My sister is named after a symbol of reconciliation, I after a conqueror. We used to have these little framed name explanations, which wore our respective swathes of the English language in large lettering and featured in smaller font an analysis of the letters origins and meaning below, but we are older now and having moved from the house where they were ours to two houses afterwards and a deal of room rearranging in between, those plaques are gone. Now we have the internet, which confirms the same analysis, and the seventeen-year-old traits which confirm that she is appeasing where I stand steady, hesitant to action where I am quick.
The color her name carries is one which originated in forests, has been usurped by J-Crew field jackets, and is found folded into Greek dolmas, one of my mother’s favorite foods.
While her name carries two ironies—the color my mother likes to eat but not to wear, the ordinariness which rebels against my father’s motive that his child escape the burden of the defining last initial—its associated colors is the minor of these paired faults.
Despite the tact the color has for fostering resistance from my mother—against a certain pair of olive green leggings with a $99 price tag, a cardigan the color of Connecticut trees—the hue encourages in me no rebellion, and carries for me no connotation but that of tranquility. I understand it as holding an openness as well as a sturdiness, a frank and unapologetic neutrality which against red’s combativeness or blue’s sorrow presents itself as a respite. Before this week, I hadn’t thought much about it, but a green apple colored Saint Patrick’s Day envelope and an email from Trinity College Dublin succeeded in heralding the color, and the purported claim to it my heritage entitles, back to me.
As a child, I lived in a green land, an effective Ireland away from Ireland which is that Emerald Isle mock-up west of Manhattan. The kids and families I knew in Westchester were Irish, having police and firemen fathers, Sunday CCD classes, step-dance performances which I attended with some ire and at which I ate sheet cake with cheap frosting; when my AP United States history textbook told me this year that there are more Irish in New York than in Ireland—
a fact which left many of my classmates at a crossroads of incredulous and dumbfounded—I was unsurprised.
I’d known that 70 million, shared with them cups of goldfish, carpet space, Headless Horseman and pumpkin painted murals. When my father’s promotion at Microsoft pulled me away from that green land, it pulled me into another. Around the time of our move my parents broke the news to Olivia and me with a glossy Fodor’s travel book on whose cover was a slice of the Golden Gate. While Olivia cried over the move, I was appeased with the prospect of the new greenness represented in the glossy pages of Fodor’s guide to the Bay Area; where she saw an allied area she’d be leaving, I saw an opportunity, a place in which a new ten by ten space, a bedroom with austere 1970s slide windows and carpeting the color of pale oatmeal could be called my own.
The green in California was a bright one. Unlike the dense representation the color bore in New York—green around Rockefeller stone fences, fields against brick facades and decrepit headstones, against complacent gray Hudson water—its western claim was newer, more vibrant.
That vibrancy seemed to make sense; with buildings rooted in the 50’s and not the 1600 and 1700s, the culture was fresher. As January and February pounded on the window panes in 2008, our lives were born new with the rain so that our stake to that emerald region appeared a title approved with christening.
In that winter of rain everything was green, the fat-leafed trees which shook outside the rental house windows—a phenomenon I watched as we slept on Colman air mattresses and an entertainment I interchanged hour by hour with a kit I’d been given for crafting animals from pom-poms and glue—half of the name in that stop sign game we played in Friday play practices, the wrapper color of the chocolate mints which accompanied the check at our favorite restaurant.
This spring the color overpowers as thoroughly as it did in ’08; an apple green envelope waits for me on the counter, a forest of Starbucks drink straws enables my academic performance, the backdrop of a photograph of Audrey Hepburn, this a dimly-lit emerald, whose accompanying sounds, the haunting croon of “Moon River” had brought my friend and I back to where we used to be, the dish-soap clarity which sloshes in my father’s eyes which appears when they narrow in disappointment and in anger.
Like on the deciphering of Olivia and my names, the internet too has input as to the color’s application and significance; “The precious gemstone emerald is a member of the beryl family” I am told. “And what makes a beryl an emerald is the presence of chromium—the source of the brilliant green hue.” An unreliable-looking website reports that “the message you send my driving a vehicle that is dark green” is “traditional, trustworthy, well-balanced.” Another internet source reports that “Green is one color that means “low” or “guarded” in the color-coded threat system established by presidential order in March 2002” which “informs law enforcement agencies when intelligence indicates a change in the terrorist threat facing the United States.”
Another website reports that in Japan, where the popularity of jade abounds, “green is regarded as the color of eternal life,” a parallel between my friend’s culture and my own which, as we listen to Hepburn’s warble rocking against the kitchen table we’ve dubbed the communist work station, manifests itself as a lovely reconciliatory reinforcement.
I think about how green represents a low terrorist threat for the province of D.C., which is true to the color’s meaning, how its use in the wires with which they attach daisy chains of bombs in the graham-cracker colored desert of Iraq which I read about in this week’s novel is not. I watch as my sister runs our dog in circles around the house, as the burgundy cotton which belongs to the shirt she stole that morning from my room flaps against her back, and think, uncharacteristically, that I should do other than lament over and seek to punish the menial act of theft.
Instead of channel my namesake, the man who lost no battle except death, who wore sandals and determination and once solved an impossible knot with the movement of a sword, I think of hers, fitting my mind around its connotations like fingers around a bead, feeling its shape, that sprig of the United Nations blue logo, the subject of Byron’s stanzas, the myth of Apollo passing a plant scrap to Hermes in forgiveness of a squabble over a lyre and stolen cattle.
Instead of remember admired stubbornness, a friend’s week in a certain royal blue cashmere sweater, I conjure the calm, if not exceptional beauty of Hepburn’s voice against that photograph in which I had looked close enough to find the grain, which espouses that our ends, despite our varied means and approaches, are one and the same. Instead of debate, a response with which I am acquainted well, I obsetricate an olive branch. “Hey Liv,” I say, over the box of Annie’s Organic I’ve extracted, this Saturday at home, from the cabinet, “You want some mac and cheese?” She agrees.