As I sit a gallery in Portland, Oregon, where my paintings hang with other artists, I’m looking at a photo. That’s me in the denim jeans and white laced blouse with my brother’s arm around my shoulder. He has a dusky Afro and a wide Portuguese smile. A happy picture. I remember stroking his soft brown curls, when he was a baby. I sat him on my lap, and he stared into my eyes with his bright blue eyes, grabbing the strands of my red hair with his tiny hands.
I look around, and see other images that evoke other emotions. I focus on the painting of a man in a cowboy hat hunched over at a bar with a can of beer and cigarette in his hand. I reminisce about my step-dad, Ralph and sorrow sweeps over me. I can feel my eyebrows sink in, and I see my reflection in the plastic cover of my note pad. It all began when Doug was young. He was bullied by Ralph because he had girlish ways. Ralph was ignorant to the fact that my mom, sister, and I raised Doug, and for 7 years there wasn’t another man in our lives besides Doug’s father, who left before he was born. Doug was 9 years my younger, and we taught him to roller skate, and he became a mascot for our Fremont Junior High. He was keeping a lot inside of his little body. When he was in high school, mom set fire to Ralph’s field, and Doug burnt his shirt trying to put out the fire. Ralph punished him. After several drinks and snuffing out his cigarette in the ashtray, Ralph picked his teeth with a half used matchbook and headed for another bar.
I’m drawn to second painting, like a magnet it captivates me. A Bald eagle flying high above a mountain with the bright blue sky in the background. I feel an uplifting of my spirits. Doug is ascending to a higher place leaving his pain and suffering behind. He has met a gay man, and they become partners. Doug is an actor in college, and his lover is a nurse. In the 1980’s,they are interviewed on television about gay rights and gay marriages in Eugene. Sadly, both of them die from AIDS. I walk over to the painting and caress the eagle. I feel the cloth of the canvas peeling and crumbling in my hand. My brother is breaking free from the past. I smell the freshness of linseed oil. My brother and his gay friend are soaring high above the trenches of pain to the liberation of their souls. I bid farewell to my brother and the close bond I shared with him. Such a compassionate, sensitive and intelligent human being. I kiss the picture. I can’t believe he is still gone.