The Grounds for Sculpture was only a ten-minute drive from my house, but when we pulled into the parking lot, I realized I hadn’t been here in almost six years. The last time was a week after my twelfth birthday. My dad brought me here for one of our bi-annual “father time” excursions. Back then, I was still happy when my dad remembered to see me and I had been excited to explore the park grounds and art with him.
That trip had been the beginning of the end for us.
Every exhibit, he would immediately race to read the informational plaque and then proceed to lecture me about the piece, the artist, and cultural significance. Always he would add in bits about his own life and opinions on art. An hour into our exploring, I started to tune him out.
My dad knew next to nothing about art, but here he was acting like he was some kind of expert—it was the first time in my life that it occurred to me that my dad was full of shit.
When he’d noticed that I wasn’t listening to him anymore, he had switched his lecture topic from art to respect.
“I’m twelve,” I’d countered. “I can read a plaque just as well as you can.”
Even now, I could still remember his exact expression. Like I had slapped him. His eyes were angry, and afraid. He launched further into his lecture on respect, threading in words like, ingratitude and undeserving without ever even pausing to take a breath. People all around us were turning and taking a second to stare.
I walked away from him.
When he followed me and tried to grab my arm so I would turn and face him, I yanked myself free and practically ran for his car.
When he finally caught up and unlocked the doors, I wanted to be as far away from him as possible, so I opened the back door, slid onto the seat, and refused to look at him.
In the privacy of his car, he felt free to yell at me all the way back to my house. It was the first, but not the last, time he pontificated about my crap attitude and informed me that he “will not put up with it!”
I had kept my eyes fixed out the window and forced myself to not cry all the way home. When we finally pulled into the driveway, my door was open before he even stopped the car. I slammed it behind me and ran inside, up to my room before I could hear another word.
Then I’d cried. Hysterical, hot, sobbing tears. My mom had brought a cold washcloth to help me calm down.
“Look!” Paige shouted and pointed to the top of a nearby grassy hill. A second later Paige turned her wide eyes to her brother and whispered, “She’s naked.”
On top of the hill was a larger-than-life painted metal sculpture of a woman lounging on an old fashioned red sofa. She was indeed naked, with large round breasts and one hand placed strategically over her pubic area. A black cat with an angry arched back perched near her feet.
Porter smiled and laughed. “Yes, big and naked.” He took Paige’s hand and walked closer to the statue. Like the cat, Paige leaned back and pulled away from her brother.
“What?” he asked. “Let’s go see it.”
Wide-eyed and worried, Paige shook her head.
Porter laughed again. “It’s art,” he explained. “That makes the naked okay.”
Paige looked to me, as if trying to determine if what her brother was saying was true. I shrugged and nodded, suddenly remembering that there were actually several nude sculptures, all women of course, throughout the park and that I had been just as avoidant and embarrassed of them when I had come here with my dad.
“Let’s skip this one,” I said, rescuing Paige from her brother’s teasing.
Paige looked relieved and pulled her brother away from the naked giantess. Porter couldn’t stop laughing all the way to the welcome center’s main entrance.
But as we approached the ticket window, Porter slowed down. When I glanced back at him, I could see that his smile had evaporated as he stared up at the overhead marquee.
Children 5 and under: Free
Porter stopped walking and reached down for Paige’s hand, stopping her as well. A wave of nervous dread rolled through me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Porter’s eyes met mine, and he hesitated. “I . . . didn’t bring any cash.”
“Oh.” I shrugged and opened my bag. “No big deal, I got this.” My wallet was buried at the bottom under a pack of tissues, a hair brush, and a half-eaten pack of peppermint flavored gum. I pulled it out and unzipped the compartment that held my driver’s license and debit card.
I pulled out the card and turned toward the elderly man waiting patiently for us behind the glass. Porter and Paige stood paralyzed ten feet behind me.
“Can I help you?” the man’s voice broke through the round speaker positioned in the glass.
“Three students plea—”
“She’s five,” Porter suddenly called out from behind me.
Confused, I turned around.
“I’m seven!” Paige protested, and glared up at her brother.
“You’re five,” Porter corrected his sister. He looked up at me, shifted his eyes to the sign over my head, and then back to me. “She’s five.”
I stared at them both for a moment and then turned back to the elderly man who was now fighting a smile behind the glass. I leaned close to the speaker hoping Porter wouldn’t hear me. “Three students,” I whispered.
The man nodded, typed the order into his computer and collected the tickets as they printed out. “Okay, so that’s two students and a five-year-old.” He winked at me. “That’ll be twenty dollars, miss.”
