I’m not sure why I’ve been wanting to post this picture, but I think it has to do with the revelation I had the other day: I’ve never gotten enough oxygen. Smoking helped me breathe. Even as I wrote these lines, I was aware of how weird they sounded. Smoking helped me breathe?
The color blue can mean without oxygen. Blue is also about cold. In the picture, I’m a frozen snowwoman, lacking blood. As I’ve written about in past posts, I learned early on to breathe above the incision in my abdomen, to not bring breath below my ribs if I could help it. In a way, I sealed myself off from the lower two thirds of my body.
After the operation, the surgeon warned my parents that I could break my stitches if they weren’t careful (there were 3 sets). When they held me, they were afraid and this type of touching made me fear my own body. My breathing has always been shallow and truth is, I’ve discovered that I’ve been afraid to breathe too deeply for fear that I’d blow up!
I began smoking at age 11 and ironically, smoking helped me breathe more deeply. I mean, in order to smoke you’ve got to inhale. So when smoking, I took more deep breaths. I smoked for 10 years and then off and on for 5. Bringing toxic air into blocked off areas of the body is not, however, a way to heal. After the operation, some massage therapy could have helped. In the 50s, there was little, if none, of that. In any case, I needed help making friends with my body.
Is the red splotch in my head an emotional wound? Does it imply a neurological blip? Probably both. It was also a way to identify with the late water color painter Nicholas Reale, the father of my high school friend. He always dashed his work with a red splotch somewhere, a way to distinguish himself. He and his wife, Marie, were great friends of mine and in my twenties, I wanted to be like Mr. Reale when I grew up :-). His red mark though was usually located inconspicuously in the lower corner of his paintings; I wanted mine to stand out. When I painted Parts, I was in therapy, and this dash of red was my way of acknowledging a wound that was finally being tended to.