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Teens & Young Adult Creative Nonfiction Contemporary

When Fae began a painting, the bristles of her paintbrush would dance around the canvas, her hand whirling, almost impulsively. The shapes and shades flowed and melded together, fusing into a violent frenzy, and then evolving into a picture. It’s strange the way the magic happened. Fae sucked in a deep breath, her eyes slightly unfocused from staring too long at the dying succulent by the windowsill. She twirled a slim paintbrush between her fingers, before dipping it into a deep crimson red. As the red was about to invade the white, she paused instinctively, right at the spot where she almost started building a new picture.

A physical painting comes from dipping one’s paintbrush into one’s own soul and seeing the hues that hit the canvas. Each stroke tells a deeper story, illustrating the fluctuating tensions between the fragmentary and its depth. Each colour is a concept, an emotion, a part of a story. Crimson red was rage, anger, and aggression. Crimson red represented pain and denial, love and neglect, hope and heartbreak. Crimson red was the colour Fae always ran out of. She was so tired of making the same painting over and over again. Of following the same style every time. It was always deep, bold colours that made statements for themselves. It was always fierce brushstrokes and loud imagery. It was always anger screaming in the colours, in her hand movements, in her very veins.

Fae’s body no longer wanted to cooperate when she tried to summon back the rage and fire that she’d used as fuel to get her through most of her life. Without that, she lost her energy. She felt as though she was dragging her own body through quicksand. But she was so tired of being so enraged for so long.

The window at the corner of the room was open, and although Fae heard the muted rustle of the wind through the leaves, no breeze brushed through the dingy art studio to dilute the mixed odours of a burnt-out eucalyptus candle and the stuffy chalk-like smell. She ought to water that succulent, she didn’t want it to die. But between her days frantically painting and exhaustedly closing up her studio, she barely thought of anything else.

Rinsing the red off the paintbrush, Fae watched the colour pirouette and diffuse into the clear water. She glanced around the amateurly decorated art studio, newspaper crunching at her feet as she looked for inspiration. The sun hovered over the horizon in shades of marigold, tinting the clouds, warm yellows spilling through the little window. Going for a bright orange to match the rosy, glowing clouds against the velvet sky, Fae brought the paintbrush back up to the canvas and froze.

She couldn’t just get tired of her anger, she needed it! The resentment she’d carried in her back pocket was the only thing in the whole world that told her what had happened wasn’t ok. She couldn’t just paint another picture and forget the older ones. She needed to stick with it, even if she was painting the same thing again. Anger was her compass, pointing to where the injustice had occurred. It was the last standing evidence of broken souls and broken hopes in broken homes. She needed to hold onto that, otherwise, everything would fade into the wind as if nothing had ever happened. And Fae was livid. Adrenaline rushed through her when she thought of the people who hurt her. She loathed the people who didn’t understand. She despised herself for not getting over her own outrage.

Fae's blood pressure rose as she reminded herself of the pain, indignation making its way to the forefront of her mind. But as she tried to grasp onto it, hold it tight and use it, the way she always had, her body screamed a warning. Every bone in her makeup multiplied in weight as consciousness flooded her muscles. Her body refused to fan the flames today.

Sinking shakily into the tattered, brown, leather armchair, realization hit her core. Her throat ached from yelling into her pillow every night. Her bones ached from the loneliness she’d created for herself. Her arms ached from pushing people away and her hands were blistered from holding onto things she should have long since let go. She was tired of remembering the past but more so, she was tired of feeling the past, and how it encroached into her present, slowly and subtly but with extreme effectiveness. Her soul was weeping in a language she didn’t quite understand just yet, and it terrified her.

There was a lump in her throat the size of a rock that she hadn’t been able to swallow for as long as she could remember. Her childhood lacked the dreamy glaze that most people seemed to experience when looking back. For Fae, it was a nightmare she could never wake up from. It felt like she couldn’t breathe for years.

“My outrage is necessary, it's valid. I need it.” She muttered to herself, wrapping her cold fingers around her wrist tightly, trying to squeeze out the tension.

The burden of the past was so heavy, yet so compelling, and Fae didn’t believe she had it in her to let go of it; even when she knew that the constant canvassing of her past was interrupting the life she should have been living. Instead, she existed in flashbacks that exhausted her mental memory; aches that she was unable to extract from her autonomy; and that damn dying succulent. She wasn’t living. Fae couldn’t change her past and yet, it gripped her with a tight fist around her chest. She couldn’t let go of it either. If she ever did that, it would mean that everything that had happened was ok. It would mean that she’d be giving in. For that reason, she couldn’t allow herself to let it go. 

