Mondays are red. March is orange. Kansas is pink. The letter A is green, 3 is blue, and Hillary Clinton is purple. I know these facts with as much certainty as I know my own name.
Around 4% of the population has synesthesia, according to the internet. It tends to run in families, and is seven times more common in artists and writers. It can take various forms, but for me, I strongly associate a color with every month, day of the week, number, letter, and person. I don’t choose the colors. They’re self-evident. (And I get testy when a fellow synesthete tries to argue that something is a different color than I know to be true.)
Some people in my life are made up of multiple colors. My dad is both red and dark blue. My mom is red and yellow. My sister and I, though, are purists: she’s solid red, I’m sky blue. Many of my friends fall somewhere along the aquamarine spectrum. Doug is my only gold.
At my elementary school, each grade level was divided into three classes. I always perceived one class to be yellow, one red, and one brown (except for kindergarten, which was red any way you sliced it). The class color was determined by the energy of the teacher, but inevitably the kids in each class would come to embody that same color as the school year progressed—if not individually, then at least as a whole.
My sister always got assigned the red classes, and I always got yellow—though my fourth grade class was also tinged with green, probably because the number 4 is so aggressively green itself that it just couldn’t stay out of things. This pattern of our respective placements was so consistent as to become predictable, and it felt cosmically correct. (Twenty years later I’d learn that my mom had so much sway with the school that she straight up chose our teachers each year, which explains a lot—I can see why she’d pick red for Jenny and yellow for me.)
The exception to this was fifth grade. I can still feel the shock that reverberated through my bones as I scanned the class placement lists taped to the front door of the school. (It was all such a farce, I realize now—Mom taking us to check these lists the week before school started, pretending to be surprised…) I read the yellow list three times—the yellow teacher that year was as luminously yellow as it was possible for one teacher to be—but my name was not on it. Instead, I’d gotten… brown.
I was shook. It felt like a cosmic error. Like a forced, abrupt shift in my identity. There was nothing wrong with brown, per se—it just wasn’t me. (My sister had also gotten brown in fifth grade—Mom really liked that teacher.)
It threw me off the whole year. Also throwing me off that year: the sudden emergence of popularity as a thing, which felt exhausting even to witness from the sidelines. Despite my class being brown, and despite the coolest girls and boys in that class being individually blue, green, pink, brown, and maroon— together they collectively rose up, towering far above the rest of us in a swirl of bright, blinding fuchsia.
Last night, I dreamed I was in elementary school again. This time, there was a sixth grade. Again, I got brown.
I’ve been unsettled all day.
Anyway. Let me know if you want to know your color.