I am 11 years old when I drag my mother to see Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” at The Art Institute of Chicago. The woman at the front desk tells me, “You’ve got to make seven lefts and two rights and another left to find it,” and once I do, I stand so close I can almost see my nose; my eyes leak and go bloodshot so that the man with the hat becomes the man behind the counter becomes the man sitting in front of him. I stare and stare and stare until I’ve got cotton and cracks in the corner of my mouth and my insides begin to tatter and tangle and twist so much that the liver and heart switch places. Stare until I’m inside “Nighthawks” and stuck in the diner and asking the woman with the red hair WHERE IS THE DOOR??? Run my fingers along the windows in search of a give, a notch, a crack, a place where the glass tempered unevenly, pound it with the heel of my shoe and hit and hit and hit and I still haven’t found the door. Push my shoulder up against the canvas until it begins to bow and stretch so that red gives into blue gives into green and yellow, and dig my nail in and scratch right and left and up and down and all in between because maybe after all this time I’ll find an opening and put my mouth up against it and scream CAN ANYONE HEAR ME? I AM STUCK IN A HOPPER! And the floor traps feet and knees in a relentless muck of honey and candle wax and molasses and all things maliciously sticky and tiles fall into black nothingness because Hopper never paid too much attention to the floor to begin with.
I love Edward Hopper because he knows that you can be surrounded by a million and one people and still be lonely, that there is nothing glorious, nothing careful, nothing thoughtful about being a lonely woman, that to be lonely is to be devoid of love. Loneliness finds a mother in fear and a father in anger and a land and a home in worry. You worry that you might be too late or too early because the woman at the bus stop with the pink bag isn’t there. Maybe her heart gave out or her house burnt down or her daughter didn’t wake up this morning. Did you turn off the stove? Did you check that you unplugged the iron? Did you close the door to the refrigerator? Are YOU ABSOLUTELY SURE? BECAUSE THE MILK MIGHT GO ROTTEN. SO WILL THE EGGS. AND THE BUTTER. Did you close the mailbox? You don’t want your business scattered up the block. Slam it shut 3 times for good measure. Did you lock the front door? And the back door? And the side door? Worry and worry and worry. Worry about losing something and forgetting something and misspelling something and mispronouncing something. Worry about becoming a dead woman because I hit my head too hard and scraped my knee and swallowed a cherry pit and ate a cookie off the ground far past five seconds.
I called a law office once, and said Hello-Yes-I’d-like-to-draft-my-last-will-and-testament. I want the third floor of my dollhouse to go to my mother and the second floor to my father and the first to my brother because it has a couch and a fireplace and Martin Scorsese’s mother’s painting with one dog looking over here and the other over there from the movie “Goodfellas.” I think it might just be better than a Hopper. I want my National Geographics to go to the Library of Congress. I want a bench in my honor at the National Gallery of Art in front of Gordon Parks’ “Trapped in an abandoned building by a rival gang on street, Red Jackson ponders his next move, 1948” because it makes me feel something and I don’t care if it’s not on view. ASK them to put it on view and they’ll say YES SIR RIGHT AWAY because they can’t deny a dead woman.
I only used to worry about my last will and testament and what I leave behind and my legacy because there exists a difference between solitude and loneliness. To be lonely is to live in fear of fear, in fear of grief, in fear of life itself. To be only as good as your mind, only as good as your wit, only as good as your work, only as good as what you have to give. Can you make them laugh today? Can you make them feel something today? And people cut you in line, tell you that they didn’t see you again and again and again, cut you off when you speak and talk louder and louder and louder until you’ve got THEIR spit in your face and in the corner of your eye and it’s okay because maybe they’re having a bad week or a bad month or a bad year and they’re going through a rough patch and it’s really not their fault that they treat your words like they taste different from everyone else’s. And how to reckon and reconcile after the fact? How to move onwards and how to claw your way out of a Hopper and how to live and how to learn and how to love and how to be once you’ve finally found your way out? But perhaps maybe, more than anything else, to move onwards, to restitute, is to first forgive yourself.
MiC Columnist Sarah Akaaboune can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.