Persistent Pink

For three consecutive days after the San Francisco Women’s March I dreamt in nothing but pink. The magenta nightmares began on the same evening I had returned from the demonstration to watch an old episode of Gossip Girl from the skewed vantage of a plaid Columbia sleeping bag on my friend’s family room floor; the episode was one entitled ‘You’ve Got Yale’ and featured an extra-dose of Dan Humphrey’s smoldering literary condescension, Blair Waldorf’s relatable headband-accompanied anxieties and the cameo by a particularly hideous Qing-dynasty-invocative jade pendant nestled over the chest of the still-self-hatred-instilling Serena Van der Woodsen.

What was significant about the episode was not the episode itself—fifty minutes of stale plot and cringe-inducing innuendos backset against lofty New York apartments—but was our response to the episode, which clarified at what we already knew: our world had been overcome by a most-demanding proximity to the color pink. It was the clearest of what had been weeks of similar such indications; though we joked about our having been radicalized by the election, the truth is that we had been radicalized, for we’d both lost an essential part of ourselves that night of the results, in the weeks which so surreally trailed behind it.  

Now, looking back at those three hot-pink horror dreams, at the waking fear they engendered, I can see that, more than anything else, they were a culmination of the misfortunes which had consumed the winter. They were horrible dreams to have endured, but they were also beautiful in that way anything of the most commandeering sort is, and in thinking of them now I rather admire them from this distance, with a retrospective awe, with the same spirit in which I taped to a notebook the intricate Asian wrapper which had once contained an after-dinner candy I’d cringed to have tasted.

They were outrageous dreams, overwhelmingly proportioned, but there also brigaded in them the most distinct clarity of fact; they were, like fun-house images, creatures built from and expanded upon a foundation of reality, which delivered to one the impression that one was walking backwards through a tableaux of Picasso canvases on which one’s own experiences had, as though mistaken for taffy, been irredeemably pulled into contortions simultaneously warped from and caught up in the realm of fact.

The first one came after we’d each crawled into the warmth of our respective sleeping bags; mine was the flattened caterpillar closer to the window, closer to the in-floor heater, beneath a stretch of blinds whose flimsy rectangular cloth was illuminated as cars returned home along the adjacent road. Before I fell into the nightmare I laid there beside my friend, my back uncomfortable against the floor, my legs sweating against the worn flannel plaid of the sleeping bags interior. It was quiet and warm in the room and there could be heard through the window the interminable sound of vehicular movement.

As I laid there I felt a certain solemnity, a sense of responsibility I couldn’t shake, and maybe it was because we’d participated in a movement en masse, or because I’d been helping my sister Olivia with her report on Ernest Hemingway, whose work she didn’t intend to read, that I got to thinking of our being like those men, of our feeling how he and Fitzgerald and hundreds, thousands of other young Americans had felt during that other time of conflict.

How when seventeen and eighteen year olds had taken their first full masculine strides in 1917 they’d been into regiment camps, and how we’d been forced into a similar situation, our having to have exerted control over and reverence for this cause of womanhood just as soon as we’d been acquainted with its fruits. I went to sleep forcibly, mistakenly thinking that sleep would be a respite from that kind of weight I felt lying there, and closed my eyes tightly and relaxed my arms and legs.

The dream began with my standing in between two hanging rectangles on racks like those they use to arrange rugs for viewing at Pottery Barn, suspended from the ceiling so you can walk as though through jungle ferns, between them in assessment, but these rectangles bore none of the store’s usual oatmeal or camel-colored grains; they were oversized renditions of hardware store paint swatches, football-field expanses of salmon, crepe and rose, monstrous lengths of fuscia, magenta and punch which overcame all but my most violent attempts to evade them. Somehow having escaped, I found myself sitting on a floor-model leather couch, watching others flips through the rectangles, calmly, as though through channels on TV, but the tranquility did not last, and after a few minutes of this most puzzling complacency addressed toward the monstrous swatches, I was outside of what seemed to be the façade of the Walnut Creek Pottery Barn.

I walked down a stretch of sidewalk, looking at the ground to escape the pink—for it was dusk-time, and a slice of lox had been drawn across the sky—but there was in the ground the polka-dots of walked-over gum, cinnamon gum the color of orthodontist’s paste, and visions of similar shades materialized before buildings instead of sale-signposted windows.

The bread-and-butterflies of Wonderland floated past me, re-made in the color of a bad prom dress and derived of a poetry submission I’d read the week before which had made a simile between the insect and a vagina; the fake-sweet taste of a morning, contained a particularly anorexic week, in which my mother had stood car keys clutched in hand until I finished a cup of strawberry yogurt pronounced itself on my tongue. My friend’s quip about her Essie nail polish looking like Dora’s shirt followed; as did an image of her sister, a freshman at Harvard, in which her thin side, in a pink flowered and pale lace-overlain shift dress, leaned against a prestigious wall of brick I had been terrified to have told myself I might never know.

