There was a Sunday around this time, when I was 11 or so, where dad took us to the Philadelphia Art Museum. Toward the end of our visit, we made our way to the modern collections. My feet still ached from runs up and down the famous Rocky stairs. I entered a roomful of paintings by the American painter Cy Twombly, “Fifty Days at Illiam,” a series of large, hand-scrawled paint-drawings that depict the last 50 days of the Trojan War.
Even then, I could see how we would grow apart. Even them, as I gawked at the brightest and most abstract paintings while he dragged me through the Arms & Armor collection, I drew blanks as he pep-talked the backplates and helmets of Saxony.
We passed what looked like a cracked window taken out of a house and plopped on the floor. We were near the end of our trip, but I dawdled and snuck in to see it. “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even,” or “The Large Glass,” a piece that had broken and repaired and placed permanently in Philadelphia. I felt the force of my father as he drew me back, his body nearer. He called my name. The shiny broken glass glimmered in my eyes, and I looked for meaning and purpose, some story to tell.
In that light-filled room of Twomblys, it seemed my dad and I met on some neutral ground. He didn’t grumble impatiently or tug my hand to keep moving; I as looked at the bright, almost-blank canvases, I felt like I could draw something like this. This was a story I knew. The room presented a possibility that you could tell old stories in new ways, that it didn’t always have to take place in a dark room in the back of a small house.
In that room, he saw my joy and did nothing about it.