The fibers of the carpet were uniform and compact. Solid. No bounce when you walked barefoot through the house. Unlike the previous incarnation of floor covering that was squishy and floppy, ‘shag’ I believe I heard my mother say.
I thought the floppy carpet was much prettier than this new unyielding offender. I couldn’t sink into it’s softness, as it was scratchy and rough against my 5 year old cheek.
And it was green.
Not the soft silvery green that the shaggy tangles were, oh no, this new carpet was a dark tactical green. It will hide the dirt better. My mother had said. I was never sure what dirt she was talking about. My brothers, at 10 and 16, either weren’t home or barely left the confines of their shared sleeping quarters. I, at 5, was the youngest and I wasn’t allowed to play upstairs. Ever. So I certainly wasn’t going to make it dirty.
This coarse intruder arrived shortly after my father had finished painting every available surface in the house a light minty green. Frothy mint walls, tactical green carpet, I was awash in a sea of green. Somehow the same minty green paint ended up on the eaves and the back porch and the garage. Add in the avocado green kitchen appliances and I’m sure we had the dullest house in the neighborhood.
If only I could have known how much a color can infiltrate your senses and micro-manage your life.
At 5, the actual color was meaningless. It was the same as any other color my mother could have picked, it would eventually become my prison and I would learn to hate it.
My mother was a cruel woman, while not all that physically abusive, her words could cut you and make you believe you were the worthless soul she insisted you were. I am sure my childhood indiscretions were minuscule, especially when compared to her punishments, which more than compensated for my alleged crimes.
At 6 and 7, I vividly remember being made to sit in my playpen and face the minty green walls for whole afternoons if she deemed it necessary. I was not allowed to talk or read or color. It was just me and the green walls as seen through the playpen’s cloth mesh sides.
Once I was declared too old to sit in the pen, as it was referred to, I was made to sit in the corner by the stairs. Frothy green walls and tactical green floors, made all the worse by the whisper of a television, I was no longer allowed to watch.
And what does a young child do to deserve such harsh penalties? I would chatter incessantly and she would get annoyed. I would rather spend my time reading books than watching soap operas and game shows with her and she would feel slighted. I wanted coloring books and paper, crayons and pencils to make fantastical pictures, while she expected me to play with dolls as any young girl should. My imagined crimes never fit the words or punishments I endured.
As I moved into my teen years, our battles raged longer and harder. I would spend many a night and day hid away in my room. My straight-A academics and high school social life brought a renewed vigor to my mother’s never-ending verbal tirades. My frothy mint walls with the now fading green carpet were both my prison and my refuge. I so began to loathe the monotony of green, wanting a room with pink or blue or yellow, anything but frothy mint walls and tactical green carpet.
My mother kicked me out of her stifling green house when I was 17. Her perceptions of my behaviors never matched the actualities of my conduct. Regardless of her inequity of judgment, I was glad to be free of her.
And my frothy mint walls.
Every 4 or 5 years, my father makes a trip to the hardware store and comes home with new gallons of the same old minty green paint. He takes everything off the walls, tapes off the windows and covers the fading green carpet with plastic. For 40 years my father has followed this manifesto of color.
Long after my brothers and I left home, driven away by the cruelty of our mother, he paints the walls the same minty green. She no longer lives in this house I once called home. No, she left my father 6 years ago and moved to Las Vegas, away from chattering grandchildren and unworthy offspring.
When I visit my father, I want to bring fresh cans of color with me. I want to erase the stains of my memories with something other than frothy mint green. But he doesn’t let me. He is a creature of habit. The coarse tactical green carpet, while faded to a soft olive green, is still sturdy with its compact fibers. He has no desire to buy new.
His memories are different than mine. While I am nauseated by the monotony of color and flashes of cruelness, he is comforted by the sameness of a house once filled with people he loved. I celebrated my release and he mourned his losses. The only thing in his life that has remained constant are his frothy mint walls and tactical green carpet.
The frothy mint walls have become both his prison and his refuge.
This post was written in response to Women’s Memoirs monthly writing contest. The theme for March is Reflections on Green.