Time Travel and Strong Memories—Tinted by Unusual Colors!
How my remembered events are awash in strange, ineffable colors.
Posted Apr 11, 2019
Guest column by Jen Maidenberg
What I need is a mad scientist to invent a mechanism whereby the colors of my memory reverberate back to you — so you can fully be there with me, in the mood of the hour.
If I possessed a device, not unlike a View-Master, I would tell you about the bird zoo at The Cherry Hill Mall or the carpeted tunnels we crawled through at the entrance to The Children’s Place. I might even admit to that time with my cousin Greg in the closet among my father’s dress shirts.
My daughter asks, “Was that when the world was in black and white?” I know I need to tell her that the world was never black–and–white, except experience tells me that isn’t 100% true.
Instagram is the closest I’ve come to be satisfied with a photograph I’ve taken. In this way, I am adequately able to tell you stories I never would otherwise. I can’t be certain you’ll understand the stories I am telling you, even with Instagram, but that’s not what matters. What matters is the relief I feel when I can accurately capture the essence of my awareness and display it to you as it once really was for me.
Once I wrote a poem about the Echelon Mall, the less sophisticated South Jersey mall compared to Cherry Hill. People loved the poem. I didn’t quite succeed in telling it in color, but I told it in words that had color. Not like Monday or June or jump have color, not like the words that when I think about them as words I envision in shades of red. The words in the poem were enveloped in the actual tint of the Echelon Mall, circa 1982, which was not the same tint as the Echelon Mall circa 1991. I remember the 1982 version as brownish–orange, like Stride Rite shoes, whereas the later version was a stark fluorescent white you’d need to blend with mauve in order to make Zinc Pink lipstick.
The story I want to tell you now takes place in an attic bedroom somewhere on the Main Line of Pennsylvania. In Hope’s attic bedroom. Bright, because she had a window, but dark, because we were whispering about witchcraft. I don’t remember anything else. The story ends there. Only one of my three children sees words in color. His Monday, he says, is green. This makes me feel both closer to him, yet farther away. What kind of person, after all, can claim Monday is green?
Another story takes place on the second floor of the Camden County Public Library which was the same color as the Echelon Mall in 1982. It is that same color now, which means that when I return like I did last summer, I am discovering time travel.
I know it wasn’t a dream because the aluminum pencil sharpener was still bolted down to the librarian’s desk. The sharpener was something I could touch there — then, really — unlike the carpet, which was much too filthy. One time, when I was a child, I snuck upstairs to the nonfiction section to pluck my fingers through the drawer in the card catalog marked Wi – Wu. My heart pumped so hard, but for no good reason given that there were no books on witchcraft. Just Woodrow Wilson, Wimbledon, woodworking.
Witchcraft, when I see the word, appears in my mind as orangey–brown, not unlike the color of diarrhea.
There is no filter on Instagram that matches the shade of the Echelon Mall, which is probably just as well because if there were I might sneak down there one Friday morning when my kids are fighting over the Wii, snap a picture of the tunnel slide at the playground, add a shadow that could pass for carpet, and burrow myself inside 1982. I have so many questions for 1982.
On eBay, I found an old postcard of the Cherry Hill Mall and the bird zoo. The faded blue-greens of the photograph were not quite right, but right enough to make me certain I didn’t dream up the bird zoo. It had been real once, in the middle of the hallway across Woolworth’s: tall tropical trees, parakeets chirping, an island—all just perched there in the middle of a shopping mall in New Jersey.
Guest essayist Jen Maidenberg has appeared in District Lit, Proximity, and Split Lip, and is currently columns editor at Atticus Review.