What I love without reservation, qualm or apology is the color turquoise.
As a child, however, the color I loved unreservedly was red. My mom likes to tell the story of continually buying me new water color sets because I would use all the red up and ignore everything else. I liked red for a long time. Besides, blue was my sister’s color. Her middle name is Marie and she was born on Feast of the Annunciation and if anyone had a right to have blue as their color, it was her. That was fine with me. I was happy with red.
The turning point came for me sometime in my early 20’s when I asked a friend her favorite color. “I think right now it’s green” she’d said. It was a revelation. You could have a favorite color in the moment?! It didn’t have to be the one you couldn’t get enough of as a 6 year old? And with that simple shift in understanding, a whole Crayola box of possibilities opened up.
I began to leave red behind the year I went to college six semesters in a row. It was mid January of semester number six and I was stretched to my limits. The fact that I hadn’t seen the sun in at least three months contributed to my general feelings of despondency and exhaustion. I was studying in the lounge of the dorm I had lived in two years before, cuddled into a sagging, oatmeal-upholstered couch from the 70’s, near the radiator, near a window. I looked into the naked courtyard from my cozy nest. It was one of those rare days in a MI winter when the sky opens up and you can breathe again. The thick layer of lake-effect clouds had rolled back and the sky was…deep. It was the unique color that boldly flaunts its wide expanse on a subzero day, making even dirty piles of snow seem touched by blessing and grace.
That week I began to wear a small, ordinary cobalt glass bead on a tiny silver hoop in the second hole of my left ear. Whenever I’d begin to despair that the sun would never return or I’d be 42 (an impossibly old age to me at the time) and still in college, I’d play with the earring and remember that the sky really was up there, above the clouds, and the semester really would end. Eventually. It became the rallying cry of my heart, that color. That particular blue became so significant I named my massage business after it years later. Blue Door Massage Therapy. Blue for the hope held in a winter sky unmuddied by oppressive humidity and Door for the opening of possibilities.
The transition from deep sky blue to turquoise, her wilder and sexier cousin, was mysterious and smooth and most likely happened one February in Nicaragua – the only thing to reliably pull me out of my acute and self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder. In Nicaragua, life is lived in saturated Technicolor hues. Nothing that has a choice about it is drab. Everything that doesn’t move and isn’t a hovel is covered with painted-on advertisements, murals, or a thoroughly vibrant shade of whatever was on sale that week.
A favorite conversation starter with the conservative Midwest medical missionaries I guided through our mission would be “If you lived here, what colors would you paint your house? Maybe lime and fuscia, like this one here? Orange Crush and violet, like that store on the corner? Crimson and mango?” They’d look at me strangely. “I don’t know. White, probably. Brown?”
When I look at that color – aqua – the color of hope, of swimming pool tiles and cheerful drugstores, of new toothbrushes and lunch in Cozumel, my whole being is convinced I just danced the night away to the throbbing beats of live salsa with Bara, an enormous and friendly African man whose smile looked like he’d swallowed the sun. Or it feels the visceral satisfaction of that first bite of creamy pesto and linguine at the Italian restaurant in Santiago de Compostela after 500 miles of tough pork chops and greasy fries. Or delights as if finding out the night before that a blizzard is on the way and school is already called off for the next day, maybe two.
Yes. That much. That happy.
I love turquoise so much I painted my whole classroom that color, working with 30 teenagers over 20 hours to complete it (complete with lime green trim and cobalt doors). Every day when I walk into S-7, something in my spirit breathes a little easier. Stretches. Exhales. Uncurls like a fiddle head fern in spring. Kids and colleagues feel the same way. Glen, the tall, white-haired biotech teacher whom I love for many reasons, but firstly because he reminds me of my long-gone grandpa, comes to my door, pauses two steps inside the threshold, draws a deep breath, closes his eyes and sighs. Leah, a sophomore, stops by on days she doesn’t have Spanish, lets her head fall back and spins around, arms flung out, stringy blond hair flying. “I feel like I just walked into a peaceful blue bubble!”
