Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • The first Rothko I saw was a poster, a print, in the kitchen at work. The painting therein seemed a giant block of color, nothing more, nothing less, and I didn't get it.

    Years later, at the Tate Modern in London, all warm, dim and calm, something shifted in me. Sitting there on the bench, seeing a Rothko painting with my own eyes – larger than life – I found that it wasn't a block of color at all. Subtle yet deep, intense and solemn, the colors I saw, the maroon, dark red and black, were made up of all the layers of color the artist had put to canvas.

    Last week, I came home from a trip to Kenya and Tanzania, a trip in three parts that seemed to stretch on forever. I've told stories of the trip and the things I have seen.

    "The highlights," people beg. "What was your favorite part? What did you do? What did you see?"

    And all of these things help shape the color of me. More than that, though, there are layers that some people will never know.

    Walking to work, I remember the touch of a tortoise's neck. Soft and papery yet strong, so strong, like kid leather or the feel of my grandmother's cheek as she lay dying. Her eyes bright and unfocused as the world slept, I sat by her side, hand on her fevered face and prayed for peace. Amongst the tortoises, I half expected the smell of her, the ylang ylang undertones of the Estée Lauder she favored.

    I think of the buffalo I passed when I wanted to die and eating gummy candy shaped like (and called) big feet. The drone of a mosquito near my ear, inside the netting that clouded the world to keep me safe. Jetlag and insomnia with a book and a storm inside the net in the darkness of night. Lanterns on the doorstep. Writing in the dark.

    Boys playing football shout "no way!" to keep us from heading toward a dead end and stumbling upon the same street several days later. A soft kiss. A heavy door. The feel of the sand crumbling underfoot. Anti-American graffiti. Liberated women at dinner who couldn't understand why I wasn't married with children. None of these things will make my story of the trip, the things I tell people when they ask for the highlights, but they have settled deep in my soul and changed the color of me.

    We're all made up of layers, of stories and details, of the things we ate for lunch every day growing up – peanut butter, bologna, soup in a thermos. We're the stories we read as children and the stories we tell as adults.

    Somewhere deep inside me, there's a layer devoted completely to the fact that I'd rank Empire Records and Sixteen Candles with Reservoir Dogs in my top five films.

    We're made up of the people we've loved and the people we've stopped loving and the times that we wondered if we'd ever love at all.

    There's a layer in me dedicated to the Rothko room at the Tate Modern and the fact I was there because I'd flown to the city to see a play for which I didn't have tickets and another layer to the fact I grew up poor and somehow became someone who'd fly to London to see a play for which I didn't have tickets.

    We're all like that. Layered, at least, if not crazy. And the colors we see when we look at ourselves and each other are made up of so much more than we see. With Rothko, it's really only at the edges that individual colors appear. With people, I'm not sure. We may never see them.
    • Share

    Connected stories:

About

Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.