Stephen was from Nutley, NJ. He moved with his family into the house across the street from our family in Golden Valley, MN, when we were 11. He had no sense of style. He wore brown “dungarees” and slicked down hair, and fully buttoned-up shirts. Whoever heard of dungarees?! I had to whip him into shape before school started, so he didn’t get laughed out of there before he started. We got the grease out of his hair; got him into blue jeans and flared pants; taught him to unbutton his top button, and listen to better music. We spent a lot of time together. We explored ESP and telepathy and tales of the Windigo. We meditated together in the dark. We were convinced we had achieved telepathy. We played around with the OUIJA board, except we were serious.
In seventh and eighth grades, almost every teacher in our junior high who had a paddle, broke it over Stephen’s bony butt. He had attitude. Sometime in our eighth grade year, Stephen’s dad got transferred back to Nutley, so the family moved back. One Saturday, Stephen was playing soccer at a school. Being a hot dog, he kicked the ball on top of the school roof. He promptly climbed up onto the flat roof after it. He chased it until he fell through a skylight onto the floor of the school below. No one could find the key to the school or break in to get him before he bled to death from his injuries. His mother called our neighbor to let us all know. It was still winter in Minnesota.
I cried my eyes out. I went up to my room . I looked out the back window into the blackness of the night and I tried to have telepathy with Stephen. I thought we had been communicating over the previous weeks. This time, I got a message, but it was different. I immediately broke it off and never attempted telepathy again. I was convinced that it was a demon, and that it was probably demons who had been carrying the messages all along. Then, I started to sing the song I had learned as a 4-year-old when the Ericsons had taken me to their little Bible Church in North Minneapolis: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. I soon started to weep, since I realized that Jesus was not my friend, since I was not his friend. That’s when I started to read my New Testament.
The story goes on to further spiritual quest and further confusion. My Lutheran pastor / confirmation instructor kicked me out of confirmation class for asking too many questions about heaven and hell, just one month shy of being confirmed. I eventually was ordained 3 more times in 4 more denominations. (I was ordained to the priesthood with my infant baptism.)
This painting is not of Stephen. I have no photos of Stephen. I do have his image firmly etched in my brain. I have started to sketch him to paint him several times. This time I decided to continue to paint who came to me instead. I don’t know who this beautiful boy is. I just went ahead and painted him, so I could tell you the story of Stephen, whose death I always considered a type of suicide. You see, Stephen was a misfit. He was not the smart one in his family. That was his little brother, Doug. He wasn’t the pretty one, or his mother’s helper. His dad kept getting transferred, so he was perpetually the new kid. His dad didn’t have time for him. So Stephen did outlandish, dangerous, risky things, to get attention and praise from strangers. It cost him his life at age 14.
Whoever this beautiful boy is or was, I hope he has or had a happier life.
The painting is acrylic on 11″ x 14″ stretched canvas.
Price: $175 including postage to US address.
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