Seven Treasures, part 19: guest post by Natalie Shahinian

Artist and writer NATALIE SHAHINIAN is happiest in her pyjamas, snacking on peanut butter licked from the end of a spoon. When the spread is on sale, Natalie stocks up, solely in the event of an emergency. She has been quoted as saying, “I don’t want to imagine a world without peanut butter. That would be an awful way to live.”

(Read about Seven Treasures and find links to more guest posts here.)

 

1. Marbles

It may have been her parents’ farm, but it was B’s kingdom. An only child, B was audacious among adults, and immune to any punishment if she was caught. With acres of farmed fields stretching some distance, it was impossible to know all of B’s offences.

She putted large, spongy soccer balls of overgrown cucumbers at cars in the full parking lot. She terrorized the Italians, stealing mature blossoms from the zucchini patch. She pulled open a curtain of tall rushes and shot out on her dirt bike, delighted with the panic she stirred up among customers.

Through an unspoken agreement only parents understand, it was decided I was to befriend B and set a good example. I was stumped, for a while. Then I prepared for my next visit.

That day, when B saw the purple whisky pouch rattling in my hands, she bolted for the farm’s ready-picked shop, returning with an identical bag that rattled like mine. All that visit we traded Oilies and Pearls, lost in a tilled kingdom of our own. Until the big marble in the sky began to swirl orange, pinks, and gold upon our faces. Goodbye, goodbye.

2. Pencil Crayons

It happened the year my sister returned home from studying abroad. I came up to her knees. She came up to my soul.

You have to be careful with these. They’re special. Not like any of the ones you’ve used before. Her hands were holding something inside her unzipped suitcase. I stood up.

She took out the tin tray of pencil crayons, Caran d’Arche. The lid was so ornate and beautiful; I couldn’t believe the real gift was what was inside.

Colours arranged in perfect pointed tips. Just the sight inspired me, and still does.

3. Metropolitan Button

If I faced west on the entrance steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I could see the Front Desk in the Great Hall where I spent most of my internship. If I faced east, I could see Fifth Avenue, the M1 bus, doubles of dog breeds on long leather leashes, and a heap of apartment buildings. I could see the museum I kept rediscovering that is New York City.

During my first week of orientation, I picked up tips rarely circulated beyond the Museum doors. The green salad at the Restaurant is a hit or miss. The elevator outside of Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas is usually empty. The best fashion to be seen, outside of the Fashion and Costume Institute, is at the Roof Garden Café on a Friday, after five o’clock.

Granted, none of the insight shared qualified me as a native New Yorker. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t let myself identify with city’s inhabitants when a stranger would turn to me and ask for directions, or a tourist would want my opinion about a particular place or restaurant; the closest grocer, the best independent-designer shopping district, the specialty bookstores. The server at the bakery, who started put my order together before I walked through the door.

Deep down however, I knew, I had more in common with the city’s visitors regardless of what I had learned or had been told. It was in the way people not from there looked at everything in the city like it was under a piece of glass. The John Lennon Memorial in Central Park, the pretzel vendor on the street corner, the graffiti in the laneway. For me, the small, especially, would stand out: the sparkling granite of the sidewalk, the misprinted admission button for the Museum. Art was everywhere, not just within the galleries. And, still in love, I couldn’t help but look, and look, and look.

4. Shark Tooth

Lying on its side, the outline of the shark tooth I found while collecting shells at the beach looks like an irregular “D,” her first initial, and I remember.

The sunburn isn’t a big deal, D. Honest. It’s, like, nothing.

D calls my bluff with a palm-full of cold aloe gel on my reddened spine. THWACK! I never had a chance.

I howl, and then nearly choke on my own laughter, and she rolls off the bed in a fit so silly she can’t even glance at me. She’s crumpled on the floor, laughing and holding her tummy. I exaggerate my agony, laughing too now, filling the space around her.

5. Nest

Nothing about the day was remarkable. Not the weather, not the time, not the route. And if it hadn’t been for the fallen nest, lying on the edge of someone’s front lawn, I would have forgotten about my companion since, Mother Nature.

Look how the dry grasses are woven! Isn’t it amazing? A bird did this! With its tiny beak, it made a home. A HOME! With the neckline of my T-shirt, I wiped the tears from my eyes. Behind me, I felt Her smile.

At home, I presented to my mother what she had missed. Multiple sclerosis had put an end to our leisurely walks together. Relying on both of us for support, Mom peered over the nest, absorbing its craftsmanship with wonder. That’s when Mother Nature began to ease her hold, certain I could take the weight of Mom on my own, acknowledging my thankfulness, growing smaller and larger with every whisper. I know . . . I know.

6. Wacky Packages

To spend time with my cousins, I had to take an oath to belong to their exclusive fraternity. Thou shalt watch the cartoons of their choosing. Though shalt learn to pedal fast if thou wantest to ride bike alongside. Thou shalt wrestle and expect to get hurt. Furthermore, thou shalt not cry, nor tattle, nor be a sissy baby if thou shouldest get hurt.

I took the punches, and the plots of destruction, all the way to the convenience store, where the three of us would buy coveted Wacky Packages. It was a fair price to pay for acquiring a pack containing trading cards and stickers spoofing household brands. And with two brothers to trade and laugh with, I rarely had any doubles . . . or doubts about the time spent with them either.

7. Ceramic Mug

At the end of summer, L, your skin would be caramel brown. Your ponytail would be a brighter blonde. (Buttercup!) And you’d be taller. Much taller since the last time I’d seen you, before you left for camp.

What was this place that served peanut butter on hot dogs? Had beds so high you had to climb a ladder to reach them? I pleaded with my parents. Can I go?

Unlike L’s, my camp was in the city, at a local public school. A yellow bus dropped me off in the mornings, and in the afternoons took me back to the ketchup and mustard waiting for me at the kitchen table and the bed I could crawl into on my own. My days, however, were the notes in the margins of a story about to unfold.

I painted. I danced. I wrote stories. I put on a show. I made new friends, broke someone’s heart, and so, for a while, got used to sitting on the bus, alone.

And I knew it was right. All of it. It reached to the brim of my ceramic cup, the one I made in Pottery, and then began to flow over.

It tasted exactly like you looked in August, L.

 

 

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