Young Adult Fiction posted March 31, 2016

This work has reached the exceptional level
A girl who uses art to grieve the sudden loss of her dad

The HeART of Teagan Matthews

by skelly2013

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

I never considered myself to be the therapy type. In all honesty, the whole idea of sitting across from some quack with a PHD unloading all my baggage, leaving them to judge me, tell me how to live my life, well, it didn't sound the least bit appealing. But since about a month ago, that's exactly what I've been doing--and I'm seeing red...not just because I'm angry.

The nightmares haven't stopped. I hid them for as long as I could from my mother, but as soon as I started talking about seeing blood in my sleep, she called the closest shrink. So now that's where I live; on Monday afternoons from four to five, in an office that reeks of cheap lavender candles, stale coffee, and old cigars. And I'm trying to win a staring contest against a man with no emotion and a straw mustache. Then I leave until the next time. I think it's a waste of a fifty dollar copay. And just staring, fists tight in my lap is a waste of my time. At least he gets paid. I come pissed and leave even more pissed.

I hardly ever speak, other than to utter one word answers to his shallow, mindless--just stupid questions, really. In fact, I'm good at speaking in one syllable, it's the one thing my mom can't stand about me. She insists I be, "open and honest with my feelings, and explore my true inner self."

On this particular afternoon, Dr. Siccum's clock seemed louder. And he kept clearing his throat every thirty seconds. Oddly enough, the name "Siccum" translates to "dry" in Latin, and this psychologist didn't just need water. He was as strange as they come. Staring at a blank notepad and twiddling a black pen in between his fingers, I lost count of the number of times he had cleared his throat. Now it was at least seventeen. The notepad only had the date scribbled--3-29 16, and my name: Teagan Matthews.
"Teagan, do you have anything you'd like to talk about today?" Biting my lower lip I shook my head and briefly shut my eyes.

"Very well, then. We have time. All the time in the world in fact. Well," he stopped, adjusting his thick rimmed glasses on his nose, "until I see you again, that is."
Somehow at a time when that should make me feel better, coming from him, it does exactly the opposite, and suddenly I'm doing all I can to keep from puking right there--on his newly febreezed carpet. And I can't help wondering in my cynical mind if the smell of "fresh linen" was masking someone else's sudden need to "let go" all over his office floor.

"I know talking doesn't seem to--uhh, be an activity you particularly fancy...."
Looking down at a hole in my Lucky Brand Jeans I rolled my eyes.
Oh, my God...he just said fancy. Is this real life? I can't even right now.
"But we need to work together in order to get you through such a terrible family tragedy."
What is this? A fucking Lifetime special?

I let out a heavy exasperated sigh, but still said nothing.

"I'm just concerned," Dr. Siccum started, again twiddling the black pen nervously in between his large fingers. "You have to be--how do I say this, without sounding perverse..."

He stopped to clear his throat again.
For the Love of--

"--Be willing to work with me, and in all the time you've been coming, I only know what your mother has told me about why you are here. And that you strongly dislike the smell of lavender."
I shrug and let out an audible huff.

Was I supposed to feel sorry? Guilty? Was that supposed to make me talk? Even before all this shit hit the fan, I never was a talker. That's just not me.

"Do you want my help? If you don't talk to me, how am I supposed to know how to assist you and your family through this process of mourning?"
Why can't you talk normal?! Couldn't my mom have just found me a woman to speak to instead of this--nutcase?

Looking down at my fists balled in my lap, I realize the position seemed to be my default in this man's presence. Taking a deep breath, I braced myself for the fact that I was getting ready to speak more than one word, one syllable to a man who seemed like he sent away for his psychology degree with box tops right off of a cereal box.

"My mom says I need to. When something bad happens in a family, or someone dies, people think the answer is a therapist. But she never asked what I wanted. She just decided this would work, and told me to come here. But, I'm not my mom. I don't think this is gonna work--not now, not ever, and I'm not saying anything--because--I have nothing to say."

