I stood there—watching her spin around and around; soaring high above my head, laughter spewing out of her rosy lips and her golden mane being carried by the autumn wind. Her innocent face—so much like mine, but free of hard lines and tired eyes—held a look of utter euphoria and wonder. Round and round she went, the tire swing never ceasing–gaining speed and height. I felt a familiar twitch in my hand where a brush used to be—a phantom feeling. Something that was there before, but never survived. Despite myself, I began to count the number of shades it would take to truly capture the flecks of gold in her green eyes, or the splotches of red on her creamy white face. This instinct, however, lasted a fleeting moment.
Higher and higher; faster and faster.
I remember the days when I would spin round on this very swing; the days where the same rush of the world’s endless possibilities would course through my veins. The entire world was at my fingertips; I could feel the paths and trails my mind had set for me, and the colours that washed into my sight like the tide on a summer’s day. My childhood innocence was flooding with desire and curiosity. Everything from the ways in which the birds called out to me in the morning, to the way my fountain pen felt against a fresh sheet of parchment, solidified a sense of overwhelming love for the world around me.
Those were the best days…
“Higher, mama! Higher!” My daughter gave a gleeful shout as I pressed my hand harder into the rubber of the tire, sending it flying outwards and upwards. My little girl: so full of light and glee, curiosity and wonder. Such was I when I was her age. But not for much longer after that.
Before, flaming hues of reds and oranges encompassed me; my paintings reflected the vivid austerity of what was my favourite season: Autumn. My hands sculpted tall, willowy trees out of earthen clay, and my brushes told the dynamic tale of changing leaves. I saw fiery crimsons and rugged mauves brought to life on a single canvas—words that I knew not how to express were delivered through my art. My dreams and ambitions were represented in the ever-present charcoal stains on my hands. My hopes and desires were splattered on my dad’s old band t-shirt. I cannot tell you how many times I had sat on this very swing, observing the colours of the world. How many times I had analyzed the exact shades of red and orange that this season had come to bring.
Soon after my 18th birthday, my parents sent me away on a trip to New York, to see my distant cousins. “To get your feet wet,” they had said. They had sent me away from my cocoon; away from the safe zone that I had for so long been accustomed to… away from the swing, and the simplicity that accompanied it. I left my paintings at home.
In the city, the greys consumed me. The morality of small town life had left me naïve to the brutal truth of the world. Warm smiles and kind gestures were replaced by crude capitalism and road rage. Never before had I seen such massive concrete jungles filled by animals who were in it for themselves. Never before had I seen such selfishness embodied in the words of man. Cynicism was a dark shadow; it crushed one’s dreams, and drained the colour. The need to analyze the colour in the world slowly diminished; for there was no colour in New York. Not for me.
During those two months in New York, I found myself being converted. Converted to the everyday lifestyle so many people fall into. This revelation is merely in retrospect, however, because of course I did not realize how much I had changed until much later. The grey changes you. The lustre you had previously seen in the world is gone, and in its place is the dull, unimaginative drag of a simpleton’s life. Materialism grabs a hold of you, it holds you in a vice until every ounce of colour is drained from your innocence. That is the real world.
Often, I find myself envying my daughter. The pure way in which children see the world is reminiscent of how I had once seen it as well. Before the grey, that is.
When I returned from my trip, I had wanted so badly to scratch my way out of the small town vignette; I had wanted so badly not to end up like my parents—stuck. The town in which I lived and had loved had become a prison. I no longer saw the reds and the oranges. However, I did not see all grey either.
Rather, I began to see the world in a blue filter.
In my angst-ridden view of society, I had begun to overcompensate. I had married the first man who proposed—without a second thought. The marriage lasted a year and a half. He hogged the covers, anyway.
I backpacked through Europe, searching for something that I had no answer for. I went back to church—finding nothing but burnt candles and long forgotten bibles. My mother and father gave me new painting tools to replace the ones I had forgotten—they are still in my attic collecting dust under the Christmas decorations.
The second man I had a fling with was unusual. He had a limp in his step and a bite to his words. He was soft-spoken; the kind of man who did not say much, but when he did, you had the feeling he thought about every word, and every syllable, that came out of his mouth. He had an affinity for jazz music. What I did not realize was that he also had an affinity for painting. Now, by this time, I had ceased to think about the charcoal stains or the paint splatters. But something within this man reignited the kiln that had shut down so many years before. It was slow at first; the blues began to have fire-rimmed edges when he made me smile. The purples grew to dark reds for a flicker of a second when we kissed. I began to hope again. Hope in the gold specks of humanity I saw in his eyes.
The same gold specks I now see in my daughter’s eyes.
This flame, however, did not last. The end had started with the screech of metal-on-metal and the smell of burning rubber. I woke up alone. I do not remember much of that day, but I do know that it left me with a limp in my step and a hatred for jazz music
Sometimes I visit where he lay, and I count the number of grey tombstones he is surrounded by. Every time I go, I count a new number.
I do not burden my daughter with my grey world, for I believe she will know of the grey eventually. It is better, I think, for her to hope in desire and believe in dreams than to be faced with the brutality of reality. I want to preserve her in her own cocoon for as long as possible. Someday I will teach her to paint. I can already see the curiosity in her eyes when we fetch the Christmas decorations. Each year she asks, “What is that, Mommy?” and I answer with a distraction. For my sake, not hers.
One day she will be hurt. One day she will be faced with her own grey reality. But, for now, her dreams and desires are preserved. I will protect her from the inevitable for as long as I can.
“Keep pushing Mama!” She squeals in delight.
And I do.
Higher and higher; faster and faster.