But at what cost?

She’d been stuck for years. She was not a child anymore, and yet, she hadn’t built that bridge from childhood to adulthood. She’d let herself become defined by her own victimhood. She didn’t have an identity without it. Fae gritted her teeth and seethed at the remembrance of the disturbance of her own memories. She wanted every echo of what once was, expunged. She wanted more for herself. She didn’t want to be handcuffed to a younger, emotionally scarred version of herself.

Fae heaved herself off the couch and slipped her arms into her jacket, eyes fixed on the sparrow that had perched itself right outside her window. She wasn’t going to be able to paint today. Maybe not even tomorrow. Maybe it would take her months to figure out who she was outside of the one story she saw herself in. Maybe it would be years before Fae even realized that she had other stories to tell, other paintings to paint, other lenses to see the world through. But today, she’d just go out and follow that sparrow. Today, she would be a bird. Weightless, and free and alive.









October 18, 2022 19:00

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12 comments

Daria Artemova
00:40 Oct 26, 2022

I have to admit, I love your writing! I savoured every sentence. What a fantastic way to align art with inner struggle. She was livid and not exactly living, how great is that! I have a question: what kind of rage are you pondering on? Did Fae get a revenge on those who hurt her but that didn't help or is she dragging that emotional baggage of swallowing the hurt?

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F.J Red
13:36 Oct 26, 2022

Daria, it's so motivating to see your kind words, thank you so much! You put a huge smile on my face! :) I was thinking more the second one, dragging the emotional baggage. I think if she'd have gotten revenge there would be a bit more feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction surrounding her pain.

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Anne Marie Miles
04:57 Oct 25, 2022

"She’d let herself become defined by her own victimhood. She didn’t have an identity without it." This is it, right here for me. That's the juice of the story. I think it is natural or at least common to hold onto our traumas and rage. As you described, it can feel invalidating to let something go before you're done with it, until you make your peace...But on another foot, it seems Fae was able to transmit her trauma into her painting. Which can be a cathartic way to process trauma. Then she infers her desire to paint other things and to liv...

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F.J Red
13:28 Oct 26, 2022

Thank you so much for such kind words, Anne! I enjoyed reading your reflections on this, you have a very thoughtful point of view!! Appreciate you taking the time to read this!

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06:54 Oct 24, 2022

Cool story with a very hopeful burst of energy at the end. Liked the connection with painting crimson pictures and Fae's traumatic childhood...'each colour is a concept, an emotion, part of a story. Crimson red was rage, anger and aggression...crimson red was the colour fae always ran out of.' A timely story most of us can relate to. Nice work F.J Red!

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F.J Red
13:18 Oct 26, 2022

Thank you! Really appreciate your insightful comments! I was hoping to put into words what I think so many of us are feeling, I'm glad you saw that!

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Rama Shaar
10:59 Oct 23, 2022

Lovely language, and very sensitive! This is a story for all of us who don't know or don't WANT to sever ourselves from the trauma that shaped us...until now!

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F.J Red
22:00 Oct 23, 2022

Thanks so much for reading my piece, Rama! That's exactly the story I was trying to tell, I'm glad you saw it!! I really enjoy your writing style too, looking forward to seeing more of your work!

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Rama Shaar
02:50 Oct 24, 2022

Thank you 😊

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Laurel Hanson
16:05 Dec 09, 2022

Love the analysis of anger, with gorgeous sentences like this - "Her soul was weeping in a language she didn’t quite understand just yet, and it terrified her" to capture the rage, paired with equally gorgeous descriptions of the setting such as this: "Fae watched the colour pirouette and diffuse into the clear water." An internal conflict like this, absent some kind of action, is super tricky. Using the process of painting as a metaphor for being trapped in the emotional state, is super interesting, as painting is often used to depict free...

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Lindsay Flo
20:42 Oct 28, 2022

So, I like the use of a metaphor to tie the color red to anger. I also like how she almost seems to be...ready to let go of her anger and then it's like she's all "nope! can't do it!" This I think is a common struggle I think that prohibits people from moving on...they don't know who they are with their pain/anger/victim status, etc. I DO wish we had found out more about "what" her pain is, but that might just me being curious. I get that the point wasn't what happened to her, but her existence as an angry person. Finally, the switch at the ...

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Marty B
20:26 Oct 27, 2022

I liked the analogies of the dead succulent and the window which had no breeze, all representing the MC is stuck in place.

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