WRITTEN BY CARLOS LAO
Black and White and Color
Everything in life is either black or white. Or sometimes, though rarely, gray. At least that’s what my mother told me when I was younger. Yin or yang, dark or light, bad or good, wrong or right. There were few “in-betweens” in my world before moving to America.
However, a few days ago my moral senses were overcome by a barrage of new hues. Harsh yellows clouded my vision and glaring shades of red constricted my chest. Bright tendrils of green and blue swirled about me and my head grew light from the sensory overload. I was overwhelmed.
You might ask what could possibly cause me to go into such a catatonic state of shock. It was a small sheet of paper. Not a letter, not a law infraction, not a message of condolence. Just one simple piece of card stock paper. An invitation—a wedding invitation.
Though I admit at first, I was utterly bewildered, I soon realized how blind I had been to your circumstances. I hadn’t talked to you in two years since our falling out and I didn’t expect any sort of contact with you, much less an invitation to your wedding. I thought you might never want to see me again; yet, you still reached out. Though no amount of apologizing could ever excuse my actions, I want you to feel that maybe—just maybe—your effort was worth it.
I have a story.
By the time you were three years old, you were already enchanted by the wonders of the “great outdoors”. Most notably, you suffered a sort of separation anxiety each time we departed the playground. Quite frankly, I found it strange at first. How anyone could be drawn to that thing was beyond me. The equipment looked sickly: rust-ridden and covered with anemic patches of blue and yellow that peeled at the edges. It was a tetanus case waiting to happen. The concert hall for a cacophonous symphony of laughing and whining children. However, you looked upon it each time with such a renewed sense of wonder that I couldn’t help but feel enchanted by it as well. To all of the children of the park, each rise and fall of the swing was a ticket to the moon and back, each creak of the see-saw was the booming rumble from the chest of a mighty dragon, and each person was a fellow adventurer and ally. The sense of camaraderie you felt with one another was truly magical. Each child from every walk of life sought friendship with others despite drastic differences, a skill that adults can’t hope to achieve. It was there, in that mystical wonderland, that you met Mary.
Though you may not remember, you and Mary were friends. You two could roll around in the sand giggling and making mess for hours on end. Every day, Mary’s older brother, Tim, brought her to the playground. Tim was a nice boy. Different. Where our other neighbors often looked upon our family with superciliousness or bewildered curiosity, Tim saw us as no different than anyone he may have bumped into on the street. He and I often exchanged a kind word or two before he took to studying on a nearby park bench as I watched you and Mary. Every day, the same routine. Then, Tim left for college.
Mary’s mom was a different case from her son. A pompous lady who held her nose up in such conceit you would’ve thought she was some sort of superstar diva that had been trapped inside a middle-class woman’s body. She was no different from me (save for the fact that she was dressed from head to toe in garish clothing). Her hands were worn and calloused from years of housework and, despite her excessive and tacky makeup, you could see deeply-set worry lines that creased her forehead and created the illusion that her eyebrows were constantly raised. She was no goddess; yet, she was so patronizing and carried herself with such an above-it-all attitude that one would have expected such. I didn’t like her. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to seem like a woman with shallow judgement and decided to approach her.
I walked over and gave her a shy “hello,” offering my hand. She barely glanced as she walked past me. I froze for a moment, in shock at her coldness, but eventually resigned back to the park bench. Once seated, I began watching you and Mary happily playing, completely oblivious to the world around you. Though Mary’s mom reeked of self-importance, I found it nice to see that our children’s attitudes weren’t predetermined by their parents.
It took a good five minutes before Mary’s mother finally tired of her vanity and began watching her daughter. She looked up to find you and Mary boisterously laughing as you descended the slide. Her face suddenly became riddled with such a putrid mix of disgust and loathing that it made my heart drop into my stomach. She tilted her head back and glared at you down the bridge of her nose. “Mary, who is that you’re playing with, honey?” She said with such intense condescension that it made her nostrils flare. Her voice was shrill and pierced the ear like metal scraping concrete. Mary looked up at her mom with surprise, as if in disbelief that her mom had not met you. “Mary. I said, who is that?” Her mom repeated fervently. She was loud, despite her gaunt frame, as if her personality was trying to escape through her mouth with every word.
