Writing can be incredibly difficult. It’s personal, time consuming, and frustrating. It requires the writer to allow the reader a sneak peak at her inner workings. For me, this process is anxiety producing, yet more exciting than Christmas morning. So, for my first piece, I went with some fiction, playing with the idea of my blog name.
1. Writing in Crimson
I don’t actually like the color red–angry, offensive color that it is. One of the first things they tell you in college education classes is to never correct papers in red pens; they cause anxiety and feelings of personal inadequacy in students. How could a color have that much control over a person? I know there are studies and facts and data to back up these claims, but I have never been one to rely on numbers or information from research groups funded by some fancy corporation looking to capitalize on the weakness of buffoons. No, I rely on The Red–the feeling I get when I just know something. It might start out as a mere tickle in the bottom of my stomach, the mixed feeling of excitement and dread one might experience just as a roller coaster reaches the top of that first arch. Most of the time, however, The Red cannot be ignored. It hits me violently, a wave of nausea that sweeps over my body, making me feel only…red. Deep red. Crimson, even.
All the statistical research in the world cannot overcome that feeling. When The Red hits, I am at its mercy. It is as much a part of me as my own tongue.
I was seven when I named it. My mother had decided to paint my bedroom. It was to be a special treat, an early birthday present for her growing boy. We didn’t have much money; my father, if you could call him that, didn’t have a college degree and worked as a cashier for one of the oldest gas stations on Hoosick Street. A nice man, but nice doesn’t measure up against intelligence, especially when you’re from a small town. My mother stayed home to “harvest her talent” as a painter. An artist is what she called herself, but very rarely did she do anything worthy of merit or recognition. Shoddy landscapes and random sketches of shapes reflecting her “abstract, tortured soul” were plastered to the fridge. There was never any room for the papers I brought home from school. Why waste her valuable space honoring the A I received from my teacher? She would ask me. I was only demonstrating how well I could copy what someone else told me was right. I wasn’t “embracing my spirit,” she said, and that wasn’t worthy of praise.
When she asked me what color I envisioned my walls, I hesitated. I’ll admit, this was my mistake. Hesitation implied uncertainty, and with her, art was always certain. A person either trusted his muse and went with his inner flow, or he waited to reproduce someone else’s ideas.
I stuttered, staring up into her face with my fists clenched against my stomach. Blue, I had said. I wanted my walls to be blue.
She said nothing, at first. She just stared at me with her head tilted, like she was trying to figure out what kind of an animal I was. I kneaded my fingers harder into my stomach, feeling the first wave of The Red in my stomach.
Blue, she spat. Blue? How utterly original. Tell me, boy, why blue?
Had I said blue? I couldn’t remember saying anything at all. My mind was red–a blank space of swirling crimson shadows. She took a step closer and asked again: why blue?
Blue is for boys, I said.
She took a deep breath and exhaled in my face; the smell of mint and stale cigarettes only darkened the red clouds forming in my mind.
Stick out your tongue, she said. I did nothing.
Stick out your tongue, boy, she repeated, and do not make me tell you again.
The nausea was enveloping my body. My breathing became short and heavy. I stuck out my tongue, following her words and trying to find a focus, anything to help fight The Red.
She grabbed my tongue between her forefinger and thumb, digging her nails into the tip. Her other hand wrapped around the back of my neck, drawing my face in close to hers. The smell of mint an cigarettes was overwhelming. I saw my reflection in her glasses, a crying boy with fear in his eyes; but behind the thin glass, I saw the joy in her eyes, and I realized she was in The Red, too.
She squeezed my tongue harder, clenching her teeth. Anyone looking at the situation would have thought she was grimacing, but I knew she was smiling.
You are not my child, she whispered. Drool was leaking from my mouth faster than the tears down my face. I wanted to wipe the snot from nose but didn’t dare move.
My child would never choose blue because “blue is for boys.” Her voice rose in mimicry, her head shaking to match the words. I should rip this filthy tongue right out of your head, do you understand? No son of mine would ever suggest such a thing–follow the expectations of society and become a mindless, soulless thing.
She released her grip, shoving me backwards to the floor as she stood. I wiped the spit from my face with the collar of my shirt, my tongue throbbing, little jabs of pain penetrating the thick red cover of my mind.
She crossed her arms and stared down. No, she said, your room will not be blue. It will not.
Simple. Calm. Almost a matter of fact, like she was reciting items she needed at the market. She left me like that on the floor, repeating it to herself as she walked down the hall. I could hear the shuffle of her dingy slippers pacing back and forth in my bedroom–the same way my slippers now shuffle on the floor of my apartment as I read the writing on the paper in my hand.
This will definitely do it. I can feel The Red trying to burrow out of my stomach. The words come together in harmony with the vibration coursing down my spine. The ink has bled through the paper, a crimson mirror of the message:
First comes smiles, then lies.
A sigh escapes from my lips. I put the paper in my pocket and stare at the jars on the shelf in front of me. Small, shiny, waiting to be filled.
She won’t be able to call me a thing now. Not after tonight.