Dedicated to Emily Orner.
I didn’t believe that life was black and white, but I did prefer it black and grey. When going shopping for dorm room supplies the summer before I began at Susquehanna University, I picked out a set of storage cubbies made of white wire, a black and silver phone, a silver laptop, and a black and white poster of the Eiffel Tower in the rain. After furrowing my brow at the dull colors stacked neatly in my shopping cart, I wheeled back to the bedding section of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and thoughtfully added a moss-green comforter. Black and silver (okay, and green) felt simple, chic. Probably even safe.
For the majority of college, I loved lines. College-ruled notebook paper, books stacked horizontally, the glossy straight hair in the Pantene Pro-V commercials. As a ballet dancer, I wanted the perfect grand jeté where the dancer’s legs extended a flawless 180 degrees mid-air; I wanted a straight-edged body without muscles, curves, thighs, or hips. I respected the hierarchy of freshmen below sophomores, the ordering of the cafeteria lines, the borders between ideas. The only concepts that I needed to challenge were those that claimed there were no right answers: I would somehow agree with that this was true without believing a single word.
Over the years, my straight-lined world crumbled slowly, breaking off in chunks and smoothing into powder. And I, too, crumbled at the edges, not know how to face a life so unclearly defined, so concrete-rough.
My senior year, two-cups-of-coffee dazed into my day, I was at the Kind Café in Selinsgrove where I wrote all my papers before I graduated, staring into the darkness of my third refill. Into my coffee, I poured a dash of cream. In caffeinated slow motion, the white entered the coffee, hit the bottom of the porcelain cup, billowed up. It swirled and knitted into an enormous set of wispy curls. As I watched, the cream faded into the coffee, leaving it a smoky, gorgeous, comforting brown.
Later that afternoon, I ran into my friend Rachel Fetrow in the basement of Degenstein Hall. Still caffeinated, I seized her. “Rachel — life is a Van Gogh painting. I get it. There are no borders. It’s amazing. It was in the coffee.”
For who else could I be but a woman with wavy hair and curved hips and wild passions and an open mind? The unstraightened is sometimes not meant to be smoothed. Beauty can be found in the unvarnished. I can maybe even accept the chaos that is mine.