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I still remember the minute my mom’s world became black and white.
It was only a few hours after I even learned what a blackout was. I had heard of blackouts my whole life but no one ever wanted to talk about them when I asked before.
“Now listen, Charlie,” Mom had said, making the leather couch creak as she settled in across from me before continuing. “I hope this never happens to you. I hope you and Andres live a long, happy life and pass away in the exact same second so you don’t have to feel it.” She took a deep breath and dropped her gaze. “You need to know, though, so you don’t...” A deep breath followed. I winced, knowing she was recalling Aunt Meg’s suicide, and quickly grabbed a tissue from the side table for her. She drew her knees closer to her chest after she took the tissue with one hand and rubbed her foot, a calming habit, with the other. “Sorry. Anyways. Since you’ve known Andres your whole life, you’ve never known what it’s like to live without color. The years before I met your dad, the world was… bleak. It felt like I would never meet the one who would make me see color; I didn’t know what it felt like to smile simply because the grass was green or the blooming flowers’ colors were perfect. But… Charlie, are you listening?”
I startled at my name, tearing my eyes from the clock and grumbling an apology. It was a hard not to count down the minutes until I left to meet Andres.
“It’s okay, just listen so I don’t have to repeat myself. Sound good?” I nodded, my eyes meeting hers. “When your world is colorless, you feel less emotion. The world seems emotionless. When I met your father, it felt like…” she trailed off, a smile in her voice as she recalled the grocery store story I had heard a million and one times. “It felt like I was a new person. I couldn’t wait to see him again and feel at home.”
She paused again, smiling even wider. I bristled in the silence, sneaking a peek at the time again.
She continued to describe to me what she had heard it felt like, wild hand gestures emphasizing the worst of the worst. The hole in your heart, the constant feeling of missing, the loss of color in everything; specifically for Andres and I, the lack of the best blues. I shuddered at the mere thought of not being able to hear Andres’s voice ever again. I sent out a prayer and hoped that no one I loved would ever have to live through a blackout.
Sometimes hope isn’t enough.
Simple hours later, Andres and I’s quick campus picnic finished, I returned to an oddly dark home with the lingering taste of blueberries on my tongue.
Entering the house, I called out to Mom. I glanced back at my car in my dad’s normal spot. I had assumed they went out to dinner, but they usually left a light on for me at least.
As the echoes of my voice faded, quiet noises caught my attention. I slowly went up the stairs and tried to locate the source of the sound while making a conscious effort to keep my mind away from the worst thoughts. I didn’t even register the slumped, shadowy figure in my parents’ bedroom on first glance.
I tiptoed into the bedroom and realized that the figure was my mom when she whipped her head around at the sound of my faint steps. She clutched the faded green T-shirt that advertised Bo’s Grocery, my dad’s favorite store.
My mind could barely stay away from the worst thoughts. “M.. mom?” I tripped over my words, barely keeping it together as I watched the glint of hope in her eyes vanish.
“Oh, oh, beautiful boy. Beautiful, beautiful. Come here.” She sluggishly stretched out her arms and I made no further attempt to be quiet, half-running to her before wrapping my arms around her. “You sound just like him, just like your father, you know?” She choked on the beginning of another “beautiful”. The shirt she had clutched laid forgotten on the floor as she locked her hands around me and squeezed as tight as humanly possible.
After a minute or two, my shoulder damp from her tears, she loosened her hold and placed her hands on my shoulders. I don’t know whether it was to keep me or her from collapsing. A few deep breaths later, she spoke, her voice fragile. “I’m… oh God, I’m sorry, Charlie. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, my beautiful boy. He’s gone. Oh God, he’s gone.” Her face screwed up as she dissolved into sobs as loud as thunder. I only allowed myself a few tears before sprinting downstairs to get as many tissue boxes as possible.
Breathing heavily and setting the boxes next to her on the bed, I picked up the shirt on the floor and gently took her hands away from her face and wrapped the shirt in them “It’s not your fault, Mom. It’s not. Come here.” I opened my arms to her as she had for me before and she moved closer. I reached over to get a tissue and dabbed her tears away. I ran my fingers through her hair, trying to somehow cease the mewling sounds now coming out of her. I grabbed her hand and squeezed it twice so she looked up at me. Red rims circled her eyes and she made eye contact with me for a moment. “Hey,” I said, patting her head, “At least Dad doesn’t have to hear you complain about black-and-white movies now.”
She let out a pitiful half-laugh at my awkward attempt at distraction. Her brief relief dissolved as she patted my back and slid back into her unfocused state, the mewling sounds stopping and all life leaving her eyes. It was somehow worse.
We simply kept each other company for hours, the minutes slipping by like water; nothing else was important.
I turned up the radio, drowning out grief-stricken thoughts as I pulled away from another failed attempt at getting my mother to refocus back on reality. She had been in a hazy state for months now, her mind refusing to face her colorless world of unaccepted grief and misery.
Physically shaking off the last of the what ifs, I rolled down my window and drove towards campus. Andres and I were going on a picnic for the first time in months and a smile grew on my face just thinking about the memories and inside jokes to be made.
I grinned over at the blueberry container I had buckled into the passenger seat, the plastic container covering the bounty reflecting the sunlight and obscuring my view of the blueberries themselves. A pop song blaring and my heart beating with pure content, I had to jerk my wheel to get onto the exit that usually popped out to me.
The sight of the stoplight made me laugh as a memory flashed.
“You don’t only stop at stoplights!” Andres had said, seemingly very concerned with the name of stoplights. “We should call them golights! Or slowlights! Or all-of-the-abovelights! Or maybe just lights! Really, though.” He had smiled over at me from the driver’s seat, his blue eyes catching the light as he smiled from ear to ear. “Stop laughing at me! You know I’m right!”
A loud car honk blared and I snapped back out of my memory, barely registering the newly dull green light before pushing the gas pedal. I chuckled at Andres’ ridiculousness again. He told me once that English felt more like a fun study than his main form of communication. He was constantly pointing out its flaws to me and offering commentary on any words of interest.
As I parked in a student relations building’s driveway, another one of Andres’ rambles came to mind. Absentmindedly, I turned the key before reaching over to unbuckle the blueberries, my eyes catching on the key’s dull grey color that was usually a shiny sea blue. Weird, I thought. It’s probably because I’ve been using the key so much lately and the paint wore off.
Then I watched as the attached lanyard turned black as night.
Movement outside my window made me snap my head up. The grass. The grass was turning white.
The dull stoplight.
The blueberries that I couldn’t see.
It had slipped my attention with the memories and the music and oh God.
Not even hope could keep from this becoming the worst day of my life.