To say the sky is blue is misleading. The sky is blues. Yes, the over-all color is blue. And if you stare at any one spot, you will find a blue so pure and infinite that you could lose yourself in it, but it is not the only blue. Every spot that you look at is a different shade, a different hue, a different sky entirely.
One rich vibrant blue is the color of a freshwater lake, like the one where my dad used to take me camping. The main occasion on these trips was fishing. It was father-son time, male bonding, life lessons, all that stuff. Mostly it was quiet. If the fish were biting, dad would provide commentary on each catch, but remain taciturn in between, only taking his eyes off the water for an occasional swig of Budweiser. Of course, if the fish weren’t biting, he would drink quite a bit more. Only on the days when we caught no fish whatsoever would he get drunk enough to start sharing “fatherly wisdom.”
“Son,” he would declare, “life’s shit. You understand me?” Whether I shook my head or nodded, he would continue, “Now maybe not all of it’s terrible, but that’s the thing about shit—it’s messy. It sticks to things—gets in all the nooks and crannies and just stays there, and even if you can’t see it, that smell will follow you around, spoiling anything that’s good. That’s why you gotta find something that’s yours and only yours. You keep it away from the shit so that when you get away, strip everything else away, naked as Adam in the garden, you can wash yourself clean.” He would stare so intently into that water that it felt like nothing else in the world existed. I didn’t get everything he was saying, but I could tell that whatever the pond wasn’t enough.
Sometimes there’s a blue that perfectly matches the hue of Blue Moon ice cream. When my sister Eunice was only six, she ate an entire pint of the stuff and promptly vomited it back up. Somehow, she still enjoys Blue Moon, but I can’t touch it.
Another blue matches my old school colors. There are at least a dozen pictures from my college days where, at first glance, my head seems to be floating because the free school shirt I’m wearing happens to blend in perfectly with the sky. We were the Sentinels; our mascot looked something like a musketeer, with a rapier, a goatee, and a large fancy hat. Sports were a big deal on our campus, as I guess they are at most schools. I went to more tailgating parties than actual games, but I’ll never forget the ones I did attend. Being a part of an enthusiastic student section is like becoming a different person. Emotions are raised, you say words that come from outside your head, you press close to unfamiliar bodies and feel yourself bonded to people you’ve never met. Afterward, there’s a sustained elation. Whether the team won or lost, your heart keeps beating at an accelerated rate. The real world seems thin and insubstantial after the intensity of what was just experienced. Then sooner or later, you crash. A few emotions might linger, but sooner or later, it all fades away.
One strip of blue in the sky is the exact same blue as Marci’s eyes. Just like her eyes, that strip of blue is brilliantly bright, and terribly hard to look at for too long. Just like the sky, her eyes had a way of making me remember how small I am. I wish I could say that Marci’s eyes were the first thing I noticed about her, and that’s usually how I tell the story. In reality, I was checking her out at the bar, and she caught me. That’s when I saw her eyes. She had caught me, and she knew it. I couldn’t hide from her stare any more than I could hide from a sky spread out wide above me. Still, she gave me a chance. “Buy me a drink,” she said. We spent the evening talking, and every time I mustered the courage directly into her eyes, I saw another facet of that shade of blue. I glimpsed her confidence, her skepticism, her insecurity, her mirth, her desire, her fear, her sorrow, her vulnerability, her force of will. I had never been exposed enough to see so much in another person. I wondered what she saw in me.
A spot close to the horizon might be a blue like the sound of a sigh. My grandmother used to say that sighing was quenching the Holy Spirit. I never understood what that meant, but I know that my mom sighed more than anyone I’ve ever known.
There is the blue of chicory, those tiny wildflowers that grow along state roads in the summer. I used to drive all across the Plains states for work, and when you’re crossing mile after mile of flat farmland, those bright spots of blue became the most beautiful and moving part of my life. It was as if a little bit of the sky had fallen to earth and shattered. And like so much other refuse, it had gathered in the ditches and embankments along the road. But there, it still shone brightly against the dirt, and for brief instances I could trick myself into thinking that the ground was melting away, that at any moment my car might sail away from the hard, uneven ground and disappear into the infinite blues.
But of course, I never did. My tires stayed on the road, just like they are now. I can only look up at the sky. I can focus on individual shades of blue, and each one somehow seems unsatisfying. The sky is many feelings, pure and distinct. I can feel something with each of them, but none of them are me.