Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes
One of the first assignments Mr. Wexlar gave the eighth grade art classes was to paint a study of a habitat. They started with nature, him pushing them to take that autumn to look around, see the world outside of video games and television. Brendon’s first turn-in ended up getting a scowl because the cattail-engulfed and lily-pad-dotted pond for a turtle had not been researched well enough.
“Stop curling things that shouldn’t be curled. Did you bother to actually go to a pond? At the very least do an internet search.”
Brendon had done an internet search; he’d just been a little preoccupied at the time because Casey had been doing push-ups and raging on about Tori Kel some more. The distraction had been real and he’d kept swapping back and forth between sketchbooks, one of them spread on his lap. For reasons.
He then turned in a nesting pole jutting from an inlet off the bay and at least there he got full marks because Mr. Wexlar liked the detail on the osprey. After that, the assignment turned weird because now Mr. Wexlar wanted everyone to create a picture of a person’s habitat.
“Show me who they are! Books for the bookworm! Trophies for the athlete! Get creative. Give me hints in their chosen clothing and layers within the setting. However! No one is one note. Remember that. No one person can be captured completely in a painting, but we can sure try. And that’s what I want you all to do this week.”
The temptation to use Casey wasn’t just strong, it was overwhelming. But…what if Mr. Wexlar chose to tack that project on his walls as he’d done for some of Brendon’s past work? The embarrassment would probably kill him—murder him dead the moment he walked into school.
So no, not Casey.
Aunt Laurel, on the other hand, was a good sport and invited Brendon over for an all day Saturday paint party (her words). She served cookies (oatmeal and snickerdoodle) and told stories third-hand of her parents’ trips to Namibia. She also talked a lot about men—good ones, bad ones, how to identify them.
“Are you listening, child? It’s important to know the difference. Anyone looking to be dating has got to know.”
Brendon buried his face into his palms, the paintbrush clattering to the plastic palette and smearing red and blue together like a July firework. Aunt Laurel didn’t seem to notice, her soothing voice rambling on, switching topics to paint brands, which led to vendors, which led to convention talk, which led back around to storage space and paint. She refused to acknowledge Brendon’s lingering embarrassment, which Brendon was eternally grateful for. That long day eased the way, cleared the path of brush and overgrowth that had been threatening to latch on and hold him back.
Jesus was, after all, a mainstay in his house. That cross, those nails, that Sunday candle burned with intentions and care.
But it seemed all so small when he looked back. Smaller still when his mom just said, “You take care to be a good man, you hear me? A just man. A loving man. Jesus said ‘love thy neighbor,’ not ‘only love them if they’re like you.’”
When he swallowed his fear and told his dad, he went in thinking this would be when the belt came out, like it had that one time he’d stolen gum from the grocer (on Casey’s dare) and gotten two welts against his buttocks that, in hindsight, was an over-exaggeration since they didn’t even bruise and the marks went away within the hour.
“Damn, I had a bet with your mom that you’d be bi given all those anime girls you’ve been drawing.”
“Oh, uh, that’s…” Brendon muttered something about boys at school.
“Guess I have to take her out to dinner. Not that it matters, comes from the same account anyway.”
“So you don’t…um…”
“No dating ‘til you’re sixteen. House rules. Focus on your grades. You know the drill.”
His dad never brought it up again, not even when Casey became even more of a mainstay a few years later.