Maggy was painted by Harvey Dinnerstein in 1985. Coincidently, that was the same year I joined the Army. Initially the painting appeared to be just a simple and unassuming portrait. Except for the flowers, there was not much color and it was rather muted and mostly dark. There was no real background to speak of, just a single vanishing line that merely allowed the viewer to differentiate between the floor and the blank wall behind her.
In short, it was merely a life-size portrait of a lone woman standing, while holding an oversized bag that had a small bunch of flowers peeking out. This was all I saw as I passed by the painting, until I looked at her face. It was her face that made me stop. I had not planned on stopping; after all I had already found the painting I wanted to write about, The Rail Splitter. That one was a subtle yet powerful portrait of a beloved president and it would be easy enough to write about. All I was doing now was simply ruling out all the other paintings. That was until I saw her face.
It wasn’t a particularly pretty face, not to say she was homely by any means, but more so to say it was not any physical attribute or attractiveness that caught my eye. Her face had a hauntingly hollow expression that was all too familiar, and although strong and lean, it had such an incredible heaviness to it. It seemed even holding it up had become beyond her ability anymore. It just seemed to hang down and list to her left. In fact her entire body seemed to wilt on the left. Maybe it was just because the bag she carried in her left hand was so heavy.
It wasn’t your typical ladies carrying bag; it was green, Olive Drab Green to be exact, made of a heavy-duty material with reinforced stitching. It had a sturdy strap and leather patches strengthening its brass fasteners. There was no mistaking it for anything other than Government Issue. This made it even more unusual that the only thing projecting from or even visible in it was a small but colorful cluster of flowers. As my eyes made their way back up the portrait, I noticed her hand and then her arm, like her face, were strong and lean.
They were both drawn-out, as if pulled or weighed down by the heaviness of the bag, and her veins protruded as if making some bold statement. Then as I stared back at her face, I noticed that there was a glow, not emanating from but more shining on her face. Like the flowers peeking out of her Army bag, it was in quite contrast to her expression. I stepped back to take the entire painting in, looking at its totality. That is when I realized the magnitude of the duality in the painting.
Much like Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket, wearing a button with a peace symbol on his flak jacket, the entire picture was filled with war and peace contrasts. She was wearing a black blouse and very subdued blue skirt that hung low on the leg and had a Spartan-like fold. She wore leather sandals that had a thin flat bottom and leather strapping up the leg, like a Roman Soldier, but feminized with an open heel and toe. Her hair was shaved as tight as if on her first day of Boot Camp, and her strong, lean face showcased her red, full lips that appeared to have such a tender quality.
Even her stance was filled with conflict; with that thousand yard stare, that only comes from anguish, she looked to the left, toward her bag or perhaps the baggage she carried behind her, but was clearly stepping to the right where the light appeared to emanate. The flowers, her face, her stance and even her attire; it was all in conflict with each other. This started my mind racing, asking question after question. What was it that had her so torn, so conflicted, so weary? What happened to her? Had she just returned from an extended tour of duty? Where was she going?
Where did she get the flowers, were they for her or had she got them for someone else? Why was she all alone? What, why, where, how…? Then the real question hit me, just like it did when I decided to quit my job and go back to school. Who was going to help Maggy? Who was going to be there for her now? Who was going to make sure that Maggy has everything she needed to reestablish herself after everything that she had seen and everything she has had to do? This portrait encapsulated exactly why I had to quit my job and why I am back in school pursuing a degree in Social Work.
Maggy was every soldier, sailor, airman, or marine, who had come home from war afraid of the ghosts that they can’t let go, afraid of the monster they found dwelling within, the one they had to awaken in the heat of battle just to survive or to make sense of the senseless situation they found themselves lost in. After working with several veterans that returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan only to find few answers and even fewer competent or caring social workers in the system, I had to quit asking who.