in me.. something that wasn't entirely unexplainable.
"...Where were you when I wanted you 8 years ago?..." I thought bitterly to myself for a moment... and then I let it go, almost instantly, thinking that if there was a spark then, maybe, just maybe, the universe was giving me a second chance to bring it to a flame. "Yes, I'd love to. I haven't been out in awhile", is how I decidedly put my response. "It's a date then", he said. "So it is", I replied, instantly feeling a tsunami of knots and butterflies and fear and curiosity, all at the same time. I felt flooded with oxygen.
You see, Andrew and I had crossed paths in a very brief section on our life timelines in college at Ohio State - two paths that ultimately went in opposite directions.. or so I thought. I was that shy, uncomfortable freshman who had a crush on the weight-lifting, electric-guitar-playing junior that was way to cool for school.. and definitely too cool for me. The details of the brief meeting can be held for another post.. but in summary, when our paths crossed all those years ago, we stopped for just a moment, metaphorically waved, and walked in our separate directions.
And now, here he was, asking ME out on a date.. #thankyouinstagram. A lot had happened in those 8 years. We were both very much the same people, and also entirely different. But I felt that fate was behind this, and went along with the universe on this one - crossing my fingers she knew what she was doing. And now, this barrage of emotion had come at me with absolute hurricane force.. and like most emotional situations in my life, whether good, bad, or ugly, I often can feel very overwhelmed with the prospect of having to manage it, defaulting towards some unfortunate bad habits of self-destruction.
Andrew is one of the most fascinating humans I've ever met. He has opened my mind and heart to a lot of subjects that I was previously entirely ignorant to. But this doesn't come without the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. And while in those 8 years, I had become very accustomed to, and accepting, of admitting my wrongness, there were still many things that challenged me.
While meeting Andrew again for the second time was exciting, it required a lot of fear and vulnerability that I wasn't yet so adept at managing without a guard up. On a more fundamental level, that year I had sworn my soul over, after dozens of hours of research, to adopting an entirely plant-based diet in an act of desperation to manage depression, anxiety and my own other health issues - areas where all modern medicine and therapy had previously failed. I started watching dozens upon dozens (if it's on Youtube or Netflix, I've seen it) of nutrition and food industry documentaries, read books and medical journals, poured over research, and then sealed the deal by watching "Earthlings", the most sickeningly graphic non-fictional horror movie I've ever been exposed to, reducing me to a pile of sweat and tears while hanging my head over a bucket, vowing to never consume any form of factory-farmed meat again.
Andrew, a skilled hunter, passionate conservationist, a dedicated father, and devout public servant in the name of wildlife drew up a weird turmoil and confusion within me, as it was this sort of gray area of subject matter in which I was unsure how I felt, and was simply and largely ignorant to. Who was this human, who was passively able to make me question my ways that I was so concretely convicted in, that I had fought for so ruthlessly, in the pursuit of health and reduction of suffering? Who is this human, who I don't know, yet feel like I've always known? What the fuck happened to my mantra?? - zero fucks. zero apologies. zero excuses. Why in the world, all of a sudden, do I give ALL of the fucking fucks! I was both frustrated by him and utterly addicted. In addition, the fear of once again having to share this baggage of my 10 year battle with an eating disorder seemed entirely overwhelming - the absolute last thing he and I needed. While I had been single, I was never truly "single". I had always maintained a loyal, faithful partnership with my eating disorder, "Ed", above all else.. one that in many ways was killing me, and helping me survive simultaneously. This concept of bringing Andrew in to my life threatened that monogamous relationship with Ed.. I told Ed it was over. I told him I was finally choosing Andrew. I told MYSELF I was choosing Andrew. IF ONLY it was that easy - to break up with an eating disorder... in theory, the same way you can break up with some cheating jackass in a simple 30 minute phone call.
I wished for all of the "if-only's" but I knew better. And I knew deep down that if I was to truly choose Andrew over Ed that it wasn't just going to be some quick rip of the bandaid - this was going to be an arduous, long, hideous battle.. like most breakups.. one that I was very, VERY afraid of... one that I was imagining to be so ugly that if in 10 years I couldn't fight it, why the hell else should I ever ask someone else to??
All of these things - the excitement, the fear, the curiosity, the confusion.. it was all tornadoing in to one big, beautiful something that was completely foreign - not good, not bad. It was the in-between... my brain putting up the caution tape, my heart telling me to dive head first without knowing how deep the bottom was. In these situations, I know neither extreme is good. The head and the heart are both too emotionally involved at times.. so I went with my gut.
I laid on Andrew's back deck in Delaware, Ohio. The sun was bright and hot.. I had a box of pencils, a sketchpad, a yoga mat, and my four-legged friend. I picked wildflowers out of the backyard while he played guitar. I had never met someone that was able to enrapture me so quickly, that was so creative, unapologetic, and humble. And I began the process of trying to illustrate what was going on in my mind - a beautiful storm - the only way I know how.
The piece began with the skull.. most of my pieces do. To me, the skull is a central theme of how to express myself. It's that thing you fear. That you turn away from. That darkness you don't want to think about. And at the same time, it pulls at you. It's that phenomenon where you want to turn, but can't seem to look away. I drew the antlers next. This was a new element I'd introduced in to my work. This was element "Andrew". The encapsulated and swirled around and between that skull - between that darkness, and fear. Then, step three, add roses. Roses are dripping with symbolism.. yet something like a red rose just didn't seem right at this point. I had only met Andrew again for a short time.. and while I could feel myself falling for him.. letting my guard down.. pulling at that vulnerability, something about a red rose still just seemed too bold... like counting your chickens before the eggs have hatched. I've never been so tormented over what color to paint a fucking rose in my whole life. And it scared me. It scared me a lot.
Brightness. The sun. Joy. Happiness. This is what yellow brings. Yellow was another gut choice - red was overwhelming, pink wasn't enough. All I knew was what I was feeling in that moment on the back deck with the light of the sun. The smile of a dog. And a beautifully talented, kind, fascinating, enigma of a man. So I picked yellow. Because I felt pure joy. I felt light. I felt the newness. I felt things that in the past, I thought I'd never feel again.
I named the piece "Devil's Work" as a sort of ornery, ironic statement.. after drawing out the piece, I realized that the combination of the deer antler sweeping past the left side of the skull, and the large petal of the rose on the right created this optical illusion of devil horns on the skull.. This was entirely coincidental and unintended, and I laughed as the title "Devil's Work" came to me instantly at Andrew's kitchen table, as most of my titles do - entirely on impulse; the first thing I think of. I at first tried to brush it aside, because I felt like it would bring bad vibes or ill juju or something - "shit. That can't be the fucking title. Like really?? I have to think of something else.. please let there be something else...", I thought. Because I'm weirdly superstitious about things like that.. but ultimately I found it rather hilarious. "Girl - you're already breaking all of your rules - just let this one go" I said to myself. And so "Devil's Work" it is. A goofy joke. An irony. A farce. Ultimately, this is what fills much of Andrew and I's relationship - goofy, silly jokes, lots of joy, and laughter. And so, once again, it ended up being rather fitting.
It's a love story. It's a funny joke. It's an awkward, confusing navigation through a dark and beautiful life. It's more than I bargained for. It's running away. And the Prodigal Son. Everything I never knew I wanted. It's the tough stuff. It's the laughs and the tears. It's the mud. The bullshit. It sometimes seems like the Devil's work - navigating Hell and a storm and a hurricane. But it's not so bad when you're able to navigate together - holding someone else's hand, stopping to smell the yellow roses.
Stay weird, my friends <3