‘You colored outside the lines’

Published 7:52 am Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It wasn’t so much said as implied. A constant drip of messages whispering, “You don’t measure up,” as if there were some invisible bar fastened somewhere that he could never quite reach, never curl his fingers over the rounded surface and say “Aha! I have you!”

It started when he started. Or rather he was born into its currents, carried along as children are in a particular direction.

He’d always felt the eyes of his mother, a short, stocky woman, shy in public, known for her clean house and shrill, cascading laugh that betrayed her desire for anonymity. She ruled the abode, her husband of 30 years notwithstanding.

A slow relinquishing of territory, starting the first year of matrimony, had now resulted in complete surrender, such that when crossing the threshold both father and son adopted a subservient posture, lest an offence occur.

As often happens in marriages, the desire for intimacy can take an unorthodox path and common ground may be found in unlikely places. The deterioration of this marriage was such that its lone commonality, its singular point of agreement rested on the head of their son.

“That’s not the way you do it….,” “Don’t always be so ……,” “Can’t you just….” seemed to preface most comments directed toward the young boy.

He once colored a flamingo, taking care to use an abundance of red, his mother’s favorite. As she sat sewing, he presented her with his work of art. The lone comment was “Flamingos are pink.”

It wasn’t so much he did nothing right, but rather there was nothing made of it, as if passions were reserved to expose shortcomings and words as instruments of correction.

This was the air he breathed, the atmosphere that permeated the household during his growing years.

At 18 he graduated from Prescott High School with a 3.1 average.

At 22 he proposed to Ruth Ann Mayfield, whose eyes three years previous had captured him. She said “Yes.”

At 24 he and Ruth Ann celebrated the birth of their child, a brown-haired, puffy cheeked boy. They named him “Chance.”

At 30, Chance brought his father a picture of a Cheetah his small hands had colored. The lone comment heard was, “You colored outside the lines.”