(My friend Sarah and I share weekly writing prompts, just a simple word or phrase to get us started. This piece was written for the prompt “Blue”.)
I did not like school growing up. Socially and scholastically I had it easy, but it was the very building I resented: The stained drop ceiling, the scuffed-up laminate floors, the artificial light, the off-white walls, the bells moving us like mice in a laboratory…
Occasionally the hate would turn to fear on rainy days when they wouldn’t let us outside. Elevators, caves, stories of crypts and coffins- At some point I developed a fear of them all, of being trapped, of running out of room and out of air.
Yet there were windows, here and there.
My favorite class was art. The eccentric teacher successfully enforced a reigning quiet over the classroom. The purpose was batty (something about the creative muses inside) but the silence, I must admit, was glorious. The pressure to perform, to be funny and smart, stopped for 45 minutes as we did whatever strange project Mrs. Hanberry had prepared for us. A paper-mache jellyfish, self portraits in pastels and ethereal watercolors all confirmed her suspicion that she alone was left in a world devoid of talent.
I remember one day in particular so well. We were drawing landscapes. I was using an azure pencil for the sky. I was sad, I remember, and the bright sky on my paper seemed otherworldly. I’m not sure if it had been raining, or if I had to study in the library during outside break or if I was just melancholy, but the sky in my picture was distant and inaccessible, as a departed and beloved friend. “Heaven is everywhere at home, the big blue cap that always fits”, I would read in later years. But it did not seem to fit this school-room and I was homesick.
“Sarah! What is that!”, shrieked Mrs. Hanberry from behind me.
I jumped. (We all did I guess.) She was pointing at my paper.
“It’s the sky”, I said stupidly.
She held it up for all to see:
“This is exactly what you shouldn’t do children. The sky is not blue! The sky is many colors. You must learn to see as an artist. Stop thinking simply. Look at the color wheel! Blue is a mix of purple and green. Nothing is just one color.”
She might have said more, but that was the gist of it. I wasn’t embarrassed, just confused. I wasn’t a child opposed to arguing, even with teachers, if I was right. But was I? Did I remember the sky as it was? Was the brilliant blue I imagined nothing more than just that?
I looked wonderingly toward the blinds as the filtered light came in. She caught my gaze, walked toward them, and with one confident bold yank pulled them up.
The sky was the most idyllic radiant blue. It was the high heaven, the aged firmament, the vaulted welkin; cloudless, forever and brazen blue.
That day I learned: Blue is a color all it’s own, and it can laugh like a classroom of children and smile through many storms.