Prologue - Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Nirvana ; 1994)

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I remember a lot of things.

I remember the first time I picked up a pencil.

It was 1977, and I was about two years old, sitting in the living room with my parents on a Sunday morning before church. Dad was reading the newspaper and drinking his cup of straight, black coffee like he did every Sunday. Mom was fixing her hair in he pocket mirror, along with her makeup, and she would smile every twenty-three seconds to make sure her look was just right. The TV was on and I was looking at it, not like a child filled with fascination would, but like a six-month-old who had just been given a Rubik's cube would; with boredom and confusion.

Dad got up from his chair to refill his coffee, and the pencil he had behind his ear had been placed on the coffee table next to an open notebook that he would write Stock Market exchanges in. I turned my attention away from the TV as I hear him get up, and my eyes immediately landed on the stick of lead incased in wood.

That was what sparked my fascination. A pencil.

I picked up the stick in my right hand and began to look at it with awe and excitement. I noticed the notebook was open to a blank page and I got an idea I'd never had before.

An idea to create.

I placed the lead tip to the blank page and slowly, ever so slowly, began to drag it down the page, creating a faint, gray line that extended from the middle of the paper to the bottom right corner. I smiled. I did another. And another. And another.

Before I knew it, the entire page was covered in short and thick lines, long and thin lines, faint and bold lines. I didn't realize it at the time, probably because I was too small and too focused on getting scolded for ruining Dad's notebook, but that was who I wanted to be. I wanted to be the person who did things they weren't supposed to; to defy normality to create something that I liked and that I would someday hope others would like.

So that's what I did.

I remember the first time I was praised for a drawing.

We were having an art contest in primary school. All of my teachers suggested I be in it so that I could "expand my social experiences." I didn't have friends in primary school. I was the shy boy who stayed in the back of the class with his pencil constantly pressed to the pages of his notebooks. I drew things like flowers and birds and sunrises, trees and storms and landscapes, and I kept every single one of them to look back on for improvements.

My notebook was my best friend.

The topic for the art contest was to create a self portrait, but how you think you would look in nature. As soon as the prompt hit me, I was filled with the oddest sensation. I began reeling back into the crevices of my eleven year old brain, thinking of how I always used to view myself, as a sunset over a semi-cloudy sky: a safe guard blocking the view, but enough open spaces to let light shine through.

But, at this moment, I had never felt more like a hurricane.

I was hurricane Ryan, and the only casualty in the end would be myself.

So I picked up my pencil, and created just that.

I remember when I graduated high school with a full-ride scholarship to the Academy of Art University.

Mom was proud of me for doing something I loved and deciding to make myself a future out of it. Dad was proud of me for getting into such a prestigious school so that I could pursue my dreams. It felt nice to have supportive parents, but I still felt like I couldn't rely on nor trust anything other than my pencil and notebooks.

When I walked into my first class at the academy, my lead pencils became graphite and charcoal pencils, my notebooks became sketchbooks and canvases, and my desks and floors became easels and drawing boards. I was beyond ecstatic and overwhelmed that I actually cried in my dorm room that night.

I was happy.

And it was great.

But then a day came that I knew I had found a moment that would top my list of things that I remembered.

I remember the first day that I saw him.

I was practically glued to my easel, my graphite outlining pencil flipping between my fingers with all of my shading pencils resting in the crevices of the easel, waiting to be used. My professor was explaining to us that our assignment for the next eight weeks would be to learn how to properly capture the essence of a human body.

We would be learning how to detail dimples in the muscles, the blemishes on skin, the shape of the body that was detailed by the bone structure. I had never been more excited in my life.

Our professor said that we were lucky this year for the assignment, because previous years had been reduced to using pictures of models and pictures of ordinary pedestrians to fulfill their drawing prompts.

We would be using a model. A real life model, sitting on a polished, wooden stool in the center of the class room, surrounded by at least twenty easels and being focused on by twenty pairs of eyes.

And I was excited.

When the door opened, I swear I felt breath catch in my throat. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the challenge that I was about to be given.

When he walked into the middle of the room, the silence became deafening. You couldn't even hear a single person breathing, and if someone would have dropped a pencil at that moment, it would've sounded like a bomb going off. I've researched many artists, and looked at almost every one of their masterpieces. I've seen artworks that have made me cry and ones that have made me freeze into an unexpected paralytic state, but I can promise you one thing.

He was the most beautiful piece of art I'd ever seen.

And when his eyes met mine, I wanted to cry and I wanted to scream and I wanted to fall apart because he was looking at me the same way I was looking at him.

I remember a lot of things.

But in that moment, I couldn't even remember how to breathe.

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