Women’s History Month: Women in Words
By Natalie Hirt
I asked Grandma again, “What’s your favorite color?” thinking that if I asked her enough she’d change her mind.
“What? Blue?” I was always disappointed by her answer. “Why not yellow?” Everyone should know that yellow was the best color of all. Yellow was the color of sunshine, the brightest color in my crayon box. Yellow made me happy.
My bedroom was mostly brown with two walls in brown and white paneling, speckled brown flooring, and a mishmash of furniture. Nothing matched. In my best dreams, I had a yellow room, bright and pastel with white furniture like in the Levitz furniture store. My bedspread would be yellow and white checked with white eyelet trim. And the best part would be the canopy, something to look up at, hopeful. Bright yellow and happy.
I never forgot my dream even when Mother put a pink patterned wallpaper right over the paneling on one wall in my bedroom. I told her I liked it, and I wanted to. But it wasn’t yellow. I tried to see the good in it even though the room was still mostly brown with brown and white paneling, a speckled brown floor and now, one pink wall. I decided to like it.
But yellow continued to be me. Clean like citrus and sparkly on the tongue, I loved yellow. Yellow was summertime barefoot, walking back from Nick’s Corner Mart, my mouth full of Lemonheads.
Yellow was Atlantic Avenue and Marvin Gardens, a good place to live. Daddy kept his money all in a pile hunting for this ten or that five to pay the rent. Carefree yellow. I kept mine in neat little rows with exactly the same amount sticking out from the game board, orderly yellow. Yellow laughter and all that’s happy because I won.
One night it changed.
My brothers were in their yellow footie jammies, smelling baby-powder sweet after their bath. I didn’t know I had only a little while left in my yellow world. I didn’t know that in just a little while, a man in a black ski mask would change it all. In that moment, I didn’t know it.
I didn’t know it when he held onto my wrists, twisting them as he pulled me through the dark yellow kitchen, tripping on high chairs. I didn’t know the colors would change as I leaned against the yellow-beige wall of the hospital. “Can I go to the bathroom?” I asked. No one knew if I could. I had to wait. But I decided to go anyway, and while I was in the gold-yellow stall of the restroom, I cried. And I cried again when I was told that I should not have gone yet. I was in trouble, with whom I didn’t know. I had done something bad. During the exam, I glanced up at the yellow-beige ceiling just before I closed my eyes and tried to pretend it was okay, there was a room full of people telling me everything was all right, we’re almost done.
I came home and for the first time noticed how truly ugly the house was standing there unaffected, unsafe, hideous in mustard yellow with gold trim. The yellow in the kitchen glared at me in the morning light and became intolerable.
Then the day came I had to go back to school. The kids walked up. “Is it true? Were you raped?” That day, I came home and threw up yellow.
I became red. I didn’t make a conscious choice. It was something I noticed later, like so many other things that had changed in me. Red is bold and powerful. It’s sunspots, flaring and spitting. Red doesn’t mess around. Red is fun, an ever-ready smile and nothing to worry about. Red will do a double dare just because. I never looked back on yellow, that sissy color, an ugly freak show.
As I got older, I tried on different colors. I thought maybe I was like my Grandma, and blue would be my favorite, but it didn’t fit me right. I tried the oranges and browns like my mother, but that wasn’t right either. I decided I had no preference and that favorite colors were silly. But the children in my life wouldn’t let me be.
“What’s your favorite color?” They asked over and over.
“I don’t have one,” I said.
“You have to have one,” they insisted. “Is it blue?”
“Mine is green.”
“I like purple.”
They drove me to distraction, and because they had such a worried look, because they truly cared, I realized I had to choose a favorite color. For them.
I said, “Red. Red is my favorite.” I was relieved they appeared satisfied with the answer.
After a while came a time when I could reflect on whether I was being honest. I wondered if it mattered. I took a peek deep inside myself to see. It really bothered me I didn’t seem to know much about myself, down to what color I liked best. Was I ready? Would I be able to face yellow.
I could only look at small pieces. Each time I revisited yellow, I was able to look at it longer, with less pain. It was difficult to see it fully, right in the face, the way a strong red should do it.
And I didn’t realize it, but yellow had never left me. It was simply hidden in a faraway place. I didn’t know that taking those small glimpses at it would get easier causing it to grow, until it burst forth shining, clear and bright. I’m glad I found yellow again. It’s okay with me to be yellow, and when I see yellow, I’m happy.
It’s a little different for me now. Yellow is more sensitive and introspective. Yellow is a little unsure of the world and holds back a bit. But, it’s also wild sunflowers on the side of the road. It’s the smell of the day’s first light.
About Natalie Hirt
Natalie Hirt received an MFA in fiction from UC Riverside. “Colors” is an excerpt from her novel in progress, Goodbye Kansas. She was a best short story prize-winner in the now defunct, Kalliope Literary Magazine for another excerpt from the novel. She lives in Laguna Niguel, with her husband, three children, and her dog, Rex. Her family hopes her book is published soon so that they can reclaim the dining room table from its many stacks of edits and revisions.
Photo credit: Candie N via a Creative Commons License