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I Am Not a Painter

by Em Remington

Rothko, Mark. (1968).
Untitled (Black Blue Painting) [acrylic on paper laid on linen].

My first memory is waking up from a nightmare. If I were a painter, this scene would come in smears of color against the inky canvas of night. My pilled pajamas feel so thin at this moment, and I realize just how cold it is in the old farmhouse that we rent for cheap. There are windows, dingy glass with cracks that reflect the blue-black sky of two in the morning. I can count them, three. My feet pad across the cold, hardwood floor of our living room. My tiny moonlight colored toes are a stark contrast against the splintering brown. I can hear the television, some man barking out commands on screen. It’s a horror film, but my eyes can’t focus on exactly what’s going on. I just observe screams of light flickering from the large, gray box. What stands out is the violent crimson of blood and a woman with yellow hair crying. My father is asleep on the couch, his breathing is labored and his body is occasionally racked with a large bout of snores that shake his thin frame. The long tendrils of his hair spill over the couch in amber pools. Enclosed in his hand is a tallboy, shiny and metallic. It glows in the light of the television. If I were a painter, I would gloss the page with the anxious sweat that dripped down my forehead. The pounding of my heart would hammer against the oils like a drum, sending a ricochet of color in every direction. I’m not sure what the color of fear is. I’m not sure what paint I would use to depict a five year old shaking her father, trying desperately to wake him up from his drunken incapacitation. What medium do you use to express the feeling of total isolation when you wake up from a nightmare to a dark, creaky house and no one to tuck you in and check under the bed for monsters? I might know the answer to these questions if I were a painter, but I’m not.

Mark Rothko was an American abstract painter who, after dealing with physical and mental health struggles, committed suicide on February 25, 1950. Rothko experimented with color and shape in his work. There is a series of murals in particular he did towards the end of his life where his desire to create art was clearly depleting as well as his sense of hope within the world. In this series that was distributed throughout Europe posthumously, Rothko clearly depicts what my first memory feels like. I feel, for the first time in my entire life, that I am alone. That I am not protected. His piece encapsulates what it feels like to be afraid of not only the dark, but the darkness that lives inside of someone’s brain. One of these murals is a red that fades into a deep navy, and to me, this is how it feels to look back on this night as a twenty-two year old person. I am angry that I was in this position as a child, but there is a deep seeded pain and sadness that lies within.

Rothko, Mark. (1960).
No. 14, 1960 [Oil on canvas]

Em Remington is a double major in Theatre and Creative Writing at The University of Maine at Farmington. Her short stories, “Shotgun” and “The Butterfly Jar”, have been published in The Road Runner Review and The Oakland Arts Review respectively. When not writing she can be found in the costume shop of Alumni Theatre.

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