Dr. Siccum stared at me and blinked. Once twice--before inhaling and starting again.
"Your mother had spoken to me about you carrying quite a burden. Don't you want to get it off your chest?"
I swallowed and shook my head, "Nope. I really don't. Can I just leave?"
Dr. Siccum shook his head at me and continued. His bulbous glasses moved down his nose. "Not quite. What are you feeling right now? You look very upset."

I locked eyes with him angrily before saying, "I hate you," through gritted teeth. I watched as Dr. Siccum scribbled something down on the notepad, looking oddly satisfied with himself.
"Good, good," he said gently. His tone sounding strangely upbeat for someone I just told I hated. "This is quite a breakthrough, Teagan. Here I thought you were going to remain one of my quietest clients I've ever had."

Now I wish I did. Damn it, I was doing so well.
Dr. Siccum turned toward his clock on the wall, eyeballing the time before again--clearing his throat. By now I was so overwhelmed with irritation, I had lost count.
"Sadly, we have to wrap it up for today. Such a disappointment when you and I were finally making some progress."

I stood up eagerly out of the mushy brown leather chair across from Dr. Siccum and brushed the "shrink smell" off of my jeans. He reached out his hand as he did every week, and I took it halfheartedly and shook it. His hands were always sweaty and he had hairs on all of his knuckles.
"I assure you," he said as I was walking out the door, "It does get easier." As the door closed behind me I heard him say, "See you next week then? Same time, same place."
* * *
I didn't need a person to air out all my dirty laundry to. I had art, and that's what my mother just couldn't understand. My father, Shane Mathews, became the whole reason I wanted to speak in a language of color, line, and depth more so than words. Seriously, words are hard. Why struggle to verbalize one thought, one meager sentence when you can paint the picture of your soul, and tell someone your story?
He instilled that in me by the time I was four. When most girls my age were collecting Barbies and playing dress up, I carried my ratty, overused sketch pad like a blanket and was naming my primary and secondary colors. A day before my tenth birthday, my dad surprised me with my gift.
"I know your birthday's not til tomorrow, but this is in case you wanted to get a head start."
I nodded vigorously even though I had no idea what he was talking about, my brown eyes gleaming
"Close your eyes, baby girl," he said, softly.
I could feel the fluttering of butterflies as I let my dad lead me blindly down the hall to my room.
"No peeking," he said.
"Is this something I'm gonna like, daddy?"
"I sure hope so." We stopped. His hands resting gently on my shoulders. "I just hope it's not a pony, cuz then mommy'll be really mad."

He chuckled. "No, no, it's not a pony, silly. This is something just for having such a special birthday....and being such a special girl. your eyes."
I stood silent for a moment, saying nothing, my eyes dilating.
"It's your very own work space. An artist needs one after all," he winked.
The medium sized desk was a beautiful wood finish, and due to the amount of space my dad was working with to fit it in my tiny room, the sight was definitely one to behold.
Screeching I turned to my dad, taking in the cool green of his eyes, before saying, "I love it--I love it! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"

There was a calmness, a smile to my dad's voice. "This is just the beginning, baby girl," he said. "The whole world can be your canvas. All you need is a single vision."
When he wasn't home, my dad spent his time teaching. We lived in New York City, a simple, high rise apartment in a quieter area of Manhattan. From there, my dad would often take the train and PATH, and then walk into the Bronx, where he taught the fundamentals of art to a small class of underprivileged teens at an old art center. The class was mostly boys.

"Why do you do it?" I asked him one day after school six months earlier. "I mean, I know you love to teach...but why this way?"
He looked up from his coffee at me, wrinkling his nose perplexed.
I sighed, realizing in the over ten years he had been teaching, I never asked him that.

"Art does incredible things, Teagan. It gives the meek a voice--it--creates an outlet for our memories. Many of these kids, they've come to me because they've lost their ability to cope without violence, absorb feelings without judgement."
I nodded, not sure I was expecting something so profound.
"I get that, but--aren't you ever scared?"

"Sure," he nodded. "Sometimes. These kids do get very angry, and some can get violent, but they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and that's why I love working with them, to help them---to show them that art heals. It's truly amazing to see what the power of a pencil or paint brush can do for a student in my class."
"What do you tell them?"
"It's simple, actually. Only two things. First, we all talk about how we are feeling. Then I say, "Just breathe...and today, let the world be your canvas."