This color is so important to me that three nights in a row I found myself pleading with my principal as I drifted off to sleep, desperately trying to get him to understand why I should be allowed to paint my next classroom the same way. (He agrees with my students that it’s the most beautiful room on campus, but I’m not sure he’ll let me do it again. And I’m too afraid he’ll say NO to ask.) I’m to be moved in the fall from my current tropical paradise into a portable and am already working on my attitude about it. This will be the second move in three years. Everything really will be ok if they just let me paint again. Maybe they’ll get the message that I take my nesting seriously and let me stay in my next location for more than two years in a row. Either that or there will be a string of very cheerful classrooms all over campus. One colleague has already followed suit and painted hers to match mine. The tropical take-over has begun.
During a quiz one day, a freshman asked “Señorita White, what’s your favorite color?” Emily, convinced I hate her because I told her one day that that her skirt was scandalously short, burst out “Duh! It’s turquoise! It’s her power color! Don’t you remember? We already discussed this?!”
He said “Oh, well, what’s the difference between your power color and your favorite color, then?”
Seizing on the teachable moment, I explained that a power color is something you need or use in regular and therapeutic doses and proceeded to list off the things I could think of in my life that were turquoise or a similar shade of blue:
- my classroom
- 2 swimsuits
- couch cover
- bed linens
- bathroom rugs
- new iPhone cover (3 as of last count)
- iPad mini cover
- Multiple device charging cords
- Travel keyboard
- Car charger
- Three light-weight travel organizer bags
- OPI nail polish in two shades – Tea the Cows Coe Home and Venice the Party?
- casserole dishes
- shower curtain
- liquid eyeliner
- several rings
- Eight necklaces
- eye shadow
- woven beaded bracelet
- snake leather rose-shaped hair clip from Bali
- beach and bathroom towels
- six scarves
- three nesting glass vases from IKEA
- kitchen rags
- tea pot
- kitchen chairs
- stock pot
- three water bottles
- luggage set
- several large balls of hand-spun yarn purchased abroad and knitted into a massive and brilliant sweater
- two purses
- morning insulated tea mug
- 3 kilos of plant-based blue pigment, acquired in Morocco and transported across international boundaries with great effort and love by my generous and long-suffering boyfriend
- 18 of 44 pairs of earrings currently in circulation
- a cute hat whose style my Chilean brother in law tells me is only worn by prostitutes in his country
- four bottles of nail polish
- a Día de los Muertos ceramic skull acquired for me in Mexico by friends who understand about power colors
- an exquisite patchwork quilt I bought in the bazaar in Jerusalem from a paunchy salesman with green eyes who wanted to make me his 4th wife
- the matching footstool acquired at TJMaxx and several similar throw pillows
- a new cutting board
- kitchen tongs
- spoon and wire whisk
- my most recent dishes – dinner plates, salad plates, bowls and mugs
- glass candle holders
- at least 8 different watercolor pencils in slightly different tones
- my two-blue-hued beach cruiser bicycle
- several under-the-bed storage boxes
- a tiny Cousinart brand charcoal grill and matching grill utensils
- the tin that holds my pencils at home
- the flowerpot on my desk at work that serves the same purpose
- my current journal
- a sweater re-gifted from my mom that may be an old lady style but I can’t really tell and actually don’t care
- and a pair of underwear that are quite uncomfortable but persist in my drawer simply for the pleasure I take in seeing them there.
And a favorite color is just the color you prefer over others. (Clearly power colors and favorite colors are the same thing, the difference being that a power color has a touch of OCD to it. All right. More than a touch. Naturally, I didn’t want to spell it out in such unflattering terms, so I left it to him to draw that conclusion. )
“Oh. Ok.” He took in my lengthy explanation unfazed while the rest of the class watched intently, delighted with the commercial break. And with that cleared up, bent his head and they all returned to work.
What’s your power color? What’s the favorite thing you own in that hue?