Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Day That Daddy Taught Me How to See

Warm waves of sunshine heat my shoulders. To me, it feels better than a blanket. The WALK sign lights up, I reach up for Daddy's hand and we cross the street. A line of yellow taxis dumps people onto the sidewalk and scoops up more people before rushing away. We walked over from the diner where I ate crumb cake (like I always have with Daddy) and Daddy ate eggs sunny-side up. He breaks the yolk part with his fork and uses his toast to sop it up of the plate, kind of like a dish sponge.

Once across the street, I let go of Daddy's hand and run to the fountain in front of the museum. They are back on today. Drops of water wet my face and some gets into my lungs. I stop and turn. Daddy turned the pockets of his jeans and out and shrugs his shoulder - just one quarter. I grab it and rub it between my thumb and pointer finger. I shut my eyes tight, squeezing the quarter tighter. As I open my eyes, the sun flashes off the surface of the swooshing water and hits me on the nose.
"Did you make a wish?" he asks.
"Kind of..." I flick the quarter under the water wondering who collects the money for these hopes and wishes. The floor of the fountain could definitely buy a few Rocker Barbies with enough left over for a strip of fuzzy stickers.
"Ok, let's go in."
I'm very strong in my legs from ballet lessons and climbing the huge stone steps isn't hard anymore. At the top of the steps, I stand in the doorway, feeling the whoosh of warm air float up the legs of my jeans.
Daddy smiles and says "hello" to the guard. I stare shyly at my feet until Daddy taps my shoulder. I gaze up at the guard, smile and nod. It's easier than talking.
Once we have our buttons, I put mine on my sweatshirt all by myself. I turn towards the mummies and the medieval part where they keep the angel tree at Christmas. Daddy doesn’t follow me. He points up the stairs. I follow him and take a deep breath. Climbing THESE steps will be hard. For a second, I wish I was with Mommy; she’s let me take the escalator. My legs burn and pull myself up on the brass bannister. Once at the top, I catch my breath and Daddy looks like he’s about to laugh. We walk through two glass doors into a huge room with paintings and sculptures.
Daddy stops in front of a sculpture of a dancer. She has a real skirt and a real bow in her hair. I take ballet lessons at the Harkness school of dance and I LOVE ballet.
“Do you wear skirts like that for your class?”
“No, just leotards and tights. The older girls do though.” I look at the floor; afraid I may be disappointing him.
“How old do you think she is?”
“Seven? Why does she have a real skirt and bow?”
“Maybe the artist wanted part of her to be real.”
“Who was the artist?”
“Day gaa”
“It looks like de Gas.” I snicker.
“It’s French. You’ll learn that later in school.”
“Do you speak French? Only a little, so I can order steak at a restaurant. Mommy does though.”
“Let’s look at some pictures.” He walks me into a very small darkish room. There are two identical paintings of ballerinas right next to each other.
“Daddy, how come DAY GAAH made two of the same paintings?”
“Are they the same?”
“Look, they are.”
“Hmm, let’s look closer and see things that are different.”
“Oh, I see, I see! That fat man in the chair…”
“Good, what else?”
“Those ballerinas in the corner are stretching.”
“Mmmmhmmm. Anything else?”
“Here you can see the people watching on the side.”
“Good eyes. Why do you think they’re different?”
“I don’t know.” I hate this kind of question. There’s an answer he’s looking for and I don’t know what it is. I’ll probably be wrong.
“Well, take a guess. I don’t know for sure either. That’s what’s fun about looking at paintings. You never really know.”
“Maybe this one’s after that one?”
“Those dancers are stretching like they’re getting ready and this one has the dancers on the floor.”
“Interesting theory. Which one do you like better?”
“This one.”
“The barre work and these dancers’ legs are stuck together.”
“They aren’t.”
“They ARE.”
“That’s the artist trying to make them look like they are moving.”
“Why don’t they look like real legs?”
“Sometimes artists don’t paint things exactly how they look. Most rarely do. They paint it like they want YOU to see it. See how dark and fuzzy these are? Maybe he’s in a dream, or backstage where there’s not a lot of light.”
Later, we are in the museum shop. Daddy talks to a man who takes a tube out of a box. Daddy nods and pays the man.
“I bought you a poster, for your room. It’ll be ready in a couple weeks.”
On the way home, we stop at the playground next to the museum. I crawl through the pyramid. Once I tire out, I sit next to Daddy on the bench. He’s peeking up at the clouds through his aviator sunglasses. I tap his arm so he knows I’m there. He jumps.
“What are you looking at?”
“How much those clouds remind me of the paintings we just saw.”
“Kate, you have to look hard at things. What you see the first time is never what’s really there. Watch the world, look at paintings, you’ll never really see until you do.”
“Like how the paintings weren’t the same today?”
“Just like that.”
“Things are never what they seem to be at first. Promise me you’ll look at things and really see.”
“I promise.” I worry that I don’t understand him. Looking up at the sky, I see a cloud that looks like a ballet slipper. I giggle and Daddy doesn’t ask me why.

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