Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved building things with clay. My favorite thing to play with as a young child was Play-Doh, and I would spend entire afternoons molding different items, animals and people without ever getting bored. As I grew older and matured, my passion for sculpting grew with me, and by the age of 11, I was already taking pottery and Precious Metal Clay classes with adults mostly 4 times my age. It didn’t matter to me that most of my friends weren’t interested at all in what I did; the act of creating, glazing and firing pieces captivated my imagination, and while most kids my age wanted a game system or trendy clothes and shoes, I was bugging my folks for my own pottery wheel.
I come from modest means, but luckily, both my parents supported my passion, and by the time I was 13, my bedroom was more like an art studio that happened to have a bed in it. All my time and effort were paying off too, and the pieces I made began to become more high quality more often. In fact, by my freshman year in high school, I was confident enough in my skill that I began to look into submitting my art for contests and making pots, vases and sculptures for friends and relatives as gifts. That was the beginning of the dark path I’ve walked down up to this very day.
I first noticed it on a bowl that I made for my uncle for his 57th birthday, when I was 14. My dad told me his older brother had been a heavy smoker for most of his life, but the day my now 18-year-old cousin had been born, he smoked his last camel and hadn’t looked back. I thought this was a great accomplishment, and so I wanted to incorporate it into the piece I was making for him. I used a different colored glaze for his initials within the bowl than I used for the rest of it, and then I designed the piece to have some cracks in it after firing.
My plan was to try out the art style of Kintsugi. That translates to “gold joinery” and is an art style from Japan. Kintsugi is the art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer that is powdered with gold, silver or platinum. It’s supposed to be a means of recognizing a piece’s unique history by highlighting the cracks and flaws instead of hiding them but turning those flaws into beauty and making the piece even more unique than it previously was. So, my idea was the have a piece like that for my uncle, to show my esteem for him on how far he’d come in his past when it came to his health.
Something went wrong though, something I couldn’t explain and all the research in the world couldn’t answer. The special lacquer, though it was powdered with gold, came out as black as obsidian. I was completely bewildered at the spectacle before me. As I said, all the research turned up nothing, but the bowl itself wasn’t a failure in my opinion. It seemed to have a dark beauty about it, and the special lacquer turning black instead of gold was only a heightened uniqueness in my eyes. I ended up giving it to my uncle for his birthday, and he was absolutely thrilled with it.
6 months later, my uncle was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. After 3 months of intense treatment, his body couldn’t handle it anymore, and he passed away. The whole family was devastated. I was given a week off from school so my parents and I could travel across the country and attend his funeral. It was hard fact to swallow, my uncle’s death, and the fact that we were staying in my now widowed aunt’s house for the trip made it worse. It’s hard to get to sleep when you can hear your aunt crying quietly to herself in her now lonesome bed, and more than once I was shedding tears too as I drifted off to sleep.
It was on the last day there that I did a little snooping in my aunt’s room. My parents had taken her out for breakfast early in the morning and wouldn’t be back till later, so I decided to see if there were any memorabilia of my uncle I would like to see before I may never see it again. One of the first things I noticed was the bowl I had made him, displayed proudly front and center on their dresser. I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of giving it to him. I then decided to look a little bit in his desk off in a corner of the room. I know I probably shouldn’t have, but I was a teenager filled with angst at the time; I didn’t see any issue doing what i did. Going through his drawers, I didn’t find anything of interest until I saw a very large envelope from the hospital. Opening it, I found out that it was the x-rays of his chest from when they discovered the cancer. Holding them up to a window with the morning light shining through, I grimaced at the sight of his lungs, filled with long, black streaks that showed the damage his years of smoking had done.
As I looked more however, a wave of familiarity washed over me. I’d seen this somewhere; I knew I had. I continued staring in hopes that it would hit me, but the knowledge evaded me, and I ended up trying to toss the x-ray across the room in frustration. It flapped through the air a bit, and then landed on the floor in front of the dresser. With a sigh, I walked over and picked it up, but as I stood from bending over, my eyes fell upon the bowl again, and everything clicked. Every blackened crevice, every vein of obsidian that was in that bowl looked like it had been transplanted directly from the x-ray. I looked back and forth between the bowl and x-ray in shock. There was no way this could be happening, yet the evidence was right there, in front of my face.
