Everyone has a story of some kind. You know, I have met amazing women and men from countries all over the world that have incredible stories of persevering. Stories that acknowledge their struggles and the path they chose to take.
When I was little, my mom would tell me a story about 2 roads. How one road begins very wide and the other road is narrow and a bit of struggle to get started on. She always told me that the wide road is the easy option and when you set down that road it eventually gets narrow and then eventually you can longer go any further down that road. Some people give up but the smart person she always told me, turned around and got on the right road, the road that starts out narrow but eventually gets wider and wider. I think she got that from the book “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Out of everything my mom has ever told me that story has stuck with me the most. When I was younger it was dumb to me, it made sense but it was silly to me. Later in life, when I had to pick myself up with my boot straps, I realized how true the story actually turned out to be. 18 was an age of stupidity for me, like it is for a lot of people. I guess you could say I was on the easy road and it did eventually lead me nowhere. But there were a lot of wonderful memories and lessons that I learned “the hard way” that year that helped me become the person I am today. For that I am thankful.
When I was 18, I met a lot of great people and made a lot of friends. Then of course the fair weather friends showed themselves later…but I want to talk about a friend that I made that year that I fell out of touch with.
His name was Nicolas. He was about 66 years old or older and a political refugee from Bulgaria. I hung out in a 24 hour coffee shop named “Karma” pretty much every night. It was close to campus so I could walk and the coffee was cheap. I had insomnia really bad and it was fun to pass the time with other late night regulars. Nicolas saw me drawing one night with charcoal and he couldn’t help but interrupt. I don’t remember what was said but knowing Nicolas, I can imagine it went something like “Oh wow. Yeah, hey….uh wow.” He was always at a loss for words it seemed and he was always excited. I wasn’t a terrific artist but he always really liked what I would draw. I have a soft spot for my elders and we began talking right away like old friends.
He was a painter. He stretched canvas for the art students for income and lived in a storage unit. The storage unit was full of canvases big and small. I ended up going to his storage unit a lot. He made strong coffee and smoked as many cigarettes as I did. He gave me my first canvas. It was the first time I went to his storage unit, he gave me my pick of canvases and allowed me to use his oil paints. I picked the biggest canvas I could find. And I picked black paint.
He began laughing so hard when I picked black. I couldn’t figure out why. I took the paintbrush and painted a long, thick black line on the canvas. This was to much for Nicolas, he said something like “How bold! You picked the darkest color and didn’t even hesitate to paint a huge stroke!” See, I knew nothing about painting–I was just doing what felt natural. In my mind, I needed an outline and an outline was in black but Nicolas saw something else and it made me have confidence. I painted the shadow of a tree with a pregnant lady leaned against the tree. I paced back and forth in front of the canvas while I tried to think of what to do next. Nicolas watched me the whole time, smoking his cheap cigar cigarettes. When I began to pace, he began to laugh again and told me I looked just like him. He became kind of my mentor. He had lived in a cave in Bulgaria because the government was hunting for him before he escaped to America. He wouldn’t go into details about his past but he had been married before and was now divorced. He was crazy and eccentric and I loved his company.
One day he told me that he was going to the hospital and that was the last time I saw him. I would look for him around town but I never saw him after that and eventually I quit looking.
I always kept that first canvas but I painted several different pictures on it. Nicolas would have liked that. Everytime I wanted to paint, I would just gesso on top and start again. Eventually I retired the canvas but it is the only thing I have left of Nicolas so I have kept it all these years.