I woke from the dream with the skid of a car outside: the sound of a high schooler sneaking home from a Bud Light-lubricated rendezvous which might as easily have been the sound of someone like the father of the family I babysit for, who wears corduroys, driving at command of Eastern time to work. When I emerged it was out of a plot of cherry blossom trees contained the parking lot near my school. I had been speed-walking in the dream, speed-walking to the location of my favorite coffee shop, but when I’d arrived I’d found only an empty parking lot packed with cracked concrete and fallen petals smelling of death and three fourths of a headline caught beneath the wheel of a BMW-X5 reading ‘CTED PRESIDENT.’

I went to the adjoining restroom and scrubbed the death smell of the petals out of my face, but even after accumulating cold droplets along my eyelashes and a damp spot on the rug I still smelled the smell, a rotting sweetness in my pores, and so I reached into the drawer and dabbed on a pool of cologne from a bottle belonging to her older brother, a brother I had never met, out of pure desperation to escape the scent.

* * *

The next morning, my friend and I talked, sitting up at breakfast. It was cool in the room and there was a harsh sunlight through the kitchen windows that returned my face starkly to me over the parallel cylinder of the refrigerator handle. When we talked I thought how everything seemed distant from that pink terror; an old Hemingway quote which said “the war seemed as far away as the football games of someone else’s college,” reminded me of how life itself felt then, at the breakfast table. All the other stuff of life, its contents, its colors, had faltered and folded against the persistence of that pink, so that even those most important hues had been rubbed out with the hard-flesh of that eraser.

Gone was the meaning in the orange block-print of my Princeton pullover; gone was the appreciation I’d had for the Facebook image Lauren had posted of her prom dress, a deep Stanford burgundy in lace she wanted to wear out of superstition. Gone, too, were the shades of that winter: the caramel suede of a pair of new Urban Outfitter pumps, the sun-assaulted olive slivers of iris within the face of the old family friend who I’d shared lunch and a fascination over ‘Manchester by the Sea’ with, the gold awards of the Scholastic results, all of which belonged to a kind of otherness and existed at a distance, in a different dimension, which is what Hemingway must have meant when he said that he was either with the war or away from it, and that whatever part he wasn’t with, home or war, he could see only through the lens of the surreal.

Apparently, I had been telling my friend about how my fear after the election had solidified like the fossilized Williams College towel at the bottom of my P.E. locker, which I’d forgotten there since swim week, and she’d replied, “The terrycloth one?” a response I had taken and warped. I had sworn she had said “The cherry blossoms?” because that’s how close we were, because there was something in her that had a comprehension of my hardship, an immediate recognition of my pain or fault, and I had assumed somehow that she’d shared the nightmare. But she hadn’t said it, after all. She had asked about a terrycloth fossil, an everyday anomaly which, even in after-effect of my terror, I’d managed somehow to have drawn a metaphor from.

* * *

I went home, and the consecutive pair of nightmares, which I received before the headboard of my own bed, followed. I toyed with and discarded the idea of hanging the shirt I’d worn to the march—a hideous highlighter pink thermal shirt from the Target kid’s section which, during that night, had acquired a paint stain from sign paint worn down by the rain that I’d taken to be a souvenir of unrest—above my desk, like a crucifixion of inequality or like a similarly tacked-up matador’s jacket I’d seen in a small-scale image in the New York Times Mansion section, the previous week. I read some. I took a difficult practice SAT.

Nestled in a row of paperbacks, at the end of my desk pressed intimately against the clear glass of a cheap desk-lamp was a portrait of Hemingway, age twenty-five, a dark, sturdy face, a face sure in its handsomeness, sure in its worth, which stared soberly at me from the circular shape of its frame. There was an arrogance in his face, an assurance, and though I admired him greatly, though I had often found respite in words for which he was responsible, there in that moment I could not stand him. I turned him face-down on his desk so that he might direct his smugness at my poorly assembled Ikea desk instead of my winter terror, and because I wanted to do something hard, to prove myself somehow to him, I took down a contained marked NAIL STUFF from the restroom cabinet.

When I returned half an hour later I could bear him. When I returned half an hour later it was smelling like a jewel-purple liquid and with a hideous polish titled ‘lapiz of luxury’ which had cost $9 at the local CVS in place of that unbearable seashell pink belonging to my own hands. I understood it was a stupid thing to do, a solution which neither fixed nor rectified and hardly aimed to, but it seemed to me a triumph, a small, orderly defiance against that pink’s persistence, against what had been a week and a month and an entire sum winter of chaos.