Drawing My Way Back Home

Stien Yellow by Sara Doelle //

Drawing My Way Back Home by Kylie Obray //

I sit here in the waiting room, anxiously twirling the ragged piece of paper between my fingers. I have kept this tattered illustration in my wallet for so many years, waiting for this day to arrive. I wanted to make sure I didn’t rush things; I wanted to make sure this is what I really wanted. Hundreds of seemingly mindless tattoo ideas covered the walls, but I knew mine would be different, mine would actually mean something. The distant hum of needles fills the air and there is a faint smell of latex and ink that lingers with every breath I take. There is a middle-aged man sitting next to me, holding a portrait of a woman that seems close in age.  His eyes are fixed on the eyes of the woman as if she is real, as if she stares back at him. His mood is melancholy; I can only imagine that she was his lover, one that he lost. As I sit here, I can’t help but look back at my past to see what led me to this point. I think of my dad and a sea of emotions and memories washes over me and I smile, one of those half smiles I’m famous for. The smile that alludes to more - a hidden thought or something tucked beneath the surface.
As a little girl I always looked up to my dad; I wanted to be just like him, I was definitely a “Daddy’s Girl.”  Our looks clearly convey our relation; we have the same big, blue eyes that almost seem to paint a picture of our souls as you look into them, our round noses also give us away as a father-daughter combo. I remember sitting next to him at the kitchen table, looking into his eyes as they focused on the newest graphic design project he was working on. I imitated his every move as I tried to copy with exact precision what he was sketching on his paper next to me. I would bite my bottom lip and scrunch my forehead trying to produce a finished project that was every bit as good as his. Although my drawings were never quite as fantastic as his, they were always praised and my confidence grew with each piece that made it onto the refrigerator.  Growing up I mimicked my parent’s moves not only on paper but in my everyday life. I became a product of their actions, their beliefs, their expectations. This was normal to me and I didn’t question it because I wanted to be just like them. They were great people and everybody loved my parents. In my mind, I thought that if I were just like them, everybody would love me too.
I continued to draw at a young age. Rarely was I found without some sort of drawing device in my hand.  My drawings started simple, based primarily on things I liked to do, things that were familiar to me. I would often take a box of chalk out to the driveway and draw for hours. Stick figures of the “perfect” family: one mom, one dad, a few children and of course a family pet. These were my specialty. The grass always bright green with flowers scattered throughout, the sky blue with a big yellow sun beating down. The family members all had smiling faces and were holding hands. They were happy. Or so it seemed.
It was a simple drawing for my simple life; at this point I had no worries about anything. I knew that in the morning my masterpiece would be gone. The sprinklers would systematically shower the rainbow of colors off the driveway, into the gutter, and down the drain. But that never bothered me. Sometimes I would stand and watch as the colors mixed and the perfect picture didn’t look so perfect anymore. It was exciting and new, this hobby of mine; it left me questioning the possibility of there being more to life. As life went on I began to realize that things weren’t really as simple as the chalk masterpiece I flawlessly created over and over again on my concrete canvas. I learned that there were many more emotions I could put on the faces of those stick figures. An upside down U indicating sadness, a little squiggly line for the mouth to show confusion, you could even show that a person was angry by tilting their eyebrows towards each other.
Years later when I entered my freshman year I decided to run for Student Body Officer and won! I was given the position of the school artist. I was so excited I could barely stand it. My parents beamed as I told them the news over dinner that night. The next year of my life was consumed with drawing; posters, banners, yearbook covers, you name it. My drawing abilities had made me popular, or at least that is what I thought.  I didn’t only draw for school functions; I drew in my free time as well. One of my first major projects was a mosaic composed of oil pastels. Up close my piece presented itself as a multitude of different colored dots;  however, upon taking a few steps back one was able to see the bigger picture. For this first large-scale foray into the world of art, I chose to do a portrait of Christ to present to my parents. I’ve never seen a bigger smile on their faces as I unveiled my present to them. It was matted, framed and hung proudly in the front room of the house for everybody to see. However, every time I went into the room I felt like His eyes were watching me and I soon found myself avoiding that room at all costs.  
I began to realize life was more complicated than I had ever imagined during my colorful journey through childhood. Looking around me, I no longer saw bright green grass with flowers scattered throughout. In fact, I began to question why I ever drew it like that in the first place. In the real world there were never flowers popping up in the middle of yards or fields; that simply wasn’t right. They were supposed to be tucked up close to a person’s house, uniformly placed in a flower bed. At this point, I began to question why I was the person I was and how I had ended up where I was. I began to make choices for myself, trying to figure out what would make ME happy, as opposed to actions that would only delight my parents. This is when my life truly began to take shape. I didn’t have any idea of how I wanted things to turn out so I started experimenting. I experimented with everything, trying to figure out what I liked and what I wanted. My life was the canvas and I was the artist. I was finally the one in control.
My life experiences soon began to seep into my art projects. My next project was a portrait of the widely popular, Rastafarian singer-songwriter, Bob Marley. Rarely was he found without a joint in his hand but I managed to find a picture of this musical genius that wouldn’t completely offend my parents. I took my time with this one. I studied every part of this legendary face. I wanted to make my rendering as realistic as possible. He intrigued me and so did his lifestyle. Needless to say, my parents were less than amused when I showed them my newest masterpiece composed of black and white pencil on a chronic green paper. From this point forward, I began to keep my artwork to myself. Based on the reactions my pieces received, I knew there was no way of hiding it; I was different than my family.
A solid black scratch board lay in front of me as I began to meticulously remove the top layer with a fine blade, revealing the white underneath. I worked on this piece for hours, alone in my room, one scratch at a time. I started with the fingers, they were painfully curled. The upward facing palms came next. The handcuffs finished the piece. I was a prisoner, a prisoner of my own reality. I couldn’t live like this for the rest of my life; it was literally eating me alive. I needed to let my parents know that I was different, but how would they react?  How would my childhood hero take the news that “Daddy’s Girl,” his only daughter, was gay?
The next few months were painful. Many pieces were drawn and tears soaked the pages. My mind often wandered back to the concrete canvas I loved as a child. My drawings were always so temporary out there. I wanted something more permanent now, something that I could always have with me, something that could tell my story with one glance. I sat down and started drawing in an attempt to capture my individuality in one small, single piece. Every emotion I had been burdened with over the past few months bled onto the paper: fear, confusion, sadness. Frustration mounted as my mind and fingers cramped in an attempt to turn these raw emotions into a breathtaking piece, unwilling to settle for something mediocre. Crumpled papers littered my floor as I continued to perfect my future tattoo deep into the night.
Initially, art was a way of connecting with my family, trying to become a part of who they were and what they stood for. Now, it is one of the most powerful tools I possess to show that I am an individual, I am different, and that is okay. So here I sit, against the overly conservative wishes of my parents, waiting to have my drawing etched into my back forever. The two doves illustrate my love for another woman, someone like me. Their wings outstretched are always reaching for new heights, those that sometimes may even seem unattainable. But, the most dominant detail is that a dove always finds its way back home. As for me, I know I will always find my way back home into my parents’ accepting arms, even though I am different.