I was curled up on the backseat trying to ignore my brother’s snores as we headed northbound on I-680. The pink clouds were struck with glorious morning light, and I caught myself in time before scribbling something down about them to wonder why we compared clouds to cotton candy; the sky has been here a lot longer than carnivals and artificial colors. Blood tastes likes pennies, but the red that runs within us has been here a lot longer than pocket change.
Red is what I wear when I want to tell the world I’m not afraid.
I caught my reflection in the rear view mirror and turned away quickly in disgust. I never liked my body because it has no defined colors. No candy lips or bronze skin. I am blotches, smears, and scars instead. My eyes are the kind of brown you find on the walls of old buildings, the kind you wish would be painted over. They are nothing like my mother’s eyes, or her mother’s, which were the kind of hazel that burned with light. They are the kind I wish I’d inherited.
Two hours later we ambled along the neat grids of the city trying to find the Sheraton. As we waited at a stoplight, I watched a fountain outside a building. It continuously sprayed into the air in spurts of an unnatural Jolly Rancher blue, choking with chlorine and cleaners.
That night sprawled on the pristine hotel bed with the ceiling gaping high above me, I let childish fears keep me from sleep. I tip-toed to the wide window after a few hours of over-thinking to look at the city lights. The view was disappointing. I found only lines of parked cars and the bald tops of smaller buildings. Neon blinked in the distance but it was nothing like the amber constellations I remembered from home.
The gray sidewalks were the same, though. It’s always come back to gray for me.
I am like the color gray. I am faded. I am pale. I have been washed out and wrung out and slapped out in the wind and sun.
Gray is the color of the newspaper pages I poured hours of love into when all the print could do in return was smudge onto my fingers in blooms of black.
I was another color once. I was many colors. Color dies. Gray remains. Gray is the shell, and gray is the core, eventually at least. Gray has nothing to do with photons or bouncing light. You cannot project the color gray with spotlights. You cannot stand in it. You’re either in it or you aren’t Gray doesn’t stand still for anyone. You cannot capture it. You cannot put it in a jar or catch it with a net. But it’s not nothing either. Gray moves.
Don’t be mistaken, it is not watered down. It carries weight. It is steel, it is newspaper, it is iron resolve. It is morning fog that slips through your fingers and sifts through your hair. Gray is complete. It does not sparkle or shine or give off fragrance. It will not glow for you unless you’re willing to look through it, because it filters all that is too bright to look at. It’s the color of this breathing in and out that keeps us standing, walking, dashing along stone and pavement of the same color. Romance doesn’t happen in the gray, but understanding does. Euphoria doesn’t happen in the gray, but satisfaction does. It is the in-between and the blunt edges. It’s the catch in your breath upon disbelief. Gray is intuition. It is resounding clarity.
And it was in the gray that I was able to finally fall asleep that night.