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« I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead In Black: Part Two | Main | get going: part two »

I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead In Black

I’m already grieving I’m going to die.  Every time I take a nap. It feels like a practice run. But whether I'm supine or vertical, I wouldn't be caught dead in black. Which means at my brother’s funeral, March 14, 1989, I show up in fuchsia, purple and pink. Watch his 41-year old AIDS ravaged body take permanent residency inside the earth.  Our Hansel and Gretel bond, over. I’m 44, wondering, without him, what's going to become of me. Though his passing’s predicted; I go into some kind of shock.

My father’s blowing his nose.  I see tears running down his cheeks. It's like I'm watching a sphinx cry. Then he gives me this directive.  “Go over and comfort mother." I get irritated. Neither my mother nor father visit their son when he's in the hospital. I'm there. They're afraid. He never tells them the truth. They never know how sick he is. I say, “Go fuck yourself, dad. You do it. Who's taking care of me? ” Setting my father to wonder, “What kind of word is that to use on a day like today?” I say, “A fricative.The f sound releases air between the lips; I’m testing if it reduces tension. I could go down.  

I do not. By dint of will, in a week''s time, I’m holding a microphone, with a chord attached to the dashboard of a coach; about to introduce myself and talk about New York. I’m a sightseeing guide for 39 years. Freelance. When before I utter a sound, a woman wearing periwinkle, sitting in the back shouts , “May I have a word with you. It’s urgent.”     

Startled, I rush to her side. She says, “I’m a Color Me Beautiful Specialist, wanting to tell you at no charge, what people pay me big bucks to hear.  We each have our own seasonal palette. I’m a summer. See me in this blue violet. But when I look at you, in dark green, dark gray and navy blue, with those silver accessories, I determine you've no clue as to who you are. You are not a winter. This color mix drains you of your life force. I sense you've got plenty. But today, you look like a talking corpse."

I say, "That may be possible. My brother's passed away. We were close." She says, "Lucky you, but you're among the living. With an abundance of golden tones. Your eyes. Teeth. Skin. Say yellow.   You’re an autumn. Look at this book. See that fall leaf. l stake my reputation; orange will take you where you want to go." Leaving me fascinated. The only color I don't like is black.Mesmerized by the attention and direction she's offering, I'm reminded of my brother. He with his daily reassurance, "You're an original thinker. Who cares what other people do. Go inside yourself. Trust your gut."

Then when the tour's over, I implement what she tells me, ransack my closet and my jewelry box, throwing out bags of stuff. Matching color to mood. Doing this for years, I arrive at 74, capable of representing myself. In gold earrings, yellow, red and orange on my body, on my feet pink and green flowered boots.It’s Wednesday, December 5, 2018. I've finished watching “Eating Animals,” a documentary about the conditions in the pig, poultry and cattle industry. I'm eating lunch with others in the audience. Our first dish,  Frank's free-range turkey. He's featured in the movie. It pains him to sell any member of his flock. Then I go over to a  thirty something fellow in royal blue, I say, “You’ve the most hair I’ve ever seen on any one person.” He laughs. His name's Adam. He's Canadian.

His eyes drift downward. He's checking me out. He grows animated. Mentions his girlfriend Caroline. Here on a student visa, studying documentary film making at the New School. She couldn't make this event. She's out scouting for the person for her twenty minute video, which she must complete in order to get her Graduate Certificate. She's got a theme. How color alters behavior.  She's proven her point. Having clients of a men's shelter paint their walls their favorite blues and greens. The counselor reporting, "all they do is smile." This Tuesday she has to show something to her professor. He asks, "Would you be interested?" I say, “ Yes. Tell her to look at my Instagram feed, clothing is character."    

Caroline texts the next day. Saturday she shows up. She's wearing rust and mustard. With her, an Australian classmate. She's in black and white. As Caroline sets up the tripod, her associate attaches a mic to my bra, telling me she learns this as an assistant dresser on a tv show. I say, “The only Australian one I know, ‘The Doctor Blake Mysteries.” She says, "That's it." Then I ask Caroline, "What does Adam say to you when he gets home?" She says, “ Nothing. I’m watching Fabulous Fashionistas. It's about older British women who dress to the hilt, vowing to live out loud. He knows I’ll take any one of them at any age who's doing that. I look up. He gives me your card." 

As the camera rolls, Caroline instructs. “Say anything. I'm looking for a story-line." I begin. “My friend‘s cancer returns. In three months she'll be dead. I'm filled with rage. Too many of my friends have left before their time. All I want to do is die right when I've exhausted my potential. My brother didn't get the chance. I'd have given him my kidney. Orange saves my life. I’d talk to a rock about color, if I’d get a response.”  

Caroline’s eyes fill with tears. She says, “My brother Blake dies January 2, 2018. He’s 27. I’m 32. We made films together.  He’d do camera work and editing. I’d do production. As a test, I learn his job. My bone marrow gives him time. Orange is my favorite color.” 

I go over. Give her a hug.  Tell her she'll never get over it. Not to listen to what anyone else says. All your creative work will be predicated on this loss. What happens next: we uncover we're of the same mind. Easy for us to collaborate. We make a documentary. It's called "Falling Forward" which means, if you wish to grow that's the way to go. When we finish, we're rewarded. Inside the other we find the sister we never had. Sibling-surprise. I'd proclaim. Though emotionally, she's older.     

“Falling Forward,” appearing in "Truth Be Told," the 13th annual New School’s documentary festival. May 23, 7 pm, New School Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street. Free. Reception to follow. Reservations Eventbrite.

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Reader Comments (10)

What a beautiful, poignant and meaningful story. I couldn’t stop reading it. If I were in the country I would be there tonight . See you very soon. Xox

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Marin

Wow, Jane, so MUCH in here. Definitely one of your best posts--maybe THE best. Will re-read this later today. It says so much.

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDen Adler

You are brilliant and always have been. I can't be there tonight, but I really wish I could. When I write my book about living in South Jersey, I will send the manuscript to you first. you are Orange. -- all the very best to you

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnita Cali

A new friendship of two kindred souls, how beautiful and wonderful that you met and collaborated. What a match you are. You will wow the crowd tonight with your joint venture which speaks from the heart. Bravo.

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjudyl

I love the older British women who vow to "live out loud". What a great concept, and that's exactly what you do.

I hope you never exhaust your potential. Live on in orange!

See you soon.

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMax Nobbe

I was just thinking about you yesterday. Now today the post. Great minds...

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterlaurel johnson

Very moved by this post Jane. It especially hit home to me because I had a chance to visit your brother while he was still in the hospital and had the amazing strength to turn things around and give me personal advice! Take care and we always know you as the cousin who brings color into our lives!

May 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterElliot Marx

So glad for you that your life is coming together so well.
Beautifully expressed!
Wishing you continued blessing on your journey.
Sorry I couldn't attend your film. Is there another way to view it?

May 24, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I love your experience for life.
Miss You

May 25, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzy

What a wonderful tribute. In awe of you and Caroline and the art you’ve created together.

May 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterErin

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