By Emily Miller
When I was young, my mother decided that pink was my favorite color. She decorated my room from floor to ceiling in the prettiest pink she could find, the same shade as her carefully applied nail polish. She told me that it reminded her of the way my cheeks flushed whenever I threw my head back in laughter. To me, pink was the color of another sunrise on the way to the children’s hospital, the color of the medicine with the taste of pseudo bubblegum, the color of rashes found underneath bandages that went unchanged for too long. To her, pink was the color of a new baby girl. To me, pink was the color of embarrassment.
When I got a little older, I decided that I preferred purple. My mother told me this was a good choice. It reminded her of the sunsets we watched from the kitchen window. It reminded her of the grapes she’d bring me—“A good source of antioxidants,” she’d say. It reminded her of the lilac plant in the back yard, how nice the house smelled when we brought a branch inside. To me, purple was the color of the capsules that made me dizzy, of bruises hidden under sleeves, of veins that could be traced along my skin like spiderwebs. To her, purple was the color of refreshment. To me, purple was the color of mysteries.
After a few years, I decided red was better. My mother told me this was okay. It reminded her of the fresh roses that I’d leave in her vase every week. It reminded her of the strawberries we’d eat together. It reminded her of the red lipstick she’d worn with a smile when she was younger and bolder. To me, red was the color of bloody bandages, of ambulances, of bloodshot eyes after too many nights spent wide awake. To her, red was the color of passion. To me, red was the color of anger.
When my favorite color shifted again, I felt that green was better suited for me. My mother told me that there were worse colors to choose. It reminded her of the trees that gave us shade along our property. It reminded her of the garden hose she used for our flower bed. It reminded her of the cucumbers we ate to cool down on sweltering summer afternoons. To me, green was the color of the dewy morning grass that left hives on my skin when I slept outside, of stomach-turning tea meant to make me healthier, of dirty money needed to pay hospital bills and loans stretching back years. To her, green was the color of energy. To me, green was the color of envy.
When I became a teenager, I told people that black was my favorite color. My mother told me this was a poor choice. It reminded her of quiet, still rooms. It reminded her of nights of peacefulness. It reminded her of cups of bitter morning coffee. To me, black was the color of burning ashes, of cold and unexpectedly heavy guns, of trash bags filled with belongings. To her, black was the color of serenity. To me, black was the color of everything and nothing at the same time.
After I grew through that phase, I thought that yellow seemed like an appropriate favorite color. My mother thought it was a bit vibrant but was relieved to see the change. It reminded her of warm sunshine dancing along her skin. It reminded her of the dandelions I used to bring her from the yard. It reminded her of the sweet lemonade I’d make when she could have it. To me, yellow was the color of the raincoat I wore when I walked to and from school, the color of pale sticky notes left inside textbooks, the color of vibrant highlighter throughout my notes. To us, yellow was the color of hope.
As I approached adulthood, I decided that blue was my favorite. My mother was relieved to hear this, as it was hers too. It reminded her of flowing water. It reminded her of clear skies. It reminded her of my eyes. To me, blue became the color of the nightgowns I had to clear from the hospital drawers, of the prayer cards that people carried around at the funeral, and of the abundance of condolence flowers that I was allergic to. To me, blue became a color of sadness.
I’ve found it difficult to move on from blue. It was the last color I was able to talk to my mother about, so it’s stuck with me over the last couple of years. I’ve found the time to appreciate other colors of course, like orange, which reminds me of citrus room spray, of goldfish, of butterflies, of the color of excitement. Or white, which reminds me of clouds, of toothful grins, and of dandelions that I blow wishes into, the color of safety. But blue isn’t always a color of sadness, sometimes it’s sentimentality, or nostalgia. I know that colors mean different things to different people.
Maybe it’s hard to choose just one, and maybe we don’t really have to. All the colors remind me of different memories, and I hold all of them close to me, even the difficult ones. So, choosing a singular color seems almost unfair. But if anyone asks me about it, I’ll simply say blue. It reminds me of flowing water. It reminds me of clear skies. It reminds me of my mother’s eyes.