FEATURED ARTIST – Paul Richmond
STORY by Brian Schaefer
I awoke to quiet sobs coming from overhead; soft sniffles muted by a pillow. I rolled out from under the sheets and stood up, coming face to face with David.
“Are you okay?” I asked. He nodded but then another sob broke loose.
“Wanna go outside?” He nodded again and I helped him off the top bunk and walked him through the cabin to the small cement porch.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
“I’m homesick,” he replied after a minute, knees curled up to his chest, arms wrapped tightly around them.
It had been three days since a line of SUVs had driven up the winding dirt road and deposited dozens of kids on this tranquil hilltop. Tearful parents watched their children run away giggling with new friends without a backwards glance. Tearful children had watched their parents do the same.
And now these thirteen fifth-grade boys were in my care. David wasn’t the most popular but certainly no loner. Up until this point, I thought he would get through the two-week overnight session easily.
“Why are you homesick? What do you miss?” I asked.
“I miss my mom and my dog. I don’t feel comfortable here.”
“Why don’t you feel comfortable?”
“I dunno. I just don’t.”
“You know, sometimes its okay to feel uncomfortable. Everybody feels uncomfortable in new situations. Being uncomfortable is sometimes how we grow.”
David looked up at me with big brown eyes. He thought about this for a while and then rested his chin on his knees and sighed. “But I still miss my mom.”
“I know, buddy. And I know she misses you, too. She’s probably also uncomfortable without you at home. But you know what? That means you’re both growing and becoming stronger. That’s exciting, isn’t it? You seem like a strong guy to me. I think you’ll be just fine. You willing to give it a try?”
He looked at me again, sighed again, and nodded. I put my arm around his shoulders and gave a little squeeze.
After the counselors put the kids to bed, we’d grab our folding chairs and gather around the old campfire that was just outside the cabin area. Each night we’d recount the silly things our campers said, which ones were spoiled brats, which administrator was a royal bitch.
And we flirted with each other, played Truth or Dare, gossiped and speculated about counselors who weren’t there, eyed-each other and shifted ever closer. We were young and open and playful. In this spirit, flirtations ran in all directions, across gender lines and breaking through physical boundaries.
So that is how I ended up getting a neck massage from Joshua. Nobody thought twice about it, not even me. At least not right away. But then his breath felt awfully close to my ear and my own breathing became shallow. Then his hands moved much further down my back than I expected and my heart raced. I turned my head to look at him and met a gaze that I was not prepared for, full of such intensity that I felt locked in place by his eyes.
Joshua’s hands dropped from my shoulders. He rose and announced that he was heading back to the cabins. Without thinking, I stood up and mumbled that I was doing the same. The others wished us a good night, hardly taking note of our departure.
I followed Joshua towards the cabins but he veered onto a narrow path just before we got there. After walking a few more yards, he turned around and looked at me, again with an intensity that both terrified and thrilled me. I froze.
“Come here,” he said. A gentle command, but a command nonetheless.
When he stopped, I stood motionless, head dropped, eyes focused on the small rocks under my feet. Slowly I lifted my head and found his eyes reflecting a mixture of mischief and concern. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face into his neck.
“Are you okay?” he asked. I nodded but couldn’t speak.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
“I dunno. It’s just that, well, that’s the first time I… but I liked it… I just… I dunno.”
He smiled at me. “You’re a strong guy,” he said. “I think you’ll be just fine.”
Back in the cabin, tears fell onto my pillow. Something profound and unexpected and long overdue had just taken place. I was uncomfortable. And I was suddenly homesick for the familiar and the safe.
How do you go about making sense of this new place and these new feelings without your usual sources of support? I suppose you find it somewhere within and move forward, trusting the person who tells you that you’ll be just fine – even if you don’t really know them all that well.
But that means you’re both growing and becoming stronger, right? And that’s exciting… isn’t it?
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Paul Richmond’s paintings have been displayed at venues including the World of Wonder Gallery, A Bitchin’ Space, BoMA: The Bar of Modern Art, and the Columbus Museum of Art. Utilizing a multitude of artistic methodologies, his work explores themes of personal narrative and social commentary, sometimes addressing unique experiences of the GLBTQ community or self-realization and empowerment at large.
After graduating from Columbus College of Art and Design in 2002 with a degree in illustration, Richmond worked on children’s books, concert merchandise, a nationally syndicated comic strip, a greeting card line, and a variety of large-scale murals. Only after coming out of the closet shortly thereafter did his fine artwork become a vehicle for exploring and understanding his own journey and developing a dialogue with other members of the GLBTQ community. His piece “Remembering Tammy Faye” was unveiled to celebrity guests at the late televangelist’s memorial celebration, and he helped organize a successful benefit for GLBTQ youth in association with his recent solo exhibition “Ins and Outs.”
Richmond’s work can be seen in the Bruno Gmünder release “Stripped Uncensored,” as well as on novel covers by MLR Press and Dreamspinner. He is currently working on a painting series called “Pin-Up Payback” for an upcoming exhibit at the Veaux Gallery in Chelsea, as well as preparing for a solo exhibition, “Gay Day at Paulyworld,” tentatively scheduled for June 2010 at the Center on Halstead Gallery in Chicago.
He lives with his partner Dennis Niekro and their two whippets, Seamus and Una, in the Short North arts district of Columbus, Ohio.
Visit Paul’s website: www.paulrichmondstudio.com