Galloping on the beach, riding my white Arab mare. My sister follows on a borrowed horse, an old red mare. She always had a dream of riding a horse on an ocean beach. I have made her dream come true. Playing in the waves, turning and running and jumping over beached logs. Back into the waves, up to my mare's chest in the water, she stumbles and falls on her side. My leg is trapped under her. I must wait for her to get up. She leaps up, panicked.
I am telling myself, already seeing myself as other, "Be sure your boot slides out of the stirrup so you don't get dragged." My boot slides out of the stirrup. With the sudden movement, the saddle horn pushes through the loose knit of my sweater sleeve. As my mare gallops out of the ocean and across the sandy beach, I am being dragged by my left arm. I am trying to hold my face out of the sand, to keep sand out of my eyes. (Later, my sister will tell me that I am flopping up and down, sometimes facing down, sometimes facing up, twisting.) I see the mare's hooves near my face, then far away, then near me again. Near, the hooves are larger. Far, the hooves are smaller. Near, far, near, far. Large, small, large, small. Like the art lesson I taught, how to depict space. We are racing, faster and faster over the beach, my mare more frightened by the body she is dragging. She is trying to escape danger.
My sister's voice screaming my name, "Denita!" Her scream, my name, wakes me up to my own danger. Ahead is a jam of beached logs, helter skelter flotsam and jetsam. Racing, faster and faster. I begin my escape, somehow pulling my arm out of the sweater sleeve, somehow pulling the sweater over my head. But, I do not slide free. Over the sweater is a fanny pack with keys, money, and, no doubt, a chocolate bar. The fanny pack belt was too loose. I always intended to sew up the fanny pack belt so that it is tighter. Today, procrastination saves me. The sweater pulls out of the loose belt. I am free, sliding to a stop in the sand.
My mare leaps and leaps over the logs and races away, through a swamp, out of sight. I sit up. I stand up, I can't believe I can stand up. My sister gallops up on the old mare and asks if I'm okay. "Yes," I say. "Go find my horse!" My sister, a novice rider, gallops away. People on the beach run to my aid. A woman gives me a ride in her van. We find my horse at someone's barn. The barn owners have treated the cuts on the mare's legs. And called the sheriff - an injured horse ran in with an empty saddle on sideways.
We load the horses into my trailer. I drive home. The next day, I cannot move. Wrenched everywhere, bruised. My left arm, the arm that makes art, the arm that learned how to draw for decades, is bruised from shoulder to finger tips. Bruises keep emerging for days. I can barely move my left wrist and fingers.
Somehow, I think I'll get over it and don't seek medical care. The bruises turn into hard kernels, like gravel, under the skin of my left arm. I cannot hold a brush or pencil. I cannot draw. I cannot write. I am to start an MFA painting program in 2 weeks.
Weeks later, a doctor tells me I'm lucky my arm wasn't torn off. I feel lucky. The tendons are torn, but still attached to the bones, my arm is still attached to the shoulder - because I kept my arm tightly bent, to keep my eyes out of the sand. Referral to physical therapy.
The therapist schedules me at the end of her day so she can give me an extra long session, like she gives the cellist for the symphony. She heats up my arm, then uses her thumbs to break up the scar tissue across a few inches of my arm. I cannot describe how painful this is. She gives me exercises to do the following week, to keep that little part of my fingers or hand or wrist or arm mobile as it heals again. I slowly, oh so very slowly, regain mobility, flexibility, strength.
But, I cannot draw with the precision and elegance I once had, that required hours and hours, years and years of eye-hand training, In my MFA studio, I lay my head on my work table and weep. My application to the program said I wanted to change how I worked. Now I must change. I cannot work as before.
I am invited to a season of the Seattle Opera. I take a sketchbook and draw in the dark. In the dark, I cannot see what I'm drawing. There is no judgment of inadequacy. A combination of blind contour drawing (drawing without looking at the drawing paper) and gesture drawing (drawing rapidly while the model is moving). The opera singers move, move continually. The sets and lighting change. I am drawing freely in the dark, with concentration and flow. I draw in the dark at the ballet, at jazz performances.
Later, in my studio, I embellish the sketchbook drawings with watercolor and collage. These creations, this sketchbook, is The Opera Book.
There is a solo exhibit of my work. I invite a collector to a back room for a private viewing of The Opera Book. Quietly, the collector gazes at each image, slowly turning the pages. Viewing the images moving in time, at his own rhythm. At the end, he closes the sketchbook. He pronounces the sketchbook as the best work of all, better than the large paintings. And I agree.
Selected Pages from
The Opera Book
I, too, had a dream... Fourteen angels there must have been! Hansel and Gretel, Seattle Opera.
So many, oh, so many sighs. Tosca, Seattle Opera.
Deep in that Perfumed Night, from the Pearl Fishers, Seattle Opera.
Dance of the Firebird, from The Nutcracker, Pacific Northwest Ballet.