I had no idea that, "goodbye," that, "I love you" would be the last one he'd hear from me that late January morning. The last one I'd get to speak aloud.
He smiled bright eyed like always, kissing me on the cheek before whispering softly, "See you later, baby girl."

Unfortunately, "later," never arrived. He went to work on the morning of January 30, 2016, leaving my mother and me to be greeted by two police officers at 5:30 p.m that evening, an hour after he was expected to be home. I thought nothing of it, since sometimes he did run late talking to some of his students. We both answered the door, and immediately knew, whatever the news, it wasn't good.

"Evening, officers..." my mother said quietly, a look of shock washed over her face. "Is--is there a problem?"
"Are you Mrs. Matthews?" I looked over at her, the color being sucked instantaneously from her cheeks, her stance becoming wobbly.

"There's been an accident involving your husband, Shane. May we come in?"
My mother was speechless, her mouth dropped to the floor. She nodded in disbelief and could only muster enough awareness to step aside and let the officers in. I averted my eyes from both of them and scurried to my bedroom, leaving the door open a crack. Their voices were muffled, but I still understood something horrible had happened. After less than a minute, my stomach turned inside out at the sound of my mother's desperate, heavy sobbing.

"Nonononono! It's wrong, this is wrong! This happened to someone else's husband. Not my Shane!"
I could hear my mother's knees buckling against the old, rickety floors.
"Mrs. Matthews, I'm truly sorry to tell you this." Her breathing remained loud and gaspy while she waited anxiously for the officer to explain. My heart pounded in my throat. I couldn't move anything, as if within that instant, my world and body shut off.

"Your husband's body was found a mile and a half from your home. Someone spotted him and immediately called 9-1-1 to alert paramedics. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do for him, he was already gone. We think it may have been a heart attack."
Gone. That word sounded so cold and hollow. Gone.

"Wait, wait--I'm sorry--you think?"
"Yes, we can't be certain until the Medical examiner performs an autopsy to give us his definite cause of death."
At that moment, I could hear my father's voice--a beautiful cadence confined only to my head.

Art does incredible things, Teagan. It gives the meek a voice--it--creates an outlet for our memories. Art heals.
He believed that with every breath he took in and let out. I'm sure more so than ever, even his last.
Hearing the front door of our apartment finally close, I braced myself for the vision of utter agony that would be my mother. My heart racing, I creaked open my bedroom door and continued to step closer to the hyperventilating. "Teeeagan...." my mother cried. "Teeeagan....oh, baby....."
I knelt down next to my mother's mangled limbs and fell into her. I hated seeing anyone I loved cry--but I was never any good at expressing that. Her hair, a light brown like mine, was soaked with tears and stuck to her cheeks like glue. Sitting next to her, I gently moved the majority of the strands away from her eyes and face.

"Mom?" I said softly. "Please, talk to me."

"Baby....what are we going to do? This wasn't supposed to happen."

"We're gonna do what we can." I choked back a knot that had settled in my throat. "Take it one day at a time. That's what dad would want."

She nodded and fought back some fresh tears.

That night I did all I knew how to do. I sat at my art desk and sketched.
* * *
"Well, look at that! Here we are again, Miss Matthews!" Dr. Siccum clutched the familiar notepad in his hand, and again put my name and date on top of a new page. 4-6-16 Teagan Matthews
"So, where shall we begin today?"

"At the end?" I said with a chuckle. "Oh, sorry, did I say that out loud? My bad."

Dr. Siccum shot me an easygoing smile. I had to give this guy credit, for as many insults as I've thrown his way, he's hardly batted an eye. Then again, the guy barely blinks.

"It's quite alright," he said. "Therapy isn't for everyone. Not everyone likes it. Not everyone likes me," He chuckled, and for a little too long at that one. I guess he could tell by the side eyed glance I was giving him because he suddenly stopped.
"Anyway, they go because they know it will help them with whatever ills they are facing."

Blah Blah Blah

"How are you coping with your daily ills, Teagan?"
Well, I take naps, drink water, and pop any pain relievers as needed, I'd say.

