Thursday, November 1, 2012

Colour Blind

 I wanted to show avoidance in close relationships as well as never saying directly what happened. 

Our first date was his sister’s wake. We had planned to go to a movie. I arrived back from a week’s camping, just as Brad pulled up in his brown TR3.

There’s been a change of plans. I tried calling,” he told me.

“Come see Angela,” his mother said as we entered the funeral home. She looks so pretty.” The odour of flowers hung so heavily my eyes teared, but not for Angela whom I never met. It was my allergies to those big white lilies. 

His mother must have thought that I was her daughter’s friend. She never asked, not once in the 25 years I’ve known her.

Angela did look pretty with no marks showing from the knife wielded by some madman. She had a ceramic rosary draped in her hand. Christ wore a rose loin cloth. His skin was more lifelike than Angela’s.

A blanket of flowers hid the coffin. The casket lining and her blouse were the same dusty rose.

“Angela was allergic to flowers, but she loved them, “her mother said giving me something in common with her daughter. There would be more: our love of animals, folk music and reading obituaries in the daily paper. People even said we looked alike, although I never could see it.

“We’ve medicated mother, but not so much that she can’t function.” Brad propelled me to a chair. I watched him greet his family: cousins, dozen of cousins, aunts and uncles. He seemed so cool as if this were a wedding not a wake.

The undertaker, with an eye-liner slim mustache, slipped into the hall to replenish Kleenex. Through the babble I heard talk of police reports and how no clues were found, not even a fingerprint.

Angela’s mother had forbidden black. She was dressed in orange that clashed with her henna hair. Since her daughter loved colour, she wanted the wake to be colourful.

Angela’s father said nothing. He was hunched in a chair asleep. It was not grief. He had Alzheimer’s.

I wondered what I was doing there.

 Our second date, a month later was apple picking. We drove to Sudbury Farms near where the loosestrife goes on for miles of purple, but that was in August. This was late September. The loosestrife had turned golden. The sky was a shade of blue that if a painter used it, everyone would say, “That’s not the colour of any sky that I’ve ever seen.”

We needed pullovers. I wore the Irish knit that I’d bought on holiday in Dublin the previous year from the woman that knitted it. The double honeycomb stitch made it the warmest I’d ever owned.

Brad wore his Harvard sweater against the chill. Everyone calls Harvard’s colour crimson, though it really is closer to maroon. Harvard maroon doesn’t sound right.

Brad’s cheeks were pink from the cold. The Farmer Almanac had promised that we were in for the worse winter ever. They may have based it on the furry caterpillar who had extra legs or some other New England folklore tradition.

The apple trees were dwarfs and their leaves were still green, not like the red maples lining the orchard. The air smelled clean.

We brought baskets. Brad told me that he did that because he’d once brought paper bags and they’d broken. “I don’t like things to break,” he said.


Our third date was the movie Little Big Man shown at the Brattle Street Theater. Afterwards we walked around Harvard Square. He pointed to Holyoke Center with its large glass windows. “During a protest march last year, someone threw a stone. It hit the window. Shards kept falling. It took so long. It was so fascinating I kept a piece of the glass, as a memory. Angela teased me about it.”

We ate at La Pinata on the second floor over a store. The hallway leading to the entrance was yellow. Mexican bark paintings hung at regular intervals. Inside only one table was free next to the window overlooking the T’s car barn. We counted 16 parked trolleys, six red and 10 green. The car barn is gone, replaced by the Kennedy School of Government, where I now work as a secretary. After counting the cars, we planned our next date.

We got married on our fourth date by driving to Maryland and back. Planning it over enchiladas was more romantic than the long drive. The black of the highway was marked by the double white lie and the glare of the lights at the innumerable toll booths on the Garden State Parkway.

Brad’s family welcomed me. Everyone, except Brad, spent a lot of time going to The Families of Murder Victims Support Group meetings. Her father didn’t go and often called me Angela.


At first we crammed ourselves into a student apartment off Putnam Street where the plumbing clanked while Brad finished his doctorate in psychiatry. We did a lot of pot luck suppers with other students and argued about philosophy, politics, Vietnam. All topics were examined and re-examined. 

