The boy spoke little; only when necessary, and then mostly in single syllables. He had been adopted into a loving family as a newborn, along with another newborn boy, who took care of most of the conversation for both of them.
His mother had what she called “smiling” classes with both babies and whoever happened to be around long before he could walk, just to get a glimmer of sparkle from him.
As the years progressed, he became familiar with tests, therapists and doctors to no avail. He showed an interest in art and music, so when he was five, his mother took him to a children’s concert in San Francisco. Though she chattered about the music on the drive home, he gazed out the window with no response. That night she told his father the afternoon had been another failure.
In the morning, coming down for breakfast, she found the boy had taped sheets of printer paper together which stretched across the floor. On this “canvas” he had drawn the entire orchestra he had seen the day before.
He seemed to favor a cartoon medium for his drawing, and drew comic strips which his mother put onto the family Christmas cards. His interests were his drawing, the computer and briefly, piano. He tried to stay in his room most of the time, preferring to be alone with his computer. He was very close to his brother, who found nothing strange in his behavior, nor did the neighborhood kids who included him in their games as long as he was willing to stay. But to his parents and everyone else, he remained a stranger.
When he was twelve, his mother asked if I would mentor him as an art instructor. Though I had known him since he was first in their family, I was hesitant. He had been tested by experts in their field, and his parents had given him every opportunity that money and love could give. I wondered if the fact of his adoption was the cause of his lack of response. It must be difficult to wonder why your birth parent “gave” you away. In spite of being in a loving family, with parents, grandparents, and a sibling, there must always be a lingering question.
He came to me once a week for about a year, and we covered art exhibits and museums and tried “off-the-wall” drawing. I talked; he didn’t. I tried not talking so much and he didn’t either. It was abundantly clear that there was an unhappiness somewhere in his psyche.
One week there was an exhibit at my home gallery of a woman who did very large, very vivid abstract oil paintings. As I unwrapped them for hanging, it was obvious that they were more or less divided into two genres; happy and unhappy. She was an artist unfamiliar to me, so as we sat and talked over coffee she explained the reason for the difference.
She had been very ill for a long time; had not been expected to live. Gradually she had gotten well and had resumed painting. It explained the brilliant color, and the difference between the two groups.
When she was in distress, her paintings were wild with red, black and bright greens. As her health returned, the colors were softer and happier.
The color red symbolizes danger, stop, and anger. In other words, keep away. But red also means excitement, and extrreme happiness! Black is certainly unhappy, as were all of her violent brushstrokes and jabbings in mismatched color. She had clearly shown her feelings in paint, just as she did in her “well” paintings, though the brushstrokes and color were still bold. You felt the artist speaking to you.
As we toured the exhibit, I told the boy that I was so happy to be an artist, because you could put all your feelings on canvas, paper or whatever you chose to paint on. Just the color alone did all the talking necessary. You could show your unhappiness, and joy. You just had to learn the language of color.
I made a self mocking remark and he gave me a weak chuckle! In the year we were meeting, it is the only response I had from him. I felt a failure at mentoring, so we stopped meeting.
The boy became extremely tech savvy, and unbeknownst to his parents, he discovered both of his birth parents. They had married, though not to each other, and had families in the Midwest.
As a teenager, he went back to meet all of them, a trip which was highly successful. In the ensuing years, they have exchanged visits a number of times and here in California meeting with his adoptive parents as well.
He now lives in San Francisco, and works as a performance artist.
Bammie & the Boys
Don’t Worry Be Happy