When we did met again we didn’t realize that was us earlier but once we got to talking about how we thought we knew one another we realized we had met that day. Jo was still married, still had not returned to her husband, and she put up a damn good fight to keep me at arm’s length but we kept running into one another at parties and we knew a lot of the same people. We had incredible conversations. My roommate’s girlfriend was a paint artist and she and Jo had some classes together so it was difficult for the two of us not to run into one another by accident. I’ll be honest; Jo rocked my world. I loved everything about the woman. I could not be around her without having a very real reaction to her and it was obvious to everyone else one earth she felt the same way. We went to a convert with some friends one night and right there in the middle of a mob of ten thousand people Jo turned around and kissed me. She then spent the next month avoiding me like the plague. She had some seminar in Orlando to go to and asked me to take care of her cats while she was gone so I did. Jo had told me that she was going to come back on Sunday night, late, and for me to lock up when I left. I offered to make dinner for her so she could eat when she got home and she told me no, that was quite all right, thanks anyway, lock up before you leave, okay? But Jo called again, and asked me to wait for her, and I did and when she walked through the door she kissed me again. That started a fire she could not put out, and most of the time she didn’t try. We stayed together for five or six months and then she graduated, got her degree, and went back to her husband.
There was a lot I didn’t understand about women and still is, but that one taught me a lot about artists, and art. I didn’t understand how someone could stand in front of a white canvas and have no idea at all what they were going to paint, and then begin to paint, and still not know. We would lie together in bed and she would talk about painting as if it were something she did like eating, or sleeping or making love, as if it were a natural part of life, and I didn’t get that until I became a writer. I didn’t know what this was until after the first sentence. I had an idea but I didn’t realize it was Jo until I started.
Artist aren’t like those people who build brick walls or pour concrete sidewalks, not that there is anything wrong with those types of construction. Brick laying and concrete are both honorable and satisfying professions, but there are black and white type jobs where the end product is seeable and tactile and real. Art is not. I can never tell when an essay or a story is going to pick up momentum and head in a direction I am not prepared for at the time. Stories and characters change, meld, and become things I did not envision. I once watched Jo paint a nude portrait of one of her friends and the sheer passion and creativity of her work transmogrified her friend’s flesh into something none of us could have foreseen. Jo was not only my first artist, but she was also the first woman I was intimate with whose sexuality was blurry along the edges. The woman who was her subject in the painting moved her. Jo’s religion forbade such emotions but it was undeniable and powerful and in ways that totally transcended sex, sensuous. It was the painting of the woman, and the woman, and both that affected Jo, and when I was around her it was as if we fed on that feeling like ravenous beasts. The poor girl knew Jo and I were sleeping together even though we tried hard to hide it. What she didn’t know is that her body did more for our relationship than it did for her own boyfriend. Jo’s art was electric and powerful stuff no matter what she painted. She used colors like a stripper uses music and fabric. All the suppressed feeling in her life exploded onto the canvas and there were times late at night she would drive to my house, covered with paint and exhausted, and arrive with that same laser like focus aimed at me. It was one of the best times of my life as well as one of the most educational.
I lost Jo to her husband, to her religion, and to her fear. What she gave me was the foundation to understand my Muse, and art, and most of all, love. It was never really meant to be, and what she gave me evolved far away from what she could imagine. But the first time you look into a painting a see what is truly there beyond paint and color and canvas, it is exhilarating to the extreme. And when you look into the eyes of an artist, and see what is there, beyond the flesh and blood and bricks and concrete, well, that is the beauty of an artist.