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Sky Blue Pink

October 11, 2011

“Dad – Dad –Dad!”

The piping voice of Emily, our youngest daughter, was working its way to the front of the car, becoming more insistent with each passing mile marker.

“Dad – Dad –DAD!”

Three year olds never say “Dad” just once – nor do they end sentences with periods.  Always – always a question mark or an exclamation point.  Their energy can wear on you after a while; epecially so when you’ve been behind the wheel of a car for hours, crossing the dusty brown expanse of the Western United States known as the Mojave Desert.

“DAD – DAD– DAD!”

We’d taken to heading out to the desert on weekends in a futile attempt to escape what had become a failure on our part – a failure to integrate into the culture and rhythms of Southern California life.  My wife and I had been born and raised in the Midwest, and our perception of  California was warped by a lifetime of commercials and television shows. California was, in our naieve minds, an endless stretch of pristine beaches, palm trees, sunbathers and movie stars.  We were totally unprepared for the reality of 20+ million people packed into a smoggy, dusty, dirty, stinky bowl all telling each other they were living the Good Life.  California was, in fact, the antithesis of our upbringing; a barren wasteland of humanity in process of chewing us up and spitting us out like a date pit.  Nearing the end of our time here, we’d sought out the solitude of the monochromatic Mohjave.

Pigtails bobbed into sight via the rearview mirror.  Pauline, my wife, had given Emily miniature Pippi Longstocking pigtails ever since her hair was long enough to hold a rubber band.  The pigtails suited Emily’s personality – she was an endless font of energy, a rubber ball topped with blond hair and a sunny disposition.

“DAAAD!!!”

“What, Emily.”  My response was a flat affect. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in process of  sliding into depression.  I’d been successful so far in my adult life – married seven years, a nice house in the suburbs, two kids, two cars – promoted every year for the past four years…On the outside, everything looked ducky.  On the inside, I was dumping most of my energy into my career – and the family suffered for it.  I’d be gone for weeks at a time – the girls , Alicia and Emily, (Alicia was Emily’s older sister) were physically bigger and mastered new things upon each return.  I was missing out on a precious period; my subconscious picked up on it, but realization had not bubble to the surface.

“What’s your favorite color?”  Emily’s question was the quintessential philosphical query of  every three year old.  They see the world through fresh eyes, bright eyes – and they want to make sure their preferences are in line with the objects of their worship – Mom and Dad.

“Umm…I don’t have a favorite color, Emily.”

BZZZT.  Wrong answer. While truthful in response, in the primary color world of a kid  there HAS to be that one color which was adored above all other.  The easy way out, in retrospect, would have been to simply pick purple (60% of all kids aged 3-7 through the last 30 years pick either purple or it’s flavorful variant grape as their favorite) and been done with it.

“You HAVE to have a favorite color, Dad!”, her voice rising.  In her mind, the preference was an absolute must, like a social security number or a driver’s license.  To not have one was just plain wrong – like living on the set of a fuzzy black and white UHF  TV show.

“No, I don’t”. Strike two. “I have certain colors I like on certain things, like the blue of this car or the gray of your mother’s eyes”.  Trying to reason with a three year old is like trying to catch a ray of light, but I persisted.

“You HAVE to have a favorite color, Dad! – You HAVE to!”  She was beginning to wind herself up.  Emily was famous for these incredible 30 minute tantrums – some were so severe that I’d have to physically restrain her by holding her in my arms until she burnt up frustration.  I didn’t want that – it was late in the day, the shadows moving the browns and tans of the lower desert into grays and blacks – we wanted to get to the next stop, eat and catch some rest.  We were in fact running away, but we didn’t know what from – or to where.  We only knew we didn’t want to break stride, and an Emily tantrum would have upset the cadence.  Breaking that cadence would mean we’d have to start questioning our motives, our reasons for running, and the emptiness would catch up with us.  No – I had to figure out a way to quiet her…

‘Sky blue pink,” I heard myself blurt out.  Sky blue pink was an imaginary color, a metaphor my mother used to describe the impossible.  It didn’t exist, as anyone who lived in the black and white here and now can tell you, chasing it meant an eternity of looking.  I felt inwardly pleased, as I’d come up with a solution which was a non-solution; Emily would chew on that one for hours – until she found something else to jabber about.

“Ohh.”  The gambit had worked.  Emily grew quiet as she digested the information.  I caught a glimpse of her searching the horizon for an example of Dad’s favorite color amongst the deepening shadows of the evening desert.  I felt both pleased and guilty, for I had played a trick on a three year old – a little white lie to get her to shut up.  Ten minutes later, she was fast asleep.