"I don't know." I roll my eyes.

I couldn't help glancing down at my backpack I had brought with me with all of my art supplies. Every sketchpad, colored pencil and pastel necessary in case inspiration struck. If I could I'd be sketching a new masterpiece right now, called, "Hell on Earth," a pencil portrait of me trapped in the deep, dark abyss that is Dr. Siccum's office.

"What about that bag?"


"I notice you looking at your bag. Did you bring something with you?"
Just all my weed.
I chuckled, immediately finding myself dismissing his questions, shaking my head. "No, it's nothing."
He nodded and I sat silent for a moment staring only at the floor. I knew he didn't believe me.
I took a deep breath before finding the thick rims of his glasses and saying, "I draw--but it's no big deal."

He nodded, his eyes widening with curiosity. "Oh, well, I didn't know that about you, Teagan. You have been quite a mystery up to this point."
"Well," I said, "Now you know."

"I always encourage my clients to find a creative outlet if they don't already have one, so I'm very pleased to see that you do."

I nodded. "Yeah, my dad, he likes..." I stopped myself and felt my heart sink, realizing what I had just said. "liked it too. He taught me everything I know."
* * *
I wasn't in any particular rush to get home after my session. Ever since my dad died, my mother's been a bundle of exposed nerves and racing thoughts. She practically shit herself every time the doorbell rings--even if it wasn't to our apartment. Being in her company is enough to make me want a Xanax. I'm pretty much convinced now more than ever, that dad was the mood stabilizer of our family. My mother always said too much too fast...I never said enough.

I texted my mother and told her I'd be home by eight.

Some twenty minutes later, I found myself face to face with the art center my dad taught at and loved for over a decade. It occurred to me that I really knew nothing of my dad's art class, other than the little things he'd say in conversation. And now that I could see it, the building was definitely not impressive, with its old, run down structure, the simple brick building had surely seen better days. I stepped up closer to the building's front steps and could feel my pulse quickening. An overwhelming sense of despair washed over me like a wave, and in that moment, I did all I could to keep my feet planted on the ground, but my knees gave out.

Curled in a ball, my body a mangled mess, I could feel every muscle in my body spasming. I was convinced I was alone, until I heard a soft, unassuming voice calling out.

"Hello? everything alright?"

Startled, I turned to find a young man, probably my age, looking down at me concerned. He was clutching a small bundle of flowers in one hand.

"Here...let me help you."

I shook my head quickly. "No, I'm fine, I'm fine."

"Not to intrude on your privacy, but you don't seem fine."

I couldn't help blushing, embarrassed.

I didn't know I signed up for two therapy sessions today. I can barely stand the one.
I forced myself to my feet and brushed any dirt and leaves off of my pants.

"So...ummm, are you here for a class?" The boy asked me, eyeing me up and down, skeptical, but kind. "By the way, my name's Carter."

"Me? Oh, no...I was just...taking--a walk. Are you?"
He raised his eyebrows skeptically.

"Oh," I said. "I'm Teagan."

"Well, I was taking a class, but not anymore. My art teacher passed away a few months ago. He was amazing! Mr. Matthews--did you know him?"

"Very well, actually," I said, my voice quivering. Watching his expression I barely managed to choke out the words, "Mr. Matthews is my father."

A bright and mournful smile formed across Carter's lips, and for the first time I noticed how handsome he was. "Come with me. I have something to show you."
* * *
Carter eagerly led me around the side of the art building. "Close your eyes."
"Excuse me... what?" His blue eyes sparkled back at me.

"Just for a second, you won't be sorry, I promise."

"Is this how you pick up girls?" I chuckled, putting my hands over my face.

"Seriously, peeking..."

I kept them closed while Carter guided me along. After only a moment he stopped and said,

"Okay, you can look now."

All of the breath completely escaped my lungs.

A sectioned off area of the building's brick had been sprayed with blue paint. The blue was made to look like an abstract thought bubble. Inside it, was a phrase outlined in black, "Let the world be your canvas." In Memory of Mr. Shane Matthews-2016

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