Grey, to me, had always been the color of comfort. It was the color of my weather-worn house surrounded by the shriveled grey yard of full Mom’s failed garden attempts. Grey lined my home in the form of paving stones shaped like lily pads. Grey was the strips of light that seeped in from the blinds on the windows, cutting across the walls of my room. I often curled up within slate grey comforter on my bed. The burbling coffee pot on the stove that chirped merrily to me whenever I walked by was a steely grey. Grey was the color of Dad’s favorite knit sweater that Mom wore around the house on chilly days with the sleeves rolled up to her wrists and the hemline hanging loose mid-thigh as she danced indolently, barefoot, across the smooth hardwood floor. Sometimes, when the living darkness of a storm at night chased me to their room, she’d let me wear it as I snuggled between my parents’ warmth, their deep breathing lulling me back to sleep. Grey was the perfect balance of dark and light, just like I was the perfect balance of Mom and Dad, between sweet tea for her and black coffee for him, poured in clay-grey mugs that warmed fingers on stormy mornings. Grey flowed from every nook and cranny of my life until it seemed I myself was a grey girl who lived and breathed in shades of silver.
Most importantly, grey was the color of my best friend’s eyes. Lula was a great golden retriever my parents had adopted shortly before I was born. We still have pictures of our first meeting, her luscious golden coat puppy short as she stared inquisitively at infant me, her wet nose nuzzling against my plump cheeks. They say that it was the first time I laughed, a wind-chime tinkling full of innocence and quicksilver. Lula’s coat is thinner now around the stomach and silvering at the edges, more a bleached blonde than sunshine and wheat. In the picture, Lula’s eyes are a rich, unending chocolate brown. Mom claims her eyes were still that color behind the cloudy cataracts that obscure them. I only remeber grey eyes the color of mist at sunrise, even in my earliest memories of her, when I had trained her with a shiny silver whistle. We had only ever learned the one trick, but I was proud of us anyways.
“Sit,” I’d say, pointing demandingly with chubby toddler fingers. “Stay.” Lula would thump her tail