It’s true. Let’s go back to the first thing my mum hung in our hallway and, to be clear, it’s still hanging there. This is more of a confession than anything because she is still of the opinion that I created it.

It was the first grade. I’d missed the first four art classes of a six-week project that focused on painting with a sponge – the first truly great medium – due to a gallant battle with chickenpox. I’ve got the forehead scar to prove it. I’d given the disease to my little sister, and we spent three weeks on red shag carpet, itching one another’s backs and infecting our cat and her newly born kittens. We munched on freezies and I’d yank on her sandy ginger hair every time she annoyed me, which was an alarmingly arbitrary and biased amount.

I returned to my art class on the fourth week of sponge painting: scabby, miserable, and admittedly funny looking before the varicella hit, bumps and rashes turning into an accumulation of scarring and pockmarks that would prove to not leave with haste. I presume that the student teacher – a fine arts student – had also been ugly as a kid; she was drawn to me like a collie trying to herd the last gibbled sheep. I’d been crying, on account of the missing out. Empathy oozed out of her pores and, with the overzealous virtuosity that only a student teacher in her first practicum can possess, she held my dumpy, crusty little hand and we got to work. Brave, considering I was probably still contagious.

I can’t remember the name of the student teacher, but I remember watching as she made the first spongy, abstract, vibrant flower. Primary colors. I think we were supposed to mix them to get our six-year-old brains understanding the function of color. The flower was beautiful. I came from a family of artists, and at a very young age I was determined to impress the creatives in our family. The teacher, who I’m assuming had a name like Natasha or Britni, shot me an eager smile and told me it was my turn. With the acute determination of a fighter pilot attempting to avoid a Nazi missile, I dove my chubby hands into the yellow pot of paint, sponge first. The sponge emerged. I was biting my lip, brow furrowed, as a quart of paint – not including the amount on my fingers – shakily transported itself to the paper. I was Tom Cruise, trying to defuse a bomb. The red wire? The blue? Pressure was rising. The sponge landed. The fingers followed. Splat. Yellow shit everywhere. This was not the delicate, artfully placed flower of a 22-year-old art teacher, brimming with hope and possibility. This was Armageddon, baby. The paint oozed, dripped, and was so heavy it nearly tore a hole in the canvas. I did what any reasonable six-year-old – fresh off a three-week bender of freezies and antibiotics – would do. I burst into tears. Natasha / Britni clearly had not had much experience with living children up until this point. I’m sure she’d read the textbooks, but she was the type who did not have younger siblings, and had not – in the very least – been given a pet to nurture. If she had been, it was probably a hairless cat, or a hedgehog. Something her careless, gin and tonic drinking mother, ridden with allergies, would not have to tend to. Claritin, you see, gets in the way of happy hour. Nevertheless, Natasha had all this pent-up, displaced nurturance; care to give, and literally no inherent knowledge on how to execute it. The tears had shaken the poor girl. “Brit / Tash” hugged me, and assured me we’d try again, with red paint this time. She helped lift my hand into the pot, but let go as I dropped the sponge to the paper. Splat. More tears. At this point, the student teacher was nearly as hysterical as I was, eyeballs boring into the indiscriminate, anus shaped yellow-red blotchy mess I’d left on the page.

“Maybe I will show you one more?” Natasha said, quietly witnessing her hopes and dreams of becoming a successful art motivator swirling, yellow and red paint melding together, swallowed by the drain of reality. No way to bounce back, maybe her G&T cougar mom was right, she’d never be a good teacher, she wasn’t good at anything…

But I perked up. I sensed an opportunity. The last flower looked really nice: “yeah show me another,” I said. Bottom lip pushed out for dramatic effect.

Natasha’s relief was palpable. Oh, she just needed to show me another one. Silly Natasha. She proceeded to do the same thing she did the first time. I’d watch, and then take a fistful of paint and drop it on it’s dollar store canvas. Splat. By the third time, Natasha’s hairless-cat-alcoholic-mom memories consumed her. With gritted teeth, she proposed that she “help” paint all the flowers and hearts, while I make the background. There was this false idea that what I was doing – background painting – was an important task. I didn’t care. I knew what I was doing. Her flowers looked damn good. Mine looked like remnants of a pap smear. This went on for the remaining two weeks. We were to take these projects home and I could not wait to pass mine off as my own.

The most incriminating and perhaps sociopathic detail of all of this is that after I had conned Natasha/Britni/Naked-Cat-Teacher into doing the work for me, I purposely fudged some of the work… as to make it believable, like a six-year-old did it. The lines I messed up, conjunct with my shitty background, to made it look as though I were an incredibly talented six-year-old: raw talent ready for exposure and not a manipulative, scabby delinquent.

My mom was thrilled. She had the pictures professionally framed. This was the moment when I realized I had gone too far. That shit was permanent. I felt she was one step away from placing a gold placard underneath “my” picture:

Kristina, Age 6, Prodigy

It was time to tell her. Except I never did. I spent all that time looking at the painting, wishing it were mine and, eventually, I almost began to believe it. I did paint the background, didn’t I? Wasn’t that the most fundamental part, really?

This level of pathological reasoning began to embed itself into my life. It’s a recurring pattern that is intrinsic to who I am. I am a chronic exaggerator, an excessive storyteller. I expand dates and times of important things in my life. I embellish small details. I wait until the right moment before I drop news, sure to give it the proper edge. Today I would like to stake the claim that it began, seventeen years ago, in a first grade art classroom with an overly sympathetic student art teacher.

 

Kristina Stocks

Kristina lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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