Most of our furniture, I scrounged from the trash or second hand shops. There are good memories, not bad. As an only child, whose parents died my senior year of high school, I loved being surrounded by a large family, friends and animals.

I was so proud when Brad graduated and walked across the stage in his bright red grown worn by all Hard Ph.D’s even if they called it crimson.

We had babies: one after another: boy, girl, boy, girl. Brad hated birth control. He was very Catholic. When the doctor gave me a hysterectomy after our fourth baby, Brad was so angry that he wanted to kill him. He only calmed down, after I cried.

Brad’s practice as a psychoanalyst grew. We bought a 100-year old house near Longfellow’s home. Sometimes when I took the kids for a walk with the dogs, I stopped at the cemetery to leave flowers on Angela’s grave.

While Brad used the bottom floor for his office, I redid the upper ones. I wonder what his patients thought when the saw me in surgical mask and heat gun kneeling on the stairs melting multi-coloured curls of paint from the oak wainscoting. Even the marble fireplaces had three layers of paint: green, pink and garish gold. Who’d paint a fireplace?

My father-in-law died. Everyone was glad. Towards the end, Brad’s mother had to have a male nurse to restrain him when he became violent. “At least I never had to put him in a home,” Brad’s mother told everyone at the funeral, just like she’d once said, “Come see Angela, she’s so pretty.”

We were a family cut from a magazine. Our two daughters wore red velvet dresses Christmases with white lacy tights and their long hair tied with holiday ribbons. Our sons played Little League.

My kitchen was the centre of the home. Sage, rosemary and other herbs from my garden hung from the beams running through the house. I smoked my own sausages in a shed out back that we ate with my home-made Annadama bread.

Brad was a strict disciplinarian. He often said, “What’s wrong with this country is kids don't have limits.” He did a lot with our kids. We went on walks, played games with them at the kitchen table. He patiently worked with Timmy through the exercises to help his dyslexia.

He wrote a book, How To Get Revenge in an Okay Way. It sold a million copies. My husband appeared on the Today and Good Morning America shows to talk about it.

When the kids grew, we sent them to Brown & Nichols rather than the Cambridge public schools. The house was empty during the day.

I started painting. The reality was that I wasn't very good, but I loved smearing colours on canvas. I only used oils, which were messier to clean, but the smell of turpentine pleased me more than the Shalimar Brad put in my Christmas stocking each year.

No one mocked my painting. No one ever mocked anyone in our house. On the rare occasion when it happened, Brad, the man who almost never lost his temper, would go white. I'd watch each of his muscles freeze. When a girl friend of mine teased him, (he said it was mocking) he walked out of the house. As he left he hit the wall. His nails tore the nutmeg wallpaper.

We converted the attic into a studio, doing most of the work ourselves. Brad installed five skylights saying he found working with his hands relaxing.


It was the anniversary of Angela's murder, although we no longer talked about it. His mother was coming for dinner. I wanted to finish painting before beginning the baked stuffed lobsters. Brad had gone to Hooks to buy them. The kids were at a school football game.

I was trying a new way of laying colour on my canvas. I'd been working with tones of rose, varying from light pink to dusty. I planned to add moss green later, but when Brad pushed his head into the attic there was only the rose. He stared, just stared, at the colour.

“I'll be down in about an hour,” I said. I had to say it twice before he heard. If I let myself think about it I might have wondered why he looked white or why his hand shook. Maybe that is only my imagination. Maybe it's hindsight.

People say animals know when something is wrong. Our cat, an orange tiger, shot from her seat in the rocker where she watched me paint. She meowed. She did that whenever she wanted my attention.

I followed her downstairs. They were still the original rough wood not like the tiles on my studio floor. They creaked. 

Our bedroom was at the opposite end of the corridor from the door leading to the attic. The floor was stained dark and there was a blood-red oriental runner the full length of the hall. Our peach wall-to-wall carpet could be seen through my half-open bedroom door -- as could Brad's feet suspended from the floor. 


My husband lay in the same place as his father and his sister only his casket's lining was soft blue. His mother had aged ten years since I saw her last.

“I don't understand the note,” she kept saying, “ 'I can't live any longer with what I did.' What did he mean?”

I put my arm around her. “We'll never know for sure,” I said, but I was sure I did.

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