Coloring in the Lines

I’m at my kitchen table, my washing machine on the wash cycle in a nearby room the only sound. My house smells of dinner – roasted vegetables and garlic, mostly. I take out a coloring book I bought this weekend. The page I choose is an intricate knotwork of vines and flowers, with a detailed lion’s head in the middle. I select the colored pencils I want to start with – all the greens, yellows, and oranges in my stuffed zippered bag – and I sharpen them one by one with my electric pencil sharpener. I can’t believe how excited I am to color in a coloring book.

I’m sitting for the first time since I got home from work, thankful the house is cooling down and appreciating the dusk breeze that’s flowing in from all the open doors and windows. I can feel it playing on my neck and the back of my hair. I relax. I select the green I’ll use for all the vines in the picture and carefully begin to fill in the tiny spaces between lines. I realize my tongue is out, like when I was a kid. And, suddenly, I’m four again.

I’m a tiny girl in a kitchen and I’m sitting next to my beloved, my beautiful, my favorite aunt, Sunny. She’s coloring in a coloring book and I’m watching her, rapt, exalted nearly at the way Sunny carefully outlines a flower in bold red, then uses the same red to fill in the edges of the petal around the center disk . She then takes another color – some shade complementary to the red she was just using – and lightly fills in the center of the petals. She continues the same pattern with other colors, mostly greens, and completes the picture. I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Eagerly, I grab a coloring book of my own. I take out some crayons, select my picture, and begin to color. But it’s a mess. Something isn’t right. I try to recreate what my aunt Sunny has done, but my picture is a mess and it’s ugly and I hate it. The colors are all wrong and despite my best efforts, the crayon markings have gone all outside the lines. I get very mad, bang my crayon on the table, and start to cry.

My aunt Sunny turns to me and puts her hand on my shoulder. “What’s the matter, Glory Bee?” she asks me calmly.

Through tears, I bawl, “It’s not fair! I want to color like you do, but my picture is ugly and yours isn’t and I tried and it’s not fair!” Then I cry harder.

My aunt Sunny tells me, almost with a laugh, but not a mocking one, “Oh, baby. I only do it better because I’ve been coloring longer than you have! By the time you’re my age, you’ll color just as good as I do. You just need to practice more.” She puts her arm around my waist and pulls me nearer to her and I instantly stop crying, mesmerized by how close this idol of a woman wants me to be to her. “Here, let’s practice together.” She opens my book to a new page, replaces my broken crayon with a new one, and then silently starts to color again.

I watch her for a moment. She’s back at magicking colors onto her page, just like before. She smells like sweat and something sweet and she has the prettiest face I’ve ever seen. She is (and always will be, until I’m a full grown woman) the bravest, strongest woman I’ve ever known and I feel nothing but safe when she’s around. Someday, she told me just now, I’m going to be able to do something, even if it’s just coloring, as well as she does. I pick up my crayon, turn to my page, and begin coloring again. Quietly. Peacefully. Smiling.

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