Gray: A Fugue In Three Parts

Published on October 16, 2016 by   ·   2 Comments



My landlord painted my steps.

She painted them gray.

Y SkyLike clouds – not the fluffy, friendly, animal-shaped ones that float through the sky on bright summer days.

The ragged, damp, misty ones that hang across the entirety of the sky, peppering the world with tiny droplets or a sluggish dampness.  Never enough for an umbrella, of course, but enough to require a regular cleaning of the glasses.

Gray is a terrible, awful color.

Gray is the color of depression.

When people talk about having the blues, they’re talking about sadness.

Sadness is blue.  It can be robin’s egg blue, or cerulean, or powder blue, or a deep navy.  It’s not fun, and it’s nothing to make light of, but it has its own vibrancy, and it has dimension.  Blue is transient.  It’s temporary.

It announces itself as a disruption to the regular routine.

GrayGray becomes the routine.

Gray isn’t a moment.

Gray is being asleep and sliding back into consciousness, pulling yourself up and parting the curtain to look at that murky, inescapable sky, hoping to see a change in the weather or, at the least, a break in the expanse.

But there is none.

Just that indefinable mass that is both everything and nothing.

Then you have to wake yourself up, and you have to plan your day.  You need a costume.  You need gear.

Yellow RainMaybe you but on a bright yellow rain slicker, grab a rainbow umbrella, try to fight off the gray with your own ray of artificial sunshine.

You don’t want others to see the gray so you try to wrap yourself in its opposite.

Or you give in and wrap yourself in gray and feel yourself disappear.

That’s the thing about gray – if you don’t see it yourself, it’s harder for you to see when someone else does.  You imagine that maybe they’re looking at sapphire or cornflower or azure or cobalt.  You don’t understand why they seem so disconnected, so distant.

So you shift away.  Baby steps at first, with furtive glances behind.  Eventually you hit your stride.

Gray breeds discomfort.  If you aren’t seeing it yourself, it doesn’t make for easy relationships with those who do.

And if you are seeing it, it can be hard to tell where yours ends and someone else’s begins.

Gray is disconnection.


BoothI’m at PF Chang’s and even though I’m a party of one they’ve seated me in one of those raised U-shaped booths so I either have to slide in and around to the middle and make it difficult for both me and the waitress, or I can sit on one side staring at the diners next door and looking like I’m perpetually waiting for someone to join.  Or like I’ve been stood up.

I don’t like the connotations, but I choose the latter.

In the next booth is a young couple.  I don’t really pay much attention to them until I hear a baby, and I look closer.  The man is in the center of the booth, staring straight forward and shoveling lo mein noodles into his mouth.  He’s wearing an Affliction tshirt and has a man bun so I’m inclined to dislike him anyway, but he’s so detached from the scene in front of him and I feel a little bubble of anger.

The woman is holding and bouncing the baby.  She’s talking to the man, saying something meant to appear light and breezy, but her laugh is a little thin and her smile is stretched a little too tight across her lips and it doesn’t quite make it all the way up to her eyes.

He throws her an occasional nod, turns his head toward her, then away, then forward again.

I’m irrationally angry.  I want to knock that sturdy fork and those noodles right out of his hand.  I really, really want to yell at him.  I imagine all the things I would say.

Lo Mein“Don’t you see that she’s trying?”

“Don’t you even see that she’s flailing, probably drowning?”

“Don’t you notice anything missing in her smile?”

“Don’t you hear that baby?  Your baby?”

“How can you be so distant?  That’s your child!  What do you want your child to think about you?  How do you want them to feel about you when they’re, say, 38 years old and their own smile doesn’t reach all the way to their eyes?”

And that’s when I realize that none of this is about him, or the thousand-yard stare, or the fussy baby, or the forced smile, or the fucking noodles, or any of it.

I don’t know fuck all about these people.  I don’t know how their days went.  What stresses they might be under. Whether they’re happy or not, most of the time.  What colors they see.

I’m not even sure what colors I see.  And I really, really wish that I could.

The next time I look, the baby is down on the seat between them; he’s looking down, talking softly, and his eyes are crinkling into a small but unselfconscious smile.


Moving between blue and gray is unpredictable.  When you’ve been gray for a long time, and things start to improve, blue can feel overwhelming.

It’s why so many people start taking antidepressants and then kill themselves.  Say what you want about gray, it does keep most of the really tricky emotional stuff tamped down, anesthetized.  Pick of that soggy blanket, and everything underneath is pink and raw.

Rain DropletsWhen gray recedes and blue settles in, it can plop right down on your chest, pressing on your lungs, an unfamiliar burden.

I’m not sure if my irrational anger sitting in a booth at PF Chang’s means that I’m working my way back up…or sliding back down.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks.  Well, it’s been a rough year, but the last few weeks have been especially challenging.  I’m feeling really tired.


I decide that sort of intense emotion must be a good sign.

I decide that being so analytical about it, being able to think my way around it, must be a good sign.

Still, I can’t say I’m not a little nervous.

I’m also a little nervous about the ending of this piece.  I want to have a nugget of wisdom to share, some fortune cookie life lesson to make this whole story have a point.

I don’t.

What I have is a whole long history of gray and a shitty couple of weeks and a voice underneath all of it that’s working overtime to remind me that things don’t have to be perfect, and that’s ok.  It doesn’t mean anything.  It doesn’t mean we have to go back.

No great life lessons, no moral of the story.

Sometimes the value of the story is just in the telling of it.

Cookie 2

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Readers Comments (2)
  1. Mom says:

    This made me so sad. I could tell you were off yesterday when we talked on the phone but I just don’t know how to help. I wish I could make everything better. I love you

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