I met the artist a few years ago. I didn’t know how serious of an artist she was then—I thought what she drew was merely a hobby: she showed me sketches of a couple in a park, a guy with a scarf, a cloud wondering if it had done the right thing over the summer. She never dressed or looked like your typical artist. She wasn’t trying to impress anyone or tell anyone a statement, and if you saw her from a distance or even listened to what she said, you probably never would have guessed how seriously she took her art.
The more I got to know her, the louder her secret artist life became. Once she shared a piece of work on social media: a painting of a woman in a witch’s outfit. You may think that a painting of a witch sounds like an ordinary thing, but there was something about this particular witch that made me stop and zoom in and look at everything: the creases of her hat, her outfit, the delight in her stare. The next day, the artist shared another painting of a doll looking sadly at her watch. I looked at it and wept. After that painting I found myself scrolling on my newsfeed every evening, hoping that she’d share another glimpse of her life. But her posts stopped.
“I think people sometimes get scared to share their work because they’re pretty much sharing a piece of their soul,” I told her once.
“You think so?” she asked.
“I think so.”
She said nothing after that.
And that’s when it began. My strong desire to see her work and her refusal to show it to me. I asked her at least once a week to show me more of her work, and the more I asked the more adamant she became that I should never have access to it—even as our friendship grew.
After one evening of heavy drinking she revealed a lot to me: her love for this obscure musician from Amsterdam, her love for this obscure show from Texas, a UK girl band she followed and adored, this time when she went to a karaoke bar on her own and sang her heart out.
“Show me more of your paintings,” I demanded.
“No,” she slurred.
“Show them to me,” I said again.
We ended up in her room. Her room! Her room was a beautiful disaster. I had never seen a room in such urgent chaos as hers. It was so chaotic that I kind of wished it was my room. It was her whole soul spilled out into an open canvas. There was shit everywhere, and the kitchen seemed to blend in with her pantry, which strangely blended into her bookshelf, which blended into her bed, which then blended into her desk. There were piles of books and sketchpads and graphic novels and cockroach traps in every corner. I could barely walk through the room’s wilderness. I wanted to rummage through everything. I wanted to ask her about everything. But I was drunk, and I suddenly became shy, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by who she was. Right on the centre of her wall was a large window that overlooked Brisbane. It was a grand sight: the tops of buildings, the stars, the smog, the broken people staggering around the streets, the universe out there somewhere, the aliens and the mysterious creatures and the angels singing, dancing, looking at their own skies, seeing their own sceneries, thinking their own thoughts.
“I wish we could open these windows,” she said. “But then, if I could open them, I wouldn’t do it.”
The artist stumbled to an Uber Eats bag and vomited into it. Her vomit looked purple and she said something about all the beetroot she ate for lunch. Who the hell eats beetroot for lunch?
Next to the artist’s bed, I found three canvas paintings piled next to each other. They were the works I’d been hoping to see—the works next to her bed, the works she treasured the most.
“Can I look at this?”
“How about this?”
But I ignored her and lunged forward. I looked at one of her paintings. It was a painting of a dragon thinking about his sister. She quickly pulled it away from me and hid it under her bedsheet.
“The world needs to see it!” I yelled, but she said nothing.
Sighing, I stood up and walked around and found other sketches, other drawings. Although she didn’t let me see those other two paintings, I slowly and discreetly explored the rest of her heart. There were sketches everywhere. Soon the sunrise came, and soon the alcohol wore off, and soon I had discovered more about who she was. I felt like I was doing a selfish thing. I was taking in all of her but offering nothing in return. But what did I have to teach, what did I have to give but the truth? My truth, which was shady at best; my truth, which was a whole bunch of lies, of semi-truths, of full truths, of half truths, of subjective truths, of quarter truths; my truth, which was full of fear: now that I’d seen her, now that I’d been in her room, will our friendship end? Could I teach her about God? Could I give her wisdom that she didn’t already know? Had I stepped over some kind of silent boundary? Had I hurt her by finding out more about her? I thought about the paintings next to her bed. I looked out at the window, and I looked at her: her new shirt, which she’d at some point slipped into when we arrived in her room, was on backwards, and she was drinking water. I said some things to fill the air with, and she said things in response.
“Tell me something,” I said after silence.
“There are many things I want to say, but I don’t.”
“Can you ever fill a room up with words? Can it be so full of sentences that people can never go inside?”
She said nothing.
I looked at her room one more time, waved goodbye and went home.