Ten years ago, I was engulfed in green. It’s what I saw when I peered past my living room window in Dublin, at the small park across the road where junkies gathered. It’s what I saw all over the Trinity campus, on the ivy that webbed the buildings, some as old as the college itself. It’s what I saw at the edge of Grafton Street, where the pedestrian walk ended and the stone arch of St Stephens Green loomed.
To describe the color now feels like an impossibility. It was more than a shade, more than a collection of hues and shadow and light. It was a punctuation mark, consistent and cadenced. It marked up my days. It created a full stop whenever the run of my life felt meandering and endless—a state I often fell into then, at the age of twenty-three. The green was a thing of steadiness. It could catch me. It could ground me and remind me: not everything is tenuous. Some things are unshakable and dependable. Some things remain.
Now, in the arms of the pandemic, I am engulfed in gray. Not just the fog coming down from Twin Peaks, sweeping into the valley where my apartment sits beside the Muni light rail tracks. As I write this, it’s the gray of haze, of smoke, that wildfire gray that screams spectral. It’s ghostly. A haunting. In the evenings, during twilight, the sun glows a fierce orange and casts its brightness against buildings, and for a brief moment, witnessing that uncanny light, it’s easy to forget the city is surrounded by fury. To the north and south, the trees are burning. Animals are burning. Homes are splintering and their memories are burning. The land is engulfed in its own color palette, and that palette is an immolation.
But the gray isn’t limited to the haze outside. It’s a felt gray, a seeping-in. The atlas of my life is filled with the ongoingness of depression and anxiety. I’m familiar with the contours, with the ways in which illness has imprinted its topography on me since childhood. This mapping is different, though. The gray of now, this pandemic gray, is a stranger. Its habits are unfamiliar and trying. It washes over me every morning. It clouds my thoughts. It simultaneously slows down time, then shoves me forward through it. So often over the past few months I’ve wondered aloud: “What did I even do today?” Or, with resignation: “I feel as though I’ve done absolutely nothing that matters.”
This gray, too, is spectral. A haunting. I don’t know when it will leave me. But then, none of us do.
Before the virus, I tried to find the green whenever possible. To live inside that feeling when I could. On drives in rented cars up Highway 1, or down south through the Santa Cruz Mountains, all the way to Big Sur and back. On trips to Oregon or Washington or Hawaii, coasting along tree-lined curves, canopies hanging low, waterfalls dotting the land. Hiking the trails at Point Reyes National Seashore or up and over Mt. Tam. Camping among the redwoods and waking to birdsong, beneath branches now scorched and singed.
The last time I experienced the green, I was sitting in the backyard of my partner’s brother’s house. This was in early July, at dusk. The backyard overlooks Glen Canyon Park, where coyotes roam and shred the nerves of every dog in the neighborhood. It is a beautiful expanse of land. We’d gathered to drink beers alongside a gas-fueled fire pit. It was the first time I’d been outside a six-block radius surrounding my apartment since March. We all kept our distance, kept our masks on when not sipping. We talked and then grew quiet, looked and listened as the neighbor’s tree swayed and creaked in the wind.
“Is it going to fall soon?” I thought maybe it would topple in an instant. I thought maybe we needed to prepare ourselves to run.
My partner’s brother said, simply, “One day. But not tonight.”
I couldn’t stop looking at the canyon. At all its brush and growth. I stared until the light was low and everything in the distance was nothing more than silhouetted landscape. But I knew, in the morning, that the green would return. It was unshakable. Dependable. The virus couldn’t touch it.
Nowadays, I am so fraught with worry: What if the virus touches me? What color will engulf me, then?
Rebecca Rubenstein is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. She is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Midnight Breakfast and a fiction editor at The Rumpus. She holds an MFA in Fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and most recently attended the 2020 Tin House Summer Workshop. When not working on a short story collection, she can often be found thinking aloud on Twitter.
Since September is Suicide Prevention Month, the charitable org Rebecca would like to support is Trans Lifeline.