White Walls

October 2011

(The set is totally white and gives the feel of an enclosed space.  A white box contains a notebook, a flip phone, and several colorful images.)

 

NEW ORLEANIAN

We had to send back the Tiffany lamp, and that should have told me something right there.  My dad had just backed the first car out of the driveway when the UPS man made the delivery.  But we were in a hurry, so we packed it with the rest of our stuff and drove to Houston.  Mom never opened her birthday present, but I wish she had.  A little color would have been nice in that apartment.

                        (Beat.)

The white swirl on the weather channel took a few days to pass over New Orleans, and they’re a blur to me.  Mostly I remember the sun reflecting off the pavement when we took the dogs for a walk.  Oh, and the blank e-mail box that I stared at waiting for my friends to respond.

                        (Beat.)

Whenever someone mentions Katrina, my first thought is white walls.  The apartment we moved into was completely white—even the carpet.  I’d wake up with whiteness, eat with whiteness, and sleep with whiteness.  Nothing happened.  White is the color of nothingness, the color that fills the space above a blank.  It was a whole month of whiteness.

                        (Digs into the box and pulls out the pictures.)

We weren’t allowed to paint the walls, so the best I could do was draw pictures for them.  I was fourteen then, so my art supplies consisted of Crayola colored pencils. 

                        (Smiles and flips through the drawings, then gets up to tack them to the wall.)

Let’s just say the pencils were made for coloring books, and since we didn’t have frames, the white edges blended with the wall.  But my mom hung them up anyway.

                        (Goes back to the box and takes out the notebook.)

When drawing wasn’t enough, I attacked the white pages in a notebook with a pen, recording a story that had been running through my head.  Pretty soon the pages bled with black ink, and it made me feel better.  But when I reread it and realized how bad it was, I became frustrated again.  I don’t even know why I kept it.  Maybe I still find the black scrawl comforting.

                        (Tosses the notebook to the side.)

I spent most of my time thinking during those days.  I guess it was my mind’s way of blocking out the white walls.  If I could create enough images, then I wouldn’t see the white nothingness.

                        (Beat.)

I wasn’t the only one busy thinking—everyone did.  We clung to the dark images on the news, like the black backdrop of the Superdome and an abandoned black dog howling across rubble.  For me it was always a question of what—never why.  What was happening?  What did my house look like?  Would my friends return?  Looking for a reason never made sense—it had happened.  You can yell up at the heavens, try to keep eye-contact with the sun until your retinas burn, but that’s all you’ll ever get. Permanent blind spots in your eyes.

                        (Looks in the box once more and pulls out the cell phone.)

Although there was this picture I took of the sun behind a cloud.  I became a bit obsessed with it.  The cloud cut the light in a way that made the shadows, or what an artist would call negative space, look like an angel.  I don’t know.  Maybe I was the only one who saw the angel.  But I remember thinking it was strange that dark space formed the angel instead of light.  When you think of angels, you think of God.  You think of white light that wipes away darkness and worry.  But this time comfort came in the shadows.

                        (Closes cell phone and puts it back in the box.)

The best memory of Katrina came as a gray shape on the computer monitor.  I can still hear my mom’s exclamation when the satellite image focused, and the gray outline of our roof appeared.  I only remember that one instance, that one blotch of gray, and the relief that the white walls would soon be left behind.

                        (Beat.)

When we came home after five weeks, white was a foreign color to the city, except for the FEMA trailers parked in driveways.  Black debris boarded the road like guardrails, sidewalks were stained, and houses sported black rings and X-marks.  The plants drooped with a sickly gray pigment.  Blue was the chosen color of rooftops. 

But I found these colors a welcome change from the stale white of that apartment.  White never changes.  Gray can wash away.  Black can be painted over.  And eventually, blue returns to the sky.

                        (Fade out.)