NON-FICTION. When I was an art student at North Adams State College, a close friend used to tell me about her experiences of life in the city. She grew up in a harsh “street environment” and we’d talk at all hours about what she’d seen. One time she saw a horrific car wreck with what looked like fatal injuries, and she was astounded to never find any mention in the newspapers in the following days. So the basis of my City drawing was set.
The picture took me two months to complete. It’s fairly large, approximately 24″ x 20″, and illustrates my impressions of what my friend related to me: Drugs, pollution, and stories upon stories of mute and grand regeneration.
I came from a neighborhood that provided protections from the type and frequency of my friend’s city experiences. On another night when we were talking she was very upset; she wanted to know if it was okay that she didn’t report the accident she’d seen. She wanted to know if it was okay with me in that regard; or was I going to think less of her?
As an artist, and a 19-year-old, it was easy for me to be open about how I felt. I didn’t judge her on her lack of action, she hadn’t caused the accident and she’d been a 15 year old kid. I can’t remember for sure but my response was probably lacking what she needed. She had to live with what she’d seen and I was completely insulated.
“It wasn’t up to you to report,” I said. “It wasn’t your responsibility.” “You don’t understand what I’m asking you,” she replied.
One day she and I were walking back to campus on a main road. We’d had a great afternoon together. Behind us, a block away, a girl was also walking up the road. Something about her gait didn’t sit right with us. We both started towards her but my friend stopped me. “You wait up on that walkway across the street,” she said. Then she was off to the girl, calling, “Is everything all right?”
I waited, and to my surprise my friend waved me off, indicating I should go back to my dorm. The girl had just been raped.
When my friend rejoined me hours later, after a long session with campus police, her face was red and she was angry. “How could someone do something like this?” She wanted to know. I didn’t have that answer but I had another, and I waited 27 years to tell her.
“You didn’t turn your back on that girl,” I told her. “If you’d been worried about making the wrong choice at 15, you certainly made a big difference to someone two years later.”