*******************

It’s afternoon in the Dakotas; we’re hauling across the Northern Plains in a borrowed SUV towing a motorcycle cross country as part of one of the odd jobs I’d picked up to make ends meet.  We’d given up the house in California, moved back to Michigan to raise our children in a place that felt ‘right’, and ruined our credit in the process.  I’d chose to immerse myself in things mechanical, as the intricacies of moving metal kept my mind off the hole in my chest where pride used to reside.  Along the way, Pauline and I had discovered that things (which we’d coveted before) weren’t all that important – but we’d not quite internalized it just yet.

The day was beautiful; a wide expanse of clear blue sky for a roof and rolling amber waves of grain for a carpet.  The girls each took up their own seat in the gargantuan SUV and kept themselves quietly occupied. They had become well behaved in the three years since the desert trip; Emily had grown out of her pigails, but not her smile.

As we moved across the plain, we enountered a sea of sunflowers.  North Dakota is a major producer of sunflower seeds and oil, and we were mesmerized by the magnitude of the effort.  The blue brighness of the sky contrasted with the yellow of the seed crop – photogenic.  I pulled into a rest stop and pulled out a camera.  We were damn near flat broke – and we didn’t care.  What we did care about was capturing the moment; the picture still stands in mute testimony on our library shelf.

Hopped back in the SUV after the photo op and motored on.  Crossed into the Badlands in the late afternoon; the combination of golden grasses, deep crevasses, blue sky and purple shadows was surreal bordering on sublime.  Found myself drifting off the road more than once, as I was watching the secenery instead of where I was supposed to be going.

“Lookit, Dad – Lookit”!”  Emily was bouncing like a three year old again, finger nearly vibrating as she pointed to the horizon.

“What?”  I thought she may have spotted a herd of bison.

“Sky blue PIIINK!”  Her voice rising on the last syllable most matter-of-factly.

Huh?  I was dumbfounded.  What in the world is she talking about? She kept pointing.

“Up there!  Sky blue PINK!  Same syllable rise, as to say succintly the grass is green, the sky blue.

But…

It wasn’t.

At certain places, at certain times on this earth there exists a condition where a clear blue evening sky is interrupted by a few stray cirrus clouds.  Cirrus clouds, by their stratospheric nature, are comprised of ice crystals – having chosen to live their lives in     -50 deg F temperatures.  Therefore, these light,  feathery clouds are filled with a million million tiny prisms – capable of performing magical mystical things to ordinary sunlight when the sun is low in the sky and you’re in that one perfect place on God’s earth…

And we were.

And it was.

Perfect, that is.

I’m not gonna try to describe it – sufice it to say the combination of pink luminescence and pearly iridescence against a pale evening sky was sky blue pink.  You’re gonna have to go out and see for yourself some clear, but not quite so, summer evening.

Long moments went by before I was aware of anything other than the sight before me.  Emily had searched  half her life – for this.  She had accomplished the impossible – she’d found a color which didn’t exist.  Elated and ashamed, I could only agree with her, on the verge of tears.  “Yes, that’s it, Emily,” I said in a quiet voice, “Sky blue pink.”  I had to stop talking, as the next words would have come out broken and ruined the moment.

“Yup – sky blue pink.” She nodded in assent, as if this miracle of transient luminescent iridescent coloration was an everyday occurrence, like eating breakfast cereal.  I let her have the moment, after all, she had earned it.

Over a decade has passed.  Both daughters have chosen to become artists as they ‘see’ color differently than the average person. Pauline and I have moved to Key West.  I say it’s for the therapy of continuous heat and humidity, but secretly I know better.  You see, every evening when the sky is clear (or mostly so) we head down to Mallory square with the teeming throngs of turistas in hopes of catching not a green flash, but rather something equally as rare and twice as significant – for us, at least.  When we see it, we both repeat Emily’s refrain – as if to see it again for the first time.  It’s not often we do – but when we do, it resets the emotional clock like no other experience before or since.

Sky blue pink, indeed.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    October 11, 2011 7:43 am

    I think you have really captured one of those parental moments that stay in your active memory forever. My kids are younger than yours, and have mostly moved beyond the never ending stream of “why or what”, but will still drop the seemingly random “Dad, what was the biggest fish you ever caught?” or “Dad, if you could be a Pokemon, which one would you be?”

    Thanks for the past few days of stories. You have a wonderfully evocative style of writing.

    John

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 11, 2011 3:55 pm

      Thank you, John. Evocative…I’ll have to remember that.

  2. Grandma permalink
    October 11, 2011 8:51 am

    The term came from my father, who was born in South Dakota….So maybe he saw the sky in that color very often…..Love….

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      October 11, 2011 3:57 pm

      So the phrase flowed through at least four generations – resulting in an artist. We’re all connected.

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