The Lonely Boy
Eduardo Barreto on artistic connections and mourning.
The only thing I took from my grandmother’s house after she died was a painting of what I have come to call The Lonely Boy. These days it is hanging in my classroom, and every time my students ask me what it is, I say, it’s The Lonely Boy. I say it like that too, capitalized and italicized, as if they should know it. And they ask timidly, “Who painted it?” And I say, “My grandmother.”
In the whirlwind of the death cleaning, while furniture was being donated and mementos distributed among the relatives, I found this quiet painting behind some boxes in the back room. In a rectangular frame, the complete portrait of a boy in brown shorts and a short-sleeved shirt stands against the backdrop of blues and greens and yellows. Most curious, he has his hands in his pockets and he stares down at the floor in that way in which you know he’s trying not to look at you. But I was looking at him from the moment I walked into that back room.
For reasons I don’t fully understand and will likely take me a lifetime to comprehend, this painting is important to me—in that personal and familiar way, as if I were looking into a mirror. The boy looks nothing like me, in figure or temperament, but I have an idea why he might be looking down with his hands in his pockets. If he is in fact anything like me, maybe he was thinking (as I was) how unfortunate it is to grow up without a grandmother, to later embrace his wife’s grandmother as his own and learn to love her, only to lose her to misfortune and disease. All I can say is that I walked out of the room that day with my hand in my pocket and the painting under the other arm.
I don’t feel as I did then, when I look at him in the back of my room now. We still don’t make eye contact, but we understand each other and mourn our mutual loss.
Eduardo Barreto is a teacher of English Literature and a writer in Miami, Florida where he lives with his wife and three kids, and a dog who refuses to die after 15 years.