Lady Purple

I forgot about Lady Purple. Well, not the lady, but the purple part. It’s been a year since I’ve rented out one of her apartments. But here I am, unpacking my things—another writing getaway in Provincetown, another purple landing pad.

Last year I almost didn’t come. I emailed Lady Purple last minute to see if I could get my deposit back, pleading “health issues.” I was falling apart again. A burrowing, intangible pain in my side—the chronic twisting spur of my invisible burden. It’s just a poetry workshop you’ll be attending, I told myself.  “Poetry as Bewilderment” with Nick Flynn, one of my favorite writers. Aristotle says enjoy error—bewilderment is the mind in the act of making a mistake. I read that somewhere. It would be foolish not to go. My mind makes mistakes everyday. And just like that, I had talked myself back in. I emailed Lady Purple again and wrote, “Never mind.”

“Would you mind sharing the problem with me?” she responded. “Maybe I can help.” All of our correspondences up until this point had been brief, professional—a simple room-and-board transaction. Now her tone seemed compassionate, a tender response to my condition that I was not used to.

“I have debilitating anxiety,” I wrote. Then I decided to delete the word “debilitating.” I could already feel my right leg going numb again. “I have a problem with anxiety,” I wrote instead, rationalizing it was more legitimate than “nervous,” and a lot less than “completely mentally mangled.” I of course did not mention ER visits, medication, endless panic attacks, and how just that week, I pulled my 1-year old from the shopping cart and ran out of the grocery store, afraid of nothing—cart full of groceries left behind. I wanted to make her understand my strangeness without coming off as a liability.

“Provincetown will be just the medicine you need.” She wrote back, adding that if there was anything she could do to help just ask. She had a friend with the same problem. Avoid sugar and coffee, she said. “You will be fine.”

She understood, or rather, she didn’t try to understand. Just a firm and resolute, “you will be fine.”

I didn’t know then that she was purple.

I crept through the path of her tiny yard. Every square inch surrounding the path packed with purple potted plants, purple lawn chairs and lawn ornaments. Lavender plants exploding in all directions—the soft sleepy smell of purple. And then Lady Purple appeared, like amethyst cracked open from an old rock. Purple hair, purple dress, purple lipstick on her small, aged lips, and a large, wide-rimmed purple sunhat.

“If you are going to survive the week, the first thing you’re gonna need is a hat,” she said in a superintending voice. I reached up and touched the part in my hair and agreed, obediently. Perhaps she figured if she could help me, she might as well start from the head down.

Inside the apartment—purple chairs, purple rugs, purple dresser, purple end tables, purple dishes. I never thought to reveal that purple is my least favorite color—that I’m really more of a red kind of girl. It didn’t matter. I was oddly at home.

Sometimes I’d hear Lady Purple tinkering in the garden, or adjusting and re-adjusting the trashcans. Other times I would look out the window and see her quickly slip by—just a flash of purple and then nothing. Was she watching me? I didn’t care. It was just a few hours of faking fine at the workshop and then back to the apartment to rest and write, nested in Lady Purple’s homegrown amaranth.

How is it one year later I managed to forget about the purple? I’m walking through the lavender again carrying suitcases. I’m taking another workshop—this time, it’s “Stranger Than Fiction,” a memoir workshop with one of my biggest rock idols, Kristin Hersh. “Bring your idiosyncratic experiences into the realm of the universal,” the workshop description said.  “Solving a life equation is best done with a small world/big picture orientation.”

I scan the apartment and set down my things—walk into the bathroom and pause to look at myself in the mirror and the purple patterned shower curtain behind me. And then a voice appears: “Oh Kathryn, I forgot to ask you something.” It’s Lady Purple. She is outside and shaking purple objects at me through the bathroom window. “Do you have enough power strips and potholders?”

“Oh, I’m fine, thank you, I say,” and politely close the purple curtain once she nods warmly, and disappears.

I sit in one of the oversized chairs in the living room and feel my muscles begin their wide spread twitch-itch like water rippling under the skin. You will be fine, I think. It’s just adrenaline, and it will pass. You will be fine—A purple echo. I lean back and breathe, letting the purple objects blur and blend together in unison. It’s a plain strangeness—this single shade of comfort. It is simple and forgettable, like white.