It's been 18 years since I last saw my big brother. Although we'd been growing apart for a while, it was when I wrote him the news that the doors really shut.
I had been thrilled to be moving in with my boyfriend, a divorced Catholic, but I knew that my brother Dan, a devout Catholic, would be scandalized. Dan had replied that if Bill and I ever married, he would not acknowledge it and not attend. His children would never be allowed to see us. Holy guacamole. It was an electrifying shock.
Bill and I got married in 1997, and Dan kept his word. Over the years, I've tried to forgive and forge ahead. But recently, I woke up thinking about a Christmas at Mom and Dad's, back in the days when Dan and I were so close. Eight years my senior, he was my sun and moon.
That holiday, Dan had found one of my old paintings in the basement and pulled her from the pack with wide appreciative eyes.
"Jule, this one is amazing!" Dan crowed. "Man! When did you do it?"
"Oh wow. That was... um... my senior year at Hamilton," I said, surprised to see her, my old canvas-friend from college. "We were supposed to copy a portion of an oil painting from one of the masters." I babbled on about the details, including the offbeat art teacher who'd believed in me.
I'd rarely had much confidence in my art; it was never good enough and always needed more effort, more talent, more blah blah blah. A sad self-assessment. My dwarfism had left me drowning in perfectionism, the killer of creativity.
But now, I was feeling something quite unexpected. It was (gasp) admiration.
"Are you doing anything with it?" Dan said, breaking my reverie. "Do you think I could have it? I mean, look at all these paintings stored away doing nothing."
I looked back at her, biting my lip. I actually liked this one. Oh dear. I didn't want to let her go, even for the love of my brother.
Dan could feel my hesitation. "How about this? Since you're not using it, would you mind if I hang it at my house and when you want it back, I'll whisk it right to you. I promise." My eyes lowered at the feet of my hero.
"Sure, okay, you can have it."
"Thanks Jule!" he exclaimed, with a hug and a love that left me breathless.
Little did I know that religion was about to trump our time. There would be no meeting at the crossroads. No hand-off of the canvas. Dan would never dance at my wedding. Our children would be strangers.
Time passed. Life deepened and flourished. A year after I'd written my memoir, Nothing Short of Joy, the busy-ness and bustle became too much. I decided I had to decompress. De-clutter. Delete.
Out of nowhere, I feel that painting calling. I swear. I've no idea why, but I need to see her. I remember there was an angel and an old dude. Who was the artist again?
Two weeks pass as the painting raps at my heals. Was it Rembrandt? Vermeer? My memory is mush. I google French, Italian and Angelic masters. No sign of her. Gone. Stolen. Damn it. I feel the resentment burn. Why did Dan have to leave me?
Meanwhile, emails are busting out my inbox, and I hastily decide to unsubscribe from every newsletter. I scroll down my first victim, whizzing to the bitter end of one I never read and... BAM! My breath shudders. There. She. Is! Oh my glory! NO WAY. The man. The angel. The deep darkness. The feathery light. I am in awe!
With my brain buzzing, fingers aflutter, I click on the photo and land at Amazon. She is a CD cover? I search for more clues. But there's no name. No info. The treasure hunt intensifies. I lunge back at Google. I shall find you!
Zippo turns up.
I run to tell Bill about the super synchronicity. As I reheat some leftovers for the boys, my beloved hubby disappears for awhile, then returns with a cheshire grin. He hands me a slip of paper that reads, "St. Matthew and the Angel, by Italian Master, Caravaggio." What? You found her! Oh thank you Hon! Feeling girlish and giddy, I run to the computer to read her full history. I'm in a strange rapture. My husband and boys. My sweet lifetime. My healing angels. Something breaks open, and I sob for the beautiful mystery of it all.
What are the odds of me finding that photo? It was the first time I actually glanced at that newsletter, the one I've always deleted. Even on overload, in confusion, our hands are somehow guided. Our spirits safe.
I smile at St. Matthew, perched at his desk, pen poised. He's a writer. Holy crap. I painted this 20 years before I had an inkling that writing would heal my heart. No wonder I had chosen an author and an angel. But it was Dan who had needed her too; they spoke the same foreign tongue, of saints and sermons that would separate us one day. I study the painting, the face of my past. I miss my brother. But even as the tears roll out once more, I feel a love and connection that will never leave.
I take a deep breath as the bigger picture settles my soul. As for my brother and I, I don't know the story's end. But for now, my painting is at peace in me, and she is at home with him.
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