‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’
- Mary Oliver
© 2016 Yara Zgheib All Rights Reserved
In a treatment center, in a sterile blue gown, a grown man sits cross-legged on the floor. In front of him, a white sheet of paper and a box of Crayola crayons. He rummages through the hundreds of colors and pulls out, one by one, Indigo, Wild Blue Yonder, Cornflower, Manatee. Navy Blue, Outer Space, Blue Violet, Blue Bell. Pacific, Sky, and Cadet Blue. Until Periwinkle, his favorite.
The smell of the Periwinkle dusts off a memory in a corner of his brain. He sees a little boy, in a room not unlike this, with another sheet of paper, another box of crayons.
The boy had been asked to draw what he wanted to be when he grew up. Forty-three years ago, the possibilities had been as many as the shades of blue in the box.
He wanted to be an artist, an explorer, a football-playing spy. A jockey slash veterinarian slash pilot in a fighter jet. He had drawn and colored in great hurry -in any minute, he could grow up- a violin-playing cowboy on a dragon against a Periwinkle sky.
The grown man had nearly forgotten that drawing and the little boy he had been. Until the box of Crayola crayons, the Periwinkle smell. Until this place where he was asked, again, to draw what he wanted to be. An impossible task, he wants to explain; he barely knows who he is. Still he digs his hand into the box once again and grabs a fistful of crayons.
Out come Wild Watermelon, Blush, Wild Strawberry, Cerise. Jazzberry Jam, Salmon, Cotton Candy. Crayons of white and custard and cream, called Almond, Banana Mania, Timberwolf. And then Dandelion, Sunglow, Canary, Lemon yellows, and Forest, Sea, Mountain Meadow greens.
Forty-three years ago colors had names. Each name had a story. Today colors were ballpoint pen blue, highlighter yellow, and track change red. Many other things had changed as well, since that little boy had grown up. Like counting and fairness, and the basic rules of math. In the grown up world, he had learned, numbers did not always add up.
Words had held different meanings when he was a little boy too. Good had meant good, truth was good too. Freedom and equality made him dream. He changed when he grew up, and the words changed too; good turned into stupid, wealth and worth became the same, justice turned into a relative pronoun, and different turned into bad.
The little boy had read comics and storybooks, watched scary movies when he wanted a thrill. Grown up, every morning, he read the paper and watched the news. They gave him nightmares, like a kid. He had conquered boredom with coloring crayons, now he conquered countries with drones. He had thrown pennies into rivers, now he placed them in bank accounts, and threw plastic in the rivers instead.
In forty-three years he had outgrown his clothes, his friends, his storybooks, his dreams. He had outgrown the little boy and his box of crayons: the artist, the astronaut, the spy or pilot in a fighter jet. He had grown up in such a hurry, delaying being till he was done. If the little boy could see him now, he probably would not want to grow up.
If he could do it over, he would wear out his clothes, rolling on grass and climbing trees, staining them with ice cream and the juice from plums and blackberries he would have picked. He would travel more places, see those places. Enjoy riding trains, getting lost. Be out more with friends, be more of a friend, eat less dinners alone. He would try harder for those dreams, less easily give up on the violin-playing cowboy. He would wear more blue, less brown and grey, color with every crayon in the box.
If he could do it over… Well, he was here. In a sterile room, in a sterile blue gown, cross-legged on the floor, staring at a white sheet of paper and a box of Crayola crayons. It was as good a place, a time, as any he supposed, to try this life again.
What did he want to be when he grew up? What if the assignment was wrong? What if instead he asked himself who he wanted to be?
He wanted to be a lamplighter, a park wanderer, a fairy-tale reader again. A bench sitting, book reading, people watcher on a Sunday. An evening pianist as the sky got darker in that melancholy hour after tea, then a jungle explorer who, for supper, had animal crackers and cocoa to drink.
He wanted to be a good father, good husband. A man who brought home flowers after work. An Indian who built tents for his children out of dining room chairs and sheets. A general who led toy soldiers on horses along the mounds and valleys of his son’s bed, then called his own father just because it was Tuesday and on the radio they were playing his song.
He wanted to be a morning whistler, a pancake flipper, a windowsill reader if it rained. He wanted to get lost in a meadow, pitch a tent at dusk. Try every crayon in that coloring box till he matched the blue of the sky.
Indigo, Wild Blue Yonder, Cornflower, Manatee. Navy Blue, Outer Space, Blue Violet, Blue Bell. Pacific, Sky, and Cadet Blue. And then a treasure chest of reds.
He had forty-three years of color to make up. He would start with Periwinkle today.