I ended up saying nothing, trying to dismiss what I had discovered as some weird coincidence, and move on with my life. I kept up with my pottery and sculpting, but never attempted Kintsugi again. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it and would just end up recycling any broken pieces back into clay. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do this very often, as my skill had increased by leaps and bounds, and rare was the time anything I made broke.
During summer break after my freshman year, one of my old friends, a boy I’d known since elementary school, asked me to make something for him. He was a huge nerd, into card games and dungeon and dragons and anime and all that stuff. He wanted me to make a dragon or an ornate goblet for him, but I decided to do something different. I made a nice vase and glazed so that it would look like there was a Japanese cherry blossom on both sides. I’d done things like that before on other work, so when I got it back from firing, I was a little confused.
Everything seemed normal, except for the cherry blossoms on the tree. I knew I had used a pink glaze on them, but they were instead blood red. Not only that, they weren’t in the pattern that I had originally glazed them in. I know from experience that sometimes glazing doesn’t work out exactly how you envisioned it, but this was different from anything I’d experienced before. Plus, the new pattern the glaze had taken looked very disturbing to me. I couldn’t place it at the time, but something about it evoked a primal disgust in me, and I wanted to destroy the vase right then and there.
Unfortunately, my friend was with me when I got the piece back from firing, and he told me he absolutely loved it. Even when I pointed out the changed color and the weird pattern of the leaves, he told me he didn’t see anything wrong with the vase, and even if it wasn’t what I originally planned for it, he didn’t care. He was so excited about the vase that I decided to just be happy he liked his gift. I wonder to this day if I had been more aggressive in my complaints and had broken it right then and there if it would have changed things.
I found out what happened to him on the first day of sophomore year. The principal came on the loudspeaker to announce that he had passed, and it was a day or two later that I found out that the day before school started, he’d been out walking his dog at night. A drunk driver in a pick-up fell asleep at the wheel, drove off the road onto the sidewalk, and plowed straight into him. I never saw the crime photos, nor could I bring myself to visit the street where he had died, but from experiences after, I can confidently saw his blood and gore splatter on the sidewalk matched the same pattern of the blood red cherry blossoms on the vase I’d given him.
It took until my freshman year of college before I figured out the pattern, and by then 4 more people I cared about had died. 2 were friends from school, one was my first summer crush, and the last was my aunt, leaving my cousin without parents at 23 years old. Each piece they’d received from me was different, and each had varying times from when they received it to when they died, but the patterns on each work of art never lied about the method. The worst was the flower vase I gave my aunt. I made it as bright and colorful as possible, yet somehow on the tree I’d designed into it, some unexpected running of the glazes happened, resulting in a long, brown line hanging from one of the branches of the tree, ending in an open circle. I didn’t notice it until after I’d given it to her, and she refused to part with it, saying it was absolutely gorgeous, and she felt a sense of calm and peace looking at it. They ended up cutting her down from the elm tree in her backyard on the anniversary of my uncle’s death.
Like I said earlier, I realized then what the pattern was. You see, I’d made hundreds of pots, vases and sculptures up till that point, but it was only the ones I’d made for someone specific that seemed to foretell what their death would be. This brought up a major conflict in my mind: On the one hand, if I just made things for the sake of making them, nothing bad would ever be predicted in my work. But in that case, I could never give anyone anything that I ever made, even though sculpting and pottery was my life and I wanted to share my creations with everyone I loved. In the end, I decided to play it safe, and though I continued my art degree throughout college, I did as little work with ceramics and clay as possible, to the disappointment of all my professors.
It’s been 3 years since I graduated, and I now have an apartment in New York City, where I worked for the MoCA/NY, or the Museum of Ceramic Art, New York, up until a week ago. You see, 7 days ago, I decided to call my mom to catch up. We talked for a while about how life was going for my parents, how life was going for me, and the past. It was then my mom brought up that I had never made her anything despite my talents. I quickly thought up the excuse that I never thought I would ever be skilled enough to make anything worth of my gratitude and love that I held for both of them. My mother laughed at this. “Well you certainly didn’t think that way when you were younger.” She retorted, “After all, your father still has that weird little clay figurine you gave him when you were three.”