I handed him my debit card. “Thank you,” I whispered into the speaker.
“It’s good to see young people enjoying the arts.”
I signed the credit slip, collected our tickets, and joined Porter and Paige near the entrance. When I handed Paige her ticket, she inspected it until her suspicions were confirmed.
“But I’m seven,” she whined, and looked up at me. Tears filled her eyes.
I opened my mouth to explain, but snapped it shut again when I found I didn’t have a good reason to give her. I had been more than willing to pay for Paige to be seven. Helpless, I turned to Porter. This was his fault, after all.
He sighed. “Paige, it’s not a big deal. I don’t have any money. Do you want Ruth to have to pay ten bucks for you to get in?”
She wrinkled her brow and stared at her ticket again before shaking her head.
“All right, then. Can we just go inside now?” Porter asked.
When Paige wiped her eyes, nodded, and reached up to take her brother’s hand, I breathed a sigh of relief and we all moved toward the turnstile.
Something had happened here, but I didn’t know quite what. I tried to catch Porter’s attention over his sister’s head, but he kept his gaze stubbornly pointed ahead of us.
I wanted to tell him I didn’t mind, it was totally no big deal, and I was happy to pay for Paige, for both of them. It was my idea to come here in the first place. But I figured I should probably wait until I could talk to Porter alone. I didn’t want to upset Paige all over again.
Porter held the door to the welcome center, first for Paige, then me. As I passed right in front of him, he whispered, “Thank you.”
I stopped in the doorway and looked up into his eyes, our bodies so close they almost touched. “For what?” I whispered back.
He stared into my eyes, not answering my question but looking like he was trying to find the words. In the end, his hand not holding the door landed at my waist and slipped around to the small of my back. His eyes shifted quickly to find Paige, who was absorbed by something in a glass display case several yards away, then he leaned down and kissed me. Once. Twice. The third time his lips lingered as his hand at my back pressed me closer. When he pulled away, his eyes opened slowly and he brought his mouth to my ear. “I’ve been wanting to do that all day.”
And even though I hadn’t realized it until just then, I had been wanting the same thing. I placed my hands on both sides of his waist, raised up on my toes and kissed his lips once more before slipping my hand into his and heading for the glass case Paige was staring into.
The first thing I saw was an electric teakettle, made of stainless steel polished till it reflected like a mirror. With a wide base and a round blue handle, a red bird perched from the spout presumably ready to tweet loudly when water inside was boiling hot. There was also a matching creamer and sugar set, coffee carafe, and salt and pepper shakers. Behind the case were photos of buildings, landscapes, and other household items with a similar round, clean design. A man’s image, photographed at various times throughout his life, was scattered among the pictures, and a sign posted on the wall announced the exhibit displayed the life works of architect and designer Michael Graves.
“Can I do that?” Paige asked, and pointed to a nearby table. It was low to the ground and surrounded by small chairs, the top filled with art supplies and clays for kids to create with.
Porter barely had time to say yes before Paige ran and claimed a bright red chair next to a toddler and his mother.
The title of the display was Past as Prologue, and a quote from Graves was blown up as a subtitle.
Physical environments affect people.
Porter and I made our way through the timeline of Michael Graves’s life and work, starting with his birth in Indiana in 1934, his various and many accomplishments and awards, until we reached 2003.
Ahead of me, Porter stopped and pointed to a photo of Graves in the most bizarre-looking wheelchair I had ever seen. “He was paralyzed from the waist down, in 2003. An infection in his spinal cord.”
“How awful,” I said and moved up to where Porter was reading about the illness that changed the architect’s life forever. “He stopped working?” I asked as I started to read about what happened.
Porter shook his head. “While he recovered,” he pointed to a section of text. “He noticed how poorly designed hospitals were for people trying to recover. He spent the rest of his career designing hospital rooms and equipment for disabled people. To help them be more comfortable and independent.”
My eyes caught the caption a photo of the architect from the 1990s. “He used to work at Princeton.”
“Too bad you missed him.”
Near the end of the display, Porter stood and stared at another quote blown up large.
I don’t care what people call me, labels have the negative value of making smaller boundaries for people.
When I stood next to Porter, I took his hand in mine and he looked down at me.
“Do you think that’s true?” he asked me.
I read the quote again. “I’ve never thought about it before . . . but it sounds true.”
Porter nodded and I felt his hand tighten in mine. He stared at the words for a second more, and then turned away to find his sister.
Thank you for reading chapter sixteen of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!