Love From Chubby Hubby

Photo: Leonardo Wong

Carl came to terms with his weight long ago. He knew what it was to be the last kid picked for school sports. Or to have students on the bus slide away from him, because he “smelled.” Whatever alchemy of genes and DNA conspired against him, he accepted the result. His life sentence, he used to joke, was to be encased in a bit more padding than everyone else.

Years of dieting and various exercise routines only brought modest results. The weight would go down and then up, just like his spirits. Thankfully, he owned a cherubic face and infectious laugh. Humor was his best friend and he often deployed it to break the ice and put others at ease. His funny jokes and anecdotes, coupled with his silly laugh and broad smile, usually charmed even the most imperious dispositions.

The school years were rough but he found his way and garnered a few misfit friends. There was Tyler, a skinny kid with pronounced acne and a stutter. And Grace, whose nerdy glasses and braces camouflaged a sweet soul with an affinity for Jane Austen books. Rounding out Carl’s “nerd herd” was Bucky, whose ADHD required some special education assistance. But man could Bucky draw. In fact, in a way, it was Bucky who kind of saved Carl’s life.

In his sophomore year, Carl’s folks split up. His Dad was a binge drinking alcoholic and his Mom had had enough. So, Dad got an apartment and Carl lived with Mom. Sometimes he’d hear his Mom crying at night but there was little he could do. He used to tap on her door and say, “It’ll be okay, Mom,” and she’d open the door and hug him a long time.

Carl knew girls weren’t interested in him and so he spent most of his time hanging out with his little crew of friends. One afternoon he was watching Bucky draw some superheroes and Carl asked, “How did you learn how to draw so good?” Bucky said, “Mr. Thompson helped me.”

Carl had met Mr. Thompson (the high school art teacher) before, but never took a class. Carl liked to draw and felt he had ability. So one day he approached Mr. Thompson about taking his art class. The Fall of Carl’s junior year, he was enrolled in art class. Thanks to Bucky’s encouragement and Mr. Thompson’s guidance, Carl’s life forever changed. For the better.

Emotional pain can shape aspects of your character. Who you become. Sometimes the wounds create a dark heart. Other times the scars imprint a deeper humanity, and your heart holds greater empathy for others. The later was the case for Carl. His imposing mass belied a deep kindness and caring for others. He did not possess a movie star physique, but he was utterly beautiful on the inside. And sometimes, this kind of beauty is what matters most to others. At least it did for Maddie.

After high school, Carl attended the local state university and majored in art. There he met the incomparable Maddie. With her shock of red hair and Irish heritage, Maddie was a fun loving and outgoing woman. She saw the depth in people, not merely their exterior. And she loved art.

The two became inseparable and not long after graduation they married. Maddie joined a design firm and Carl turned to fine art. The first few years were challenging, as the art market can be capricious. Still, Carl persevered with his representational landscapes.

One day Maddie found out that Carl’s old high school art teacher, Mr. Thompson, was ill with cancer. “You should go see him, Carl,” she said. Carl agreed, found Mr. Thompson’s phone number and called. He spoke with Mr. Thompson’s wife, who invited Carl to visit. Later that week Carl drove into the Thompson’s driveway and to his astonishment, Mr. Thompson was standing at the door, waving.

Over tea and cookies Carl and Mr. Thompson spoke of the past, high school memories and the world of art. “I always admired the way you took care of your Mom, Carl,” Mr. Thompson said, adding, “In the end, it’s the ones we love that matter most.” Carl smiled and said, “I know. As much as I struggle with my art career, I always thank God that I have Maddie. She’s my rock.”

The two talked for hours and finally Mr. Thompson said this: “Carl, I’ve looked at your art on your website. You’re so close now.” Carl furrowed his brow. “What do you mean,” Carl asked. “Well, you have all the skills. You’ve mastered values, edges, composition, color. You have strong designs in your landscapes.” Mr. Thompson stopped at that and Carl interjected, “But…there’s something missing.”

Mr. Thompson pulled out a recent art magazine, flipped through the pages and said, “Look at all this wonderful art. What do you notice?” Carl scanned the images. They were all well done paintings for the most part. Similar subjects and approaches. “I’m not sure,” Carl said, “I feel like my work is just as accomplished as the work of these other painters.” Mr. Thompson smiled and said, “You’re right, and that’s the problem.”

Mr. Thompson went on to share perhaps the most important lesson that Carl ever received. “Carl,” the old art teacher began, “there comes a time when we have to dig deeper. We have to find ourselves. We have to peel away from the rest of the pack. We have to forge our own way and create work unlike everyone else.” Mr. Thompson picked up the art magazine again and he flipped to one particular section.

“Look at these paintings here by T. Allen Lawson. They’re close up, long vertical paintings of tree bark. Think about that. Tree bark. No one else is doing that. The paintings are beautifully executed with a muted palette and subtle values. Beautiful and memorable because they’re so unique. Or this overheard painting of chickens. Again, it’s different yet beautiful.”

Carl felt a wave of excitement. Like he suddenly struck upon the epiphany he’d been waiting for. The key that would unlock the invisible roadblock that had been stalling his career. “You know, Mr. Thompson, I told Maddie that I wasn’t sure I wanted to come visit you. I felt bad for not keeping in touch, and because of your illness. But she told me that was all nonsense and that I should come see you. She said she thought it was important to.”

Mr. Thompson smiled and put his hand on Carl’s shoulder. “I’m glad you came, Carl. Your wife was right. Now, do a dying old man a favor. Go back to that studio of yours and start figuring out what your art is really going to be about. Take everything you’ve experienced. The joys. The pains. Find that something, and would you start painting that for me?” Carl teared up a little, wiped below his eye and said, “Sure thing, Mr. Thompson. Sure thing.”

Then Mr. Thompson sat back and said, “And on your way back home, Carl, be sure to pick up a lovely bouquet of flowers. For that beautiful and intelligent wife of yours. I think she did us both a big favor.” With that Carl smiled. He could tell Mr. Thompson was tired, and that it was time to head back home. “Thanks again, Mr. Thompson. I’ll take your advice. And I want to thank you for all you’ve done for me.”

On his way home, Carl bought that bouquet of flowers. He presented it to his wife the minute he got home. The note with the flowers read, “Be my pumpkin Valentine, Love from chubby hubby.” It wasn’t Valentine’s day, but Carl was trying to be clever. Maddie loved the flowers and hugged Carl. “So, what did Mr. Thompson tell you, babe?” Maddie asked. “Oh, to find my voice. March to my own drummer. He gave me a lot to help improve my art. But that’s not the most important thing.”

Carl smiled as Maddie asked, “Well…what’s the most important thing?” Carl took Maddie in his arms and said, “In the end, it’s the ones we love that matter most.”

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