Invisible Bruises III:
I stand, holding a stencil in one hand, a can of paint in the other, waiting for passing headlights to dim, listening for the whirr of a car on the road (is it approaching or fading?). It’s after midnight, and I’m shaking from nervousness, excitement—and memory.
Because a man taught me to do this.
The street artist known as Swoon was born Caledonia Dance Curry. A boyfriend dreamed her painter name, said he saw her in a vision making art on the streets. So she took the name and did. Left him, took the name, and did.
I dreamed my own name, but a man taught me the details: to choose the cardboard carefully, trace the image with markers, cut with razors, aim the paint—close or far, steady or in spurts. A man taught me, and told me I was good, better than anyone he had tried to teach before. He told me his secrets.
Then he lied. Then he kicked and bruised and called me names and made me crawl.
He was still a man, never a monster. He was still a human man. But he became someone I could not love, I could not work with, I could not be alongside and survive.
It was one of the first hazy nights of spring. I thought we were just going for a walk after dinner—but then he kneeled, took out his wheat paste.
Turn your face away, he hissed when a girl turned down our alley. He put up his piece on a garage door, then asked me: Are you going to do something or not?
I did have art in my pocket, little stickers I would paint by hand when I was watching TV or waiting for a ride, but I didn’t want to put anything up. To muster the guts to do graffiti, I had to really feel it. I had to feel the piece was timely: in some way, needed.
Maybe there had been an assault. Maybe there was a girl missing. I would want then to do a piece that might give someone strength or encouragement. I would paint a strong woman. I would paint a key.
We were standing on a busy street next to a parking garage. Cars kept whizzing by, catching us in their lights. I didn’t feel it that night, not that insistent, essential feeling.
But: Do it, he said. Are you going to do it? He turned away. No, you’re not going to. He spat on the bricks at my feet.
We often ended nights like this. He called me weak, scared, judgmental. He picked at me until I cried.
It’s difficult to do the thing you love after the person who used to accompany you is gone, after so many memories of the activity you did together are sorrowful, like this one. There is pain every time I cut a new stencil. There are memories even in the brand of paint I use.
I change razors more often than he did, though. I’m not interested in making posters, as he used to do. I draw with markers sometimes—he never did. These were not conscious changes. I did not set out to make my process different from his, but these small distinctions are ways to make art my own.
Already I have gone out on more missions alone than we ever did together. Already I have made more pieces solo in my tiny spare room— crouched by the closet door, my back aching from the iron bar of the bed pressing into my back, the stencil tipped up against the wall—than I ever painted in his spacious studio.
I remember: I love this, even outside of my past with him, even outside of the pain our time together caused me. I love this.
That love has nothing to do with him.
Whatever you do, you do something: paint, sing, watch movies, run. And maybe you did it with someone who hurt you. And now you can still do it, even alone.
And now it gets better. Because alone, you can paint all night if you want to. You can use the last bit of black. You can see the gory horror flick. You can eat all the desserts or only appetizers. You can go where you want to go. You can run and run and run as fast or as slow as you need, all the way to the bridge, all the way up the hill.
I like putting art up by myself. I like going out into the night alone. Alone, I can chose my own spots carefully and slowly, be quiet, take as much time as I need, abort the mission if I want.
Alone I feel safe.
I’ve been struggling to write this post about recovery, because I don’t think I’ve recovered. I think I will bear the invisible scars of how he abused me for a long time. Maybe forever.
I do know this: When you find the right man or woman after being abused, a good man or woman, it will be difficult to trust them. It will be difficult to know. They will need to be patient. You will need to go slow.
I also know, I have learned: Having no partner is better than having the wrong partner. Silence is better than being screamed at. Empty arms are better than bruised ones.
Go painting alone. It will take you a long time to love it.
But know this: One day, you will.
Final Girl is an Appalachian street artist. Her essays have been published in Hillbilly Speaks and Bending Genre, and her art appears in many secret spaces. You can see more examples of her work at https://www.facebook.com/Finalgirlart