Broken to Beautiful

By Isabel (Bella) Niforatos

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The house on the hill didn't have heat; sometimes the swamp cooler decided to turn on and other times it didn't. My dad and I used to drive to the gas station in our minivan that broke down more times than I can count and fill up empty jugs with water from the outside pump because the water in our house had stopped working. The furniture was borrowed, and sometimes we didn't have any. I used to eat standing up with my plate in the empty kitchen drawer until someone lent us their dining room table. But it was fuller than the homes before it, where I sometimes slept on a towel on the floor or the hotel room that six of us lived in with only two beds. This house may have been foreclosed, and my family may have only been allowed to stay in it in order to repair it, but it had a tree. It had a garden. I'd never had that before.

And we made it feel like home. Before we had enough money to buy a Christmas tree, my mom and I ripped up brown paper bags and construction paper and taped the cutout tree to my wall. Later that year, we gathered more strips of brown paper and made green and red paper leaves; we taped it all to the blank wall next to the broken scarlet futon in the shape of a huge tree. Next year, we added a giant paper and crayon cutout bridge over a cerulean river. I would imagine myself walking over a real river, the water soaking into my feet, the smell of fresh running water. On days when we couldn't leave the house because the car had broken down again, my mom would lend me her 25 cent thrift store books, which told me about the lives of artists such as Van Gogh, Dali, Monet, Kandinsky. I found solace in these books, pouring through the artwork, picturing myself in the beautiful and yet haunting world that many of these paintings depicted. It was a world that made sense to me. When we moved from the house on the hill, we took down the brown paper tree, the bridge, the collage of colored pencil constellations that I made when I was eleven.

It all went in a box in our new garage. When we moved to the first house that we had rented in over a decade, I began to become immersed in art in new ways. My dad bought me a set of 100 Sharpies and I began to embrace the style that I found I related to the most: graffiti. I discovered L7M, a street artist from Sao Paolo, Brazil, who paints colorful, hopeful birds and haunting faces on crumbling, decrepit walls and buildings. His art inspires me so much because it shows that art can light up even the most desolate of situations. I learned that art lends beauty and hope to the impossible, the painful, the crumbling. Art gave me hope and meaning in a time when it was almost impossible to discover myself because of the world around me. I believe in the power of art to transform walls and cities from broken down to beautiful. I believe in the power of art to give hope where there is none. I believe in the power of art to save people.