Nonfiction by Jasmine Griffin
My favorite color has always been blue. Never really mattered the shade, whether it was so dark it was almost black or mixed with green like the ocean or the kind of blue so light it was barely present, like the hue my grandmother always claimed stopped the skin of an elephant from being completely gray. Said it was her spirit animal, the elephant: big, loud and blue gray.
When I got the call that she was hospitalized, the sky was blue. Clear. Barely a cloud in sight. I was at work. It was midday. I left. Shocked. Frantic. Crying. A coworker drove me. He talked. Don’t remember what was said. I wasn’t listening. Just stared at the sky until the car stopped. Then I ran. Ran until I saw my mother, my siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Other family members I barely knew. Hugging. Kissing. Murmuring meaningless words of comfort. It felt like a wake in the waiting room. Outside the sun shone.
The blue sky faded as the night came, giving way to the darkness slowly as our hope gave way to darker thoughts. The blue of the sky, thinning and disappearing as the hours passed. My aunt prayed. The sun set. No answer from God, or maybe just one we didn’t want to hear. My uncle blamed himself. My grandfather went in and out of awareness, his memory following the sun’s path down the sky. Was his wife in the hospital or his mother? He couldn’t keep it straight. My sister couldn’t stop crying. I was supposed to stay strong. I didn’t.
I said little. My mind kept bringing me back to times before, before the hospital, before the pain. I was remembering bits and pieces of things. My grandmother’s smile, her teeth missing in the front. Her favorite color, yellow, bright and warm, opposing the cool and calm of my blue. She never minded it when I was quiet. I was quiet, stuck in my own head, thinking about everything and nothing. Most of the time I was daydreaming. She never faulted me for it. She was able to fill the silence, with this tale or that story or a bible verse. But I never felt bad about my silence when I was near her. I hated my silence that day. I wished that I could find the words to make things right for everyone. There were none.
I held my sister. Held my mother. My brothers said nothing. Their silence was more surprising than mine. They had always been loud. Their solemn mood made it all that much more real.
The mask over my grandmother’s face prevented her from speaking. So she touched. Laid her hands on our hands. I remember long acrylic nails still shiny with gold polish. Where I had always bitten my nails, she kept hers painted.
She spoke to us with her eyes. I had always been good at reading her expressions. “Love you, baby,” she said, her voice in my head. Day turned to night, blue into black.
Blue left the sky and showed up in other places. In the blue bruises that dotted her skin. Her arms. Her legs. Her chest. Blue became the color of pain. Blue became the color of the lights that flashed over the door to her hospital room the first time her heart stopped beating. Code blue. Cold blue.
Faceless people in scrubs ran in. “Clear the room,” they ordered. We shuffled out into the hallway, arms around each other. We grabbed ahold of the closest person, didn’t matter who it was. We watched from outside. Looking in through the glass. She was an animal on display. An elephant in a cage. Counting down. Clear. No pulse.
The light, that damn light, flashed on and off and on and off and on and off faster than any staff could run. Faster than we could back away to keep from seeing. It had the nerve to be a pretty shade of blue, light like the sky when the sun is at its peak. Bright as it flashed over and over and over.
My eyes were fixed on it as I listened to the sounds around me. My family’s sobs. Their prayers. My own. I held my mother up as she clung to me, her nails digging into my skin as she cried, chanted, “Someone make them turn that light off. Make them stop the light. Make them turn it off. God, please.”
My eyes were on the light as I whispered into her ear. Could have been words of comfort. Maybe words of commiseration. Maybe just incoherent nonsense. They probably would have been better if I had written them down. I’d always been better at writing than speaking. My grandmother was the one with the words of wisdom. With a bible verse that fit any situation. I was the one who could never put what I felt into words.
I wasn’t concentrated on the words, but the light. Blue like the sky. It flooded my vision as I stared at it over her shoulder and prayed for it to stop, terrified of what it would mean when it did.
Jasmine Griffin is an avid reader and queer author. Presently she is at work on her first novel, Blackbird at the Crossroads, which incorporates African mythology, African American folktales and Southern Crossroads lore. Jasmine was recently published in Eunoia Review, Genre: Urban Arts, and Cleaning up Glitter. In 2019, she was awarded an Author Fellowship to attend the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Summer Conference. She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. A Cincinnati native, she resides in Amelia, Ohio with her familiars, Tabby cats, Honey and Oliver.