I am at home in the dark.
When I was a child, I woke up in a room colored with blood and death. It was a common occurrence—my sister got to remodel our bedroom. She chose black, white, and crimson for her color scheme, and I had no vote in how it looked. Granted, I was in elementary school and she was a teenager, but it rankled. To make matters worse, my other sister crocheted two granny square afghans for our beds in those colors. She put hours of labor into them, and I had to be grateful for something I wanted to burn. I slept under blood-red roses and pretended to like it.
When I was eighteen, my crocheting sister moved into her own apartment leaving an empty room. My remaining sister told me, “You’re not getting my room.”
I told her, “I don’t want it. I hate this room.” My reaction was quick, sharp, and fierce. I detailed the things I loathed: the glossy white wallpaper, the four-inch high black fleur-de-lis that reminded me of skulls, the mismatched red carpet, the starkness of the decor. I said everything I had suppressed for years, and she was astounded.
I redecorated my new room with a lavender carpet and floral print wallpaper in pinks and purples. My other sister made an afghan and pillow shams in pastel colors. I left the stark cavern of blood and sacrifice for sunlight, wildflowers, and two windows. As a bonus, one of those windows led to a flat roof where I sometimes sat watching stars and firework displays.
I don’t object to the dark. I believe the best dark comes from the light. My husband and I would go with his parents to their summer home. The area was rural. In the evening, so many stars shone down on us, I felt like I was under a benign observation. "Oh, look at the little human sitting on the steps." Inside the house, the coal fire would burn down. Our bed was behind the stove and we watched the reflection on the wood floor fade.
Power outages are a special pleasure. My husband lights the oil lamps, and I bask on the warmth of the light and life becomes slower, quieter. I sit on the steps leading to the bottom floor of our house and talk to him or to our sons. Our voices grow softer, and sometimes more tender, and we speak about the beauty of lantern light. Our time becomes more meditative, and following the world outside seems a paltry way to spend our time when we have one another.
In our first house, the couch was between the television and the wood stove. Sometimes we turned off the TV set and watched the fire burn. Compared to the programming on the idiot box, the fire was more satisfying to observe.
Our environments reveal who we are. My sister is largely the same as she was before. She wears her bling and paints her nails, and remains an Aerosmith mega fan. She’s been married for thirty-seven years and has two grown children. Her husband loves her, and her home is comfortable. But while she has happiness, I doubt she knows peace. She is a woman accustomed to the harsh dark, who does not understand the marvel of the gloaming.
The best dark comes from the light found in sunrises and sunsets, dusks and dawns, bonfires and outdoor concerts, oil lamps and flame. The tablets and cell phones, stop lights and floodlights, provide neither shelter nor warmth. Such lights allow us to see, but offer no rest.
I began my day dressed in red and navy, cobalt and lavender, mint and sage and Kelly green. I love pastels and bright things, but savor them more because of the dark. In the evening, I am no longer my clothing, my colors, my fashion choices; they are put away and only I remain. In the morning, all is fresh and delightful. My jeans and tee shirts, capris and sneakers come out of my dresser and I clothe myself to reflect the joy in the new beginning.
When my father died in 1980, I wore my Kelly green dress to the funeral. It was the only dress I had. When my mum died in 2015, I purchased another Kelly green dress. In a sea of black and navy blue, I was the brightest spot.
I want to be bright, to be filled with joy and gratitude. I live for the light. Yet the dark is soothing and restful. It is sinuous, wrapping around me like a quilt, a friend who lets me ease my heart during trial and disappointment. Without it, I cannot be bright. Only with darkness can I be my true self.