All the Colours of the Rainbow

Nature \'na-cher\ n 1 a: the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing: ESSENCE b: DISPOSITION, TEMPERAMENT 2 a: a creative and controlling force in the universe b: an inner force or the sum of such forces in an individual 3: a kind or class usu. distinguished by fundamental or essential characteristics 4: the physical constitution or drives of an organism 5: a spontaneous attitude 6: the external world in its entirety 7 a: a man's original or natural condition b: a simplified mode of life resembling this condition 8: natural scenery syn see TYPE

Took an art class in Grade 8. No talent, but I loved it. I "got" art. Really tried in that class, took effort to focus. Hung on tight to the teacher's every word so, she was good to me.

Found whining and whimpering in a corner of the dark classroom, no one else there, quite sorry for myself, my art teacher pushed me to show her a work I'd almost completed, not yet handed in. I'd come after class to finish it up and discovered Mercedes Wilkinson's name scrawled on the back.

I was a "good" girl, Mercedes was not. Mercedes ran with the tough crowd. She'd come to school displaying her hickey's and carried the whispers, the many stories about her, like a banner. Proud, defiant, waving them around her head, no concern for those that might be stabbed in the eye caught in the flapping backlash. Always laughing, she smoked, she drank, her brother's were druggies. There were rumours of her brothers and their friends having ganged raped her, and she liked it. She'd down and dirty fight with anyone who crossed her, girl or boy. To rat on Mercedes meant death, or worse. I knew this, but she'd taken mine from me. I'd worked a long time on that piece. Always frustrated by my hands, it was better than most I'd done and there seemed nothing I could do.

Perhaps I found that corner, and stayed there long enough, hoping I'd be found and somehow saved. Maybe the simple quandary was just too much for me. In any case, once discovered, I simply handed the piece over to the teacher, muffling and sniffing, poor me tears running down my face. She turned it over, examining both sides. She knew it was mine. She knew Mercedes.

Can't remember if that teacher and I talked, can't remember anything said, can't remember that night, can't remember walking to school the next day, can't remember if it was summer or winter. I do remember handing my drawing to Mercedes the next day. She laughed at first, Mercedes would, but when she looked up from the drawing and saw my face she stopped. Mercedes took the piece up to the teacher, talked to her for a while, not loudly, no one else noticed, and that was the end. Or all I know. Got an A. As I said, no talent in the hands, but was pleased just the same with that A. Didn't get too many. Didn't focus too often.

Mercedes and I, we never became friends, never talked afterward, never said "hi" passing in the hall, never shared, never laughed together. I do remember, much later though, when a group of the bad boys were giving me a hard time, back of the school, on my way home, Mercedes saw, came up, and told them to fuck off. They did. I was grateful.

Many lifetimes later, my oldest daughter, my only daughter then, when she was 3, took all her crayons, a super deluxe pack, all the colours of the rainbow, into the bathroom and washed them in the sink, in hot water "because they were dirty." By the time I'd discovered her, the crayons had started melting. Mellow that day, I explained the theory was sound, but the practice flawed. She understood.

It took months to pick the bits and pieces, all those colours, from the sink. Now, she's older. She loves that story.

My youngest daughter, 5 years younger than her sister, and very different, too was discovered by me when she was 3. This time the bathroom wall was covered in felt pen. She had felt pen on her pajamas, felt pen on her hands, felt pen streaking from her mouth and across her cheek. When I saw her standing there, little pumpkin that she was, I was "miffed." This was a rental house, we'd have to repaint the whole bathroom. I demanded from her, "Did you do this?" There we were, all powerful Mom, angry, towering, insisting "Did you do this?", and her, defenseless, innocent, an artist at work. I still see her little head shaking back and forth and can still hear her baby lisping but very sure, "No."

We tell this story too, at the supper table. She always gets a funny perplexed look on her face, lost, wondering even now, who drew on the wall.

Mercedes died, when she was 17. Killed in a car accident. The car she was in, the driver was drunk.

Likely Mercedes was drunk too.