My blood turned to ice at this. I had no memory of ever making anything like that. I pressed my mom for details. “Oh yes, you came to him all excited with this little figure claiming it was him, and he just absolutely loves it, even to this day. It’s a shame we didn’t get you better clay back then, as lots of bits of clay have fallen off of it, making all these tiny holes in the chest. But he still loves it as much as he did back then. Its part of the reason we decided to support your love of sculpting in the first place.” My heart pounding, I asked my mom where my dad was at this moment, and she told me he was at the bar with a few friends.
I hurriedly said goodbye to my mom and hung up to call my dad. I ended up calling three times, each time going to his voicemail. I was going to call mom back when I forced myself to stop and think. I gave this supposed figure to him when I was 3 years old, and nothing had happened to him in all these years. Why should something suddenly occur out of the blue just because I discovered I gave him something? I should calm down and take it easy. Maybe I could organize a trip and dispose of the thing when I was visiting them. After all, I’d never tried getting rid of the harbingers of doom i’d created before, though I’d never gotten the chance too either. I had a few glasses of wine to calm myself and relax, watched some Netflix, and went to bed.
It was 3 am when the call from mom came. Through sobs and wails, she told me a fight had broken out in the parking lot of the bar dad was drinking at. Being the good Samaritan that he was, and fueled with some liquid courage, he walked over to break it up. It seemed the fight was far more serious than he had anticipated, and his attempted good deed ended up with the blast from a sawed-off shotgun to the chest. He died shortly after the ambulance had gotten to him.
I cried until the sun rose that day. I still feel like I’m somehow responsible for the deaths of all those I’ve given to. The thing that has brought me the most joy in my life, what I feel like I was born to do, has brought nothing but misery and death to those I loved. I feel lost, confused and angry. Why me? Why do I have to be the one who sees death before it happens, and somehow always be unable to stop it? Why does the craft that resonates within me, body and soul, that gives my life meaning, have to be cursed? Cursed to show me the deaths of those I want most to live? What kind of god would do this to me?
With that in mind, yesterday I began work on my final piece. I’d never worked so hard on a single project before in my life, and by last night, it was done. It was a sculpture, a sculpture of me, standing only about a foot high, but getting every last detail of me absolute. I made it so detailed because it was a gift: a gift to me. All the other pieces I’d ever made, while I kept some of them, I’d never made for me specifically. But this piece was different: every second spent on it I knew I was making it for myself, because I had to know. I didn’t want this weight, this curse, on my shoulder anymore, and I had to know my end. I spent all day sculpting and glazing, then fired it overnight in my personal kiln.
I was surprised this morning when it came out perfectly. Not a single cracks or imperfection to show broken bones or dismembered parts, no glaze dripping or discolored to suggest blood or gore or anything. It was a remarkably beautiful sculpture, even if I don’t tend to think of myself as all that beautiful. It truly was my best work yet.
But I type this all out now because I now know the truth. You see, my avatar made of clay had been on my desk all day, and I was just waiting for something to happen to it. Yet, nothing ever did, and a slight spark of hope ignited within me. Maybe I had lost my power to foretell death. Maybe, with this act of creating just for the creator, I’d freed myself from whatever curse had been hanging over my life since the moment I took first breath. In my excitement, I decided another glass of wine was in order. Even though I have, or rather, had, a long drive in the morning to reach my mothers house to help plan for the funeral, I felt a heavy burden being lifted from shoulders. I stood up suddenly to go to my kitchen, and in my flurry of movement, the statue was knocked from my desk. I watched it fall, I watched it hit my tiled, stone floor, and I watched it break, thousands of fractures encompassing the body, arms, legs and head. Staring at the broken body, my broken body, I’ve realized that the stone floor, and especially the one large tile the sculpture landed on, looks familiar. In fact, it looks almost identical to the broken, worn, inviting concrete sidewalk, 15 stories down from my bedroom window.