The morning after I got the call about Maddie’s death, I woke up, put on my makeup, and went to class. I went through the motions. Sitting in the back of the classroom, listening to a lecture from my typography professor, I tried to focus on taking notes while tears dropped onto my desk. My professor stopped to look back at me, crying, and promptly asked me to step out into the hall.
As soon as I was out the door, the convulsing sobs from the night before returned, and I could barely get the words out to explain to her what happened. She seemed obviously alarmed that I was in class today. I saw the look in her eye. Who is this psychopath? She should be home working through these emotions. I don’t get paid enough for this.
And then she pulled me in for the most forceful hug I have ever received in my life. It was as if she was trying to suck some of the burdens out of my heart through my skin’s membranes so that she might carry it for me.
She pushed me away, looking into my eyes as she gripped my shoulders, and told me straight up:
“Losing someone you love can take a toll on you. If you feel like you need to take time off from school, take a gap semester, no one would blame you,” she said. “But if you decide to stay, I will treat you like the rest of my students. I won’t tolerate missed deadlines or late assignments. Is that clear?”
“I want to stay… I’ll stay. I think I can take this and make something out of it,” I said.
“Good thing you’re an art student,” she said, smiling back at me. “Let’s go back inside.”
Our final assignment was to take our knowledge of letterforms to make a typographical sculpture, something that depicted the definition of a word in 3D, and to find a location to install it on campus. We spent the duration of class brainstorming words and sketching our concepts, like Project Runway, after Tim Gun announces the day’s challenge.
Words started running through my head. Thinking about Maddie. About life.
I went to Home Depot with a sketch of my sculpture. Sitting on the floor of the plumbing department, I grabbed all the PVC pipe connectors I could find to start spelling out my word. The ‘T’ and ‘E’ were the easiest to build. The ‘M’, ‘A’ and ‘Y’ with all their curves took extra planning to perfect. A man came up behind me, trying to find plumbing supplies for an actual home improvement project.
“This is what art school looks like,” I said, staring up at him.
Once I had my building blocks, I needed to find PVC cutters, duct tape, hot glue, fishing line, and full-length mirrors. When I got the mirrors home, I smashed them with my high heels until the pieces were small enough to work with. I spent the next few weeks held up in my apartment in a frenzy of broken mirror shards, glass splinters, and strands of hot glue dripping like cobwebs over every aspect of my life.
It takes a surprisingly long amount of time to glue minuscule pieces of broken glass onto a letterform. It was cathartic, though. I sat with my thoughts as I continuously burned my fingertips, trying to find the perfect pieces to fill in the remaining gaps. When I finally completed the sculpture pieces the night before it was due, I had to install it at my chosen location for our class critique in the morning.
Fortunately, it was a beautiful November evening in Buffalo, NY. The wind was whipping. The wind chill froze my scantily gloved hands as I tied the PVC letters with a fishing line to the bows of a tree outside of the UB Center for the Arts, trying to muster the patience to get the letters leveled with one another. I took a step back to make sure it was perfect, but I could barely see anything in the dark.
In the morning, our class went on a tour to visit all of our sculptures and critique them. When it was my turn, I led the class outside and down the massive staircase towards Lake La Salle. In the light of day, the green grass and blue lake water were hopeful. I saw my sculpture hanging off in the distance.
There, floating from invisible wires in the tree, was the word ‘TEMPORARY’.
As the class approached the installation, we stood in silence.
Because the mirror reflected back at us, and the word showed us precisely what it wanted us to know.
Everything is temporary—even you.
When I went home for Thanksgiving break the next week, the first stop I made was to the cemetery. I took the ‘M’ from my TEMPORARY installation with me and placed it on Maddie’s grave. As time passed, I would visit again to see that mirror pieces had fallen off into the dirt.
But that was the point, wasn’t it? Nothing can last forever.