The last time I saw it, I swore I’d never come back. There’s a painting at the SAM that I’m scared my girlfriend will see. We’ve been together for about eight months now; me and my girlfriend, not me and the painting. The painting and I actually go back much farther.
It was in my junior year at SU. I went to the Seattle Art Museum on a field trip for a history class, which until that point had been my field of study. They had work on display from all over the world, African, European, Islamic, Ancient American, even Aboriginal. Walking through each of the collective displays was like passing through space and time to still frames of the ancient world. I found it fascinating on both an academic level and an aesthetic one. Though I’m ashamed to admit I spent the better part of the trip taking suggestively posed selfies with my friend Justin and the more risqué exhibits.
Through a series of coincidencidental missteps and an intervention from the hand of God, I wound up in a section marked ‘Modern and Contemporary,’ the only part of any museum a history major is likely to avoid. I tried to look for an employee but the only other person there was a man in a green jacket idly strolling around the room glancing at each of the pieces. I wasn’t sure which way to go. The place was built like a maze with multiple floors and few posted directions. I was wondering if it would be better to go back or push forward when it caught my eye.
Framed in gold leaf was an oil painting of a dark room. There was a maroon sheeted bed in its center, the pearl comforter hanging limply over the edge to pool on the carpeted floor. A man and a woman sat beside each other on the edge. They were both clothed, but only just. The man’s shirt was only buttoned twice at the neck, as if he’d started dressing and then got distracted. The woman’s shirt hung low to one side, exposing a pale breast that drew the eye. The museum was chalk full of nudity, most more revealing than this but she roused something in me that was chased immediately by shame. They both had their hands on their knees and their gaze drawn down and away from each other. A light shown across the floor from some unseen window but it didn’t touch either of them. The man’s expression was hard and disappointed, the woman’s was sad.
I cried. The man in the green jacket raised his eyebrows in surprise and quickly walked out of the room. When the tears and the shaking subsided, and I won’t say how long that took, I looked at the bronze plate nailed to the wall beside it. Etched into the polished surface were the words “’Elephant’ by Edward Hopper”
I spent the rest of the day there, only leaving when Justin finally found me, complaining that he’d been looking for hours. The next morning I met with my advisor and told her I was changing my major to art history. Not a huge moneymaker, but then again, neither was history.
Now I’ve got this girl and I love her like I’ve never loved anything. I love her like I was built to, like I never had any choice in the matter. Now after weeks of dodging, she insists on taking me to the SAM, to the painting and I’m scarred. I’m worried she’ll hate it, more worried she’ll love it and terrified that she won’t care.