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Side by Side: Tales from Behind the Canvas excerpt

Planted on the Nova Scotia sand intentionally disconnected from computer and phone without a single human in view, we could talk openly and without distraction. Yet, we weren't talking openly. We were barely talking at all.


"I can't get work out of my head," I grumbled, looking over at Peter's brooding face. He returned no answer. My stomach tightened. Why had we come all this way if he wasn't even going to speak? "If this place can't inspire us…." I tried again, leaving the thought dangling for him to complete. Again, no response, though I could see his jaw furiously working the tension as he stood there, hands in his pockets, staring out toward the horizon. I breathed an exhausted sigh. Each attempt at conversation this morning had fizzled into silence and furrowed brows and, once again, we both turned our eyes vaguely to the sea.


Abruptly, Peter swung around, kicking his coffee cup in the same motion, and with a penetrating look, blurted, "What I really want is to be an artist!" The words tripped clumsily from his mouth as if they'd been stuck in his throat for ages and had finally broken free.

 

I stared up at him. "What did you say?" I asked without needing to as I mechanically blotted the mess with my napkin.


"I want to be an artist—a painter." He spoke more softly, searching my face for a reaction.

 

To my own surprise, I didn't choke on my coffee. Instead, I slowly turned this declaration over in my mind like I was tasting a new food for the first time. I had urged Peter to pursue art since the early days of our marriage when he'd shown so much
promise coming out of school. He had declined, lacking confidence, and instead had made a twenty-five-year detour into engineering. How often had I joked that he was actually an artist masquerading as an engineer? The daring Peter lacked as a young man was evident in his eyes now as he waited for my answer. It was the first time either of us had heard his wish
spoken aloud and probably the first time Peter had consciously realized it. He was the first to break the stunned silence.

 

"OK, that surprised even me," he admitted, laughing and plopping down on the blanket beside me.