CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: THE COLORS
I used to meditate all the time.
I’ve been writing in a beautiful leather journal that the Mother gave me every night before I fall asleep. Usually the first half is me arguing with the conclusion I made the previous night, but I think I’m getting somewhere now. I’m lying in the floor of the commune library half covered by the book fort I built a couple nights ago. I cheated a little by using a table for structural support, though you can barely see it now under all the books. It looks like a tiny literary castle, and I love it. I trace my finger over the words. I used to meditate all the time. A check mark beside them means I can add them to the list.
It took me two nights of bickering with myself to come up with the criteria for the list, though now it seems obvious. It’s comprised of things to which I have given time, energy, and thoughts under the following conditions:
1) Complete solitude
2) No documentation (no photos taken with intention of sharing the activity with others, no plans to relay the events to anyone afterward)
3) Relatively free from guilt or stress (this one was the reason behind most of the words that got marked out)
Satisfied that this one meets the criteria, I flip to the last page of the journal, headed with careful, neat l letters that spell out Who Am I? I add I meditate to the list, right under I am a painter. I pause for a moment, staring at this page. It takes a long time for me to realize what’s missing...there are no dates. I look back at the pages, trying to figure out what today is. I think it has been about two weeks since I was in Kala’s room, but I’m not sure. Somehow this feels like a good thing, so I resist the urge to figure it out.
After I nearly destroyed the Commune looking for something I didn’t even know how to define, I could feel myself sliding into numbness. For days I barely ate, even though the pantry is still full of the emergency food everyone decided to stock up on when the burnouts were announced. I really didn’t even move much. Eventually I began wandering the building and found myself in my old painting studio. I don’t know what made me pick up a brush. I always encouraged students to freely experiment, but I rarely started anything myself unless I already had an idea. Like I didn’t want to waste the paint if I wasn’t working toward something important. Maybe the difference this time was that I just didn’t care.
I squeezed the paint out from the bottom of the tubes in huge gobs just to watch the light reflect off the colors. I used every canvas and brush I could find, sometimes painting with my eyes closed. I could feel myself letting go of everything. It was as if all of the hurt had no other way to leave my body than through a paintbrush this whole time, and now that it had found the exit I couldn’t stop. I painted for days, stopping only when I could barely stand up any longer. I even started moving my things in here to the library where I’ve been sleeping so I can pick up a brush the moment I wake.
At first, I only wrote a few words each night, unable to stay awake for long after I laid down. After a week or so, I felt like my curiosity was begging for more time to think about what was happening, so I started trading my brush for a pen more often. This is one of those times; I’ve written so much this evening that my pen ran out of ink.
I’m rummaging through the bag the Mother gave me for a pen when I came across her notebook from our summer retreat two years ago. When I first realize what it is, I feel the familiar, painful knot creep back up in my throat. This was the retreat where Kala and I thought we were meeting Tok for the first time, totally unaware that we were strangers to the rest of them, too. I give in to the knot for a moment and can feel it pulling my energy down. I can almost see the room darkening with my mood.
“No”, I say firmly in my head, opening the journal in front of me.
I look toward the window where the echo came from, shaking off chills. I’ve only ever heard a thought echo in the Copy. I breathe deep until my nerves are calmed, feeling sure I just need to get some sleep. I lie down with the Mother’s notebook, flipping through the pages until I come to one I remember well, scribbled with words in different handwriting. My eyes grow heavy as I turn the journal around to read the words, remembering the time we all spent contributing to it.
I loved our retreats in the Circle. We designed them for the kids at first, but the adults ended up looking forward to them just as much. We all worked together to make sure we each had a restful, restorative experience while the little ones were taken care of, learning and having a good time. Sometimes one or more of the adults would stay back at the commune alone while the others pitched in to care for their child, allowing them to retreat alone if they needed it. The ones in the Circle split into two groups and took turns teaching and playing with the kids while the other group had time to relax and spend time together.
The night we wrote this page we had been sitting around the fire enjoying each other’s company and some wine, talking and laughing as we often did after the kids were asleep. We ended up passing the notebook around, adding ideas for some perfect world we were dreaming up, just like when we came up with the idea for the Commune. As I run my finger over each word, I can almost see the person’s face who wrote it illuminated by the campfire.
I fall asleep missing my family, and dream of color.
. . .
I wake to a faint scratching noise coming from the window that has persistently made its way into my dreams. I move the Mother’s retreat journal from my chest and crawl over the pile of other books and journals I fell asleep in. Scratching turns to tapping and back to scratching, growing louder as I tiptoe toward the window. My head is sure it’s just a mouse, but my heart is acting like it’s a bear. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see the noisemaker...a black crow is tapping on the glass with its beak and feet. It has a piece of paper in its mouth, and it almost looks like it is trying to wedge it under the window. I shiver again thinking of the Copy of the woods.
Breathe. This isn’t the copy. And he looks hurt.
I try to slide the window open just an inch, but it sticks and opens suddenly, allowing the crow to slip under it and fly a lap around the library before I realize what is happening. I open the window the rest of the way, grab a broom, and begin to chase it around the room. When it flies up into the high ceiling right above me, I give up and just stand there, watching it make a perfect circle above my head. The card the crow was holding falls from its beak as it flies out the window, repeating the echo I heard last night.
The card floats to the ground in slow motion, the breeze from the window nudging it across the room as it descends, finally landing at my feet.