Restless Palette

When I’m with you and we’re having fun, talking in our silly voices and calling each other names better suited for animals, I see the world tinted pale yellow. Picture this: the sand on the beach glowing like gold, the frothy water shaded green, the light from your eyes vibrating in tune with my heart, as I see you rolling around on the yellow blanket. I breathe into your mouth and say, “You take my breath away,” and I hope you hear my words like I see them -- my words of love illuminated with yellow (glowed), the way the monks of old laboriously decorated the words in their bibles.

At the bar, the music that makes it hard to hear and the drinks that make it hard to think all come out looking the same, masked with pink. Pink is partying -- hedonistic, short-lived, and meaningless. The people I’m with are abstract and general, weak pink outlines of the people I know them to be when the goal of the night isn’t excitement and fun for fun’s sake. Anybody with the same goal could fill the same pink mold. In my memories too, Joseph blurs with Michael blurs with Aaron blurs with Julie, in a light-pink wave of nonspecific, non-delineated events and but clear feelings of excitement and fun in black scenes with pink outlines.

It’s impossible to shade the present lived experience with some feelings, and those instead color the interpretation of past events. Regret is sky-blue, the same tone as the walls of my childhood bedroom. I remember my mother joking with me when the walls were being painted that she chose pink, telling me that choosing pink was either a mistake or a prank. But regret fits better as the color of my childhood than short-lived and artificial fun. And if given a choice, I’d prefer a clear picture of clear events with specific people washed with sadness at how things went and a sorrow at how things could have gone to the shapeless and morphless emotion of hedonism.

When I feel guilty, I wish that my skin would turn dark-green, because that’s the color I’m feeling. A kind of combination of happiness and regret: you felt good, and you feel bad for feeling good. No guilt is untouched by the color yellow, and sometimes the yellow only makes the green greener, stronger and darker -- you can feel worse because you recognize the good feeling and feel it still. Guilt is a feeling that demands sharing, and I’d broadcast it if I could, the hope being that if spread across a larger area, to more people, the dark green feeling might dissipate in a commensurate way to dark green light. What is the formula for sharing guilt as related to a decrease in the feeling? Is it an inverse square to describe both light and guilt?

The color of my isolation is orange. Sometimes it’s a welcome tone lighter than the skin of the fruit, a shade that I plan on painting the walls of my future home. This color is a necessary break from others, to recharge, relax, and reflect, and it breathes comforting warmth into my ears. When it’s an unwelcome and lonely separation from people I want to see, the orange is neon, a flashing reminder of the people who don’t want to see me. My freshman roommate took a trip to New Haven with a group of friends of which I considered myself a part (but, invite absent, they so clearly did not). The whole time they were gone, the feeling of exclusion shone through my bedroom window, a bright Vegas-style sign flashing the words “Alone” or “Loser.” The neon light crawled inside my room and across my skin until it was inside me and around me, crawling around inside my stomach. And because I couldn’t escape the color, the best I could do was to try and change its shade.

I do not like seeing red., Red makes me curling my fists involuntarily though I would never fight. Red used to own me, foul my breath, make me argue and say things I’d later regret and need to apologize for. Or (when I was much younger), react physically, and jump and push and punch. When a playground argument escalated, I threw tanbark in a playmate’s face. But now I own red. At the first sign of the bad color, I breathe and remove myself to a tiny orange room somewhere in my mind. I stay level-headed enough to delay reaction until the initial overpoweringly bright burst dies down and becomes a simple shade I can talk through. Because talking is red’s kryptonite, the way to make red transform into an easier color to deal with, like blue or dark green.

The last time we talked, I saw an altering crescendo of waves and shades, a rainbow reflection of my faltering and flailing (and so ever-changing) intentions. “I don’t think I can trust you all the way across the country,” you said, and I regretted an entire series of blue missteps and misspeaks that led you to doubt me.

A tiny red voice from somewhere inside me said that I was right, that you were overreacting, and soon my regret was colored with anger until the red carved into your face, hiding your tender, crying eyes. The throbbing red spilled out of my temples, out of my eyes, and into the world in front of me. It was a happy anger, an anger filled with relief at long-unspoken words finally making themselves known. But as soon as I felt the happy anger, I started to realize the implications of this conversation. Red mixed with yellow to make orange, and I felt so alone sitting next to you. “You’re still my favorite,” I said, and as soon as the words escaped my lips and I saw you cry harder, a growing green monster left my mouth too, splashing the color around and making my heart swell and burst. If you were still my favorite, we wouldn’t be saying these things, we wouldn’t be talking like this.

I didn’t see any color but white when I looked around your room trying to find the ghosts of the colors I used to feel when I was with you.

White is a dove and lily of the valley

and a puddle of milk spilled in an alley -- --

a ship's sail, a kite's tail, a wedding veil

Hailstones and halibut bones

and some people's telephones.

The hottest and most blinding light is white.

And breath is white

when you blow it out on a frosty night.

White is the shining absence of all color

then absence is white, out of touch, out of sight.

White is marshmallow and vanilla ice cream

and the part you can't remember in a dream.

White is the sound of a light foot walking

White is the beautiful broken lace

of snowflakes falling on your face.

You can smell white in a country room

toward the end of May in the cherry bloom.

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