“Avery, mommy.” Mary replied matter-of-factly, raising a brow at her mom.
“Avery?” Mary’s mom yelped in surprise, as if an Asian child with a Western name was an impossibility. “Well,” she stammered “I don’t think you should be playing with him, or any of them.” Her mouth contorted on the last syllable in a most grotesque manner, as if each phoneme brought her a new bout of excruciating pain.
“Who is ‘them’ mommy?” Mary questioned innocently.
“Never mind. Let’s just go to the park in Amy’s neighborhood, okay honey? The equipment here is... contaminated,” her eyes glanced over at me, “and I’m afraid you might get sick.” She whispered loudly. You furrowed your brow in confusion as you watched Mary get up and take her mother’s hand before making her way back down the road. They were gone almost as quickly as they had come.
Mary’s mom may have thought she had been tactful or that her actions were discreet, but I can say that her “caution” was to no avail. My soul had already been punctured at her first utterance.
How anyone could dislike a child—my child—was beyond me. You were my baby. You are my baby. Nothing anyone says or does can change the fact that the innocence of all children, especially my own, are entitled to preservation, not harm. If you recall any of your broken Chinese you’ll remember that baby in Chinese is baobei. What you may not know is that it also means treasure. Children are a treasure and should be treated as such, not defamed with the insolence of ignorant people. After all, beneath our differences we all are human and it was astonishing to me how Mary’s mom thought that we were in any way beneath her. I cried. Just you and me in the park with no one watching. Me sobbing on the bench. You, sitting in the sandbox, playing in blissful ignorance.
Now, there is no way to express how incredibly furious I was, but with time, I saw the gray. Before this I knew that there was black and white and gray but this, this was the first time I’d realized the multitude of shades that existed between the three. To me, what Mary’s mother had done was black as night, but I grew to realize that, growing up, there was no one to tell her that she was misinformed and no one to clear the muddle of misconceptions in her mind. Yes, she was ignorant, but it was, at its origin, a fault of her upbringing. I don’t mean to undermine her disrespect. Her actions were plainly inexcusable and she was guilty of lacking the initiative and the want to understand the world outside of her own. Her actions were black, but with the smallest trickle of white. They were gray. A very dark gray, but not black.
Now, I’ve digressed for long enough but you must see how this relates to our situation now. When you decided to open up to me two years ago about the strange feelings you’d long been aware of, I was shocked and instinctively retaliated violently. I selfishly tried to make it about myself. Had I raised you improperly? Was it a problem on your end or mine? But I jumped so far ahead that I forgot to ask myself the most important question of all. Was your “problem” a problem at all? Like Mary’s mom I became so caught up in my preconceptions that I forgot you in the process—a most dark gray. I forgot my baobei. My treasure. But, now that I’ve opened up my mind, I can finally see what Mary’s mom refused to. Receiving your wedding invitation brought the flood of sensations I felt back then with a renewed clarity.
Everything in life can be either black or white or gray. But that’s not all. The world is an abstract painting. It’s not monochrome, but rather splattered with the technicolor pigment of human emotion. Sometimes it is red when we make decisions based on anger and unrestrained passion. Sometimes it can be orange when we pursue things with enthusiasm and determination. Sometimes it can be yellow when we act out of fear. It can be green when we are overcome by envy. It can be blue when we act out of woe and misery and loss. It can be purple when we act with the certainty of intelligence. It can be pink when we act out of the love that we find in one another. I was colorblind, but now I understand the love that motivated you to live your life as the person you are, not the person people like me want you to be.
Avery. My son. If there is any knowledge that I would like to pass on to you, something you can tell others that “my mom told me”, it is that there are shades and hues and colors and values to everything. Everything has color, but only if you choose to see it all. Frankly, I know that you have found the most beautiful shade of pink to share with your husband-to-be.
I love you and I very much look forward to the wedding.