The daughter’s crack art 

            She did not talk much as a child. She seldom played with other children. Mostly when she came home from first or second grade, she drew. She did not do the classic stick figures of mommy and daddy or a rudimentary house or cat. Nothing representational. She did abstract drawings, but these were not quick slashes of crayons across paper. She could often spend an hour or more on one. She seemed to have some sort of plan and carefully placed straight-edged lines of one color alongside half-circles of another. She would end up with strokes shooting off at angles seemingly held in place by the occasional curve. She did not look for approval; she drew only to satisfy herself. I don’t remember her ever saying, “Look, Daddy, at what I made!”

          One day, however, the daughter had made some different art. She had been with Cleta to the park at the end of the block. Calling it a park was then somewhat generous. When we moved in, there was a triangular plot that was mostly empty but had a cemented-up old movie house and a few other vacant buildings. Those structures were eventually torn down, some minimal landscaping had been done, and a park proclaimed. Vacant land stood across the street from the site’s hypotenuse; a boarded- up hospital bordered one side; and a nursing home the other. (Later on the park was redesigned into an attractive space; a Catholic charity converted the hospital into housing; and nice row housing was constructed on the vacant land.) A few people used the park during the day back then but not many, and I could only guess what happened there during the night. I certainly did not go into it after dark.

            When I came home that evening, Cleta said, “Look at what she found in the park and what she did with them.” She showed me a piece of construction paper to which were glued tiny, plastic vials with colorful tops. They were arranged in some careful pattern that clearly pleased the daughter’s eye. This time I could see pride in her. She knew she had made something special, and I agreed inwardly and outwardly. It was striking.

            While I evinced sincere admiration, I also tried to keep the horror off my face. While Cleta and the daughter did not recognize the plastic containers, I knew what they were; they were crack vials. The different colored tops denoted, in effect, different brands of crack. I might have guessed it before, but now I really knew what happened in the park at night. As I looked at the art and the pride on the artist’s face, thoughts flashed and crashed in my mind, I resolved to say nothing about the origin of what were now part of an innovative collage. The park was safe during the day, and I did not want Cleta and the daughter to be afraid of going there.

The mother got home later, and I showed her the daughter’s art, but I played dumb when the topic moved to the source of the vials. Much to the daughter’s consternation, however, I made her wash her hands time and again that evening.

Much later, not from me, the daughter did learn that this art incorporated crack vials. This is a story we now share. Amazing what fathers and daughters can bond over.

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