Skip to content

Ariano & Grabill – May 2012

Danielle Ariano and Vin Grabill traded writing and artwork. Vin shared this giclee print, “Black Friday,” with Danielle (click to enlarge image):

In response, Danielle wrote this:


The audience has been asked to hold its applause until all the graduates’ names have been called, but I don’t even consider abiding by this request. When they announce my sister’s name, I clap excitedly, hoot, holler and then let out a loud “be-gok”. It’s a sound that she loves to make, one that has become her trademark as well as a sort of running joke in our family. On occasion, my mother and father get into the act, flapping their arms around like wings and jerking their heads while emitting sporadic be-goks. My parents would deny this, of course, especially my mother who tends toward the reserved, but there is video documentation on which the whole family can be seen doing our best impressions of a chicken.

The be-goks are usually aimless noises meant to elicit laughter but today mine is wrought with meaning: I am here, it says; I am your biggest fan; I am proud to be your little sister; I love you. I do my best to harness the noise from deep down in my diaphragm, but it is swallowed by the vast space of the arena the moment it leaves my mouth. I wonder whether she can hear me, but then I think that maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe the only thing that matters is that it’s out there. Even if she cannot hear it, it’s there.

My sister’s long blonde hair flows over her black gown as she moves toward the center of the stage where she is handed her diploma. She bows her head as the President of the University drapes a gold medal carefully over her cap in recognition of a prestigious and rare award she has received for excellence in her major. The medal comes to rest over her heart. Slowly, she raises her head, shakes his hand and strides off the stage without faltering.


In the years that follow, her life will devolve with drinking, drugs, dependency, depression. There will be mental illness and suicide attempts; a life none of us imagined as we sat cheering for her on that warm May day. Of all of us, perhaps my sister will be the most surprised about the way that things turn out, for this is surely not what she thought her life would become.

But she will not give up, my sister. She will go to rehab again and again; she will go to see doctors who will prescribe her pills that will cloud her mind and cause her body weight to fluctuate wildly, pills that she will hate, but that she will need in order to manage her depression, her anxiety, her day to day, minute to minute, breath to breath; pills that will keep her alive.

And her little sister will watch this all unfold, just like that day so long ago only now she will find herself silent. Now, when no one has told her to keep quiet, she will not make a sound and she will wonder where it has gone, her voice. Where is it when she needs it most? And she will know that it does matter, whether it’s out there. Even if her sister cannot hear it, it matters.

* * * * *

Danielle shared this piece with Vin:


I wouldn’t say my mother is an angry person. I would say that for my mother, anger is the most accessible emotion, at least when it comes to verbal expression. Confusion, sadness, anxiety and disappointment all manifest themselves in the form of a red faced woman screaming.

My mother was a good child. She excelled at burying her emotions, biting her tongue, keeping her poise and marching on stoically during difficult times. Around the time she was forty, all of the burying, biting, keeping and marching began to catch up with her. Either that or this was the time in my childhood when her anger became stamped into my consciousness. The latter is probably more accurate. There was, after all, a story that floated around our family dating from the early years of my parent’s marriage, well before my mother reached her forties. The story ended with my father covered in a plate of food, something that I have no doubt he deserved. For many years my father was a demanding man—the only boy brought up in a traditional Italian family. He was used to being coddled and waited on. This was perhaps lesson number one in “think again”, which he wisely did. Over the course of their now forty year marriage, my father has evolved. He does laundry, assists in cleaning the house, and occasionally cooks. Perhaps most astoundingly, when he needs salt for his meal he gets up and retrieves it from the cabinet rather than asking my mother, “Is there any salt?” the way that he used to do.   

My mother, on the other hand, was the only girl of four children. She’d grown up with the expectation that she would pitch in. While her brothers went out to play she spent the days dusting, vacuuming, stripping the beds etc. This was what girls did.

To her credit, my mother strove not to condemn my sister and I to what had been her fate. We had chores but they were reasonable tasks that didn’t fill entire days. My grandmother thought we were spoiled in this way and could often be heard muttering the phrase, “If you were my girls…” which would cause a shiver to run down our spines.

What is most illuminating about my mother’s anger is its disproportion to the object or infraction to which she connects it. The imbalance is sometimes so severe that it reveals something deeper at the root, some sadness or frustration that is too cumbersome for my mother to handle.

Take for instance the classic example of dishes in the sink. My sister and I learned early in our lives that if we spent the day at home, be it for holiday from school or summer vacation, we had better not leave a single dish in the sink. If we did, my mother would have a fit, her Irish skin growing bright red, nostrils flaring, voice booming. A dish in the sink was the ultimate slap in the face to our mother who had been at work all day. On a certain level it made sense. Who wanted to come home to a dirty sink after a day of hard work? But it was out of balance. I suspect that what my mother truly felt was undervalued and unappreciated, as though she was expected to clean up. Remnants of her childhood when she’d had no voice. 

In response, Vin made this giclee print, entitled “Dishes/Mother” (click to see larger image):

3 Comments leave one →
  1. tpfarley permalink
    May 19, 2012 5:42 pm

    interesting experiment to do this double-sharing back and forth and include others…reminds me of dance competitions, where partners met on the floor and heard the music they would dance to together as it started. But then, action was coordinated via the music–this is perhaps harder…

  2. tpfarley permalink
    May 19, 2012 5:57 pm

    what an interesting concept, this double-sharing back and forth, and including others to view (and comment). I was thinking it reminded me of going out to dance in a show or competition, in public where you meet your partner and find out your music when your names are called to come out on the floor–lead-follow skills, improvisation and coordination together. But maybe this is harder, as we had the music. 🙂


  1. Vin Grabill, Visual Arts: Latest Video “Wet” + The Light Ekphrastic | UMBC Insights Weekly

Leave a Reply