(On the Anniversary of My Mother’s Death)
When I turned seven my mother began explaining the colors. Took the bottle down from the medicine cabinet, emptied it out on a white glass plate, rummaged around for reading glasses and then picked out a pale green jelly bean.
This is laughter, she said, this is the milk inside your popcorn, the old-fashioned elevators floating your stomach, the suck of white water that swallows your oars and the pinch of new skates just a half size too small, the night you’re introduced to the ice.
This is the flicker of vanilla flame when electricity’s out, this is your first and second and 22nd time wrecking your snowboard, this is your half-breed husky chasing invisible squirrels in his sleep and this is the slap of your deposit forfeited when the landlord discovers spray painted galaxies on the bedroom ceiling. She gave it to me and it tasted like Sunkist lime, which felt right.
On my eighth birthday I ate bright yellow piña colada and she told me it was loneliness, extra twenties in your wallet and sunny afternoons in the park with too perfectly trained pets, plus an unexpected afternoon off spent ordering only one drink.
At nine I tasted danger as strawberry jam; wasn’t much good at math but I counted the rest, found there were sixty-six colors to go and decided my mother had started too late.
Since then I’ve known ennui and anger and ease and the feeling you get when you stare mesmerized at the shapes the cream clouds in your coffee are making and think about all of the places that flicker over the airport’s departure time screens, cities of strangers still not expecting you to come.
Some years I wrote some of them down – how ecstasy smarts like new blood in your bedsheets, how trust is like wild geese winging through mist, how the feeling of missing the bus in time for the first snowfall of the year goes down like cream soda.
But there are so many colors and not enough birthdays. When I left home there were still fifty-seven jelly beans in the bottle, fifty-seven unfamiliar flavors floating out there for me to run into, not knowing how to recognize them, not having anyone to teach me their tastes. I wish you could have stayed I wish I could have stayed longer I think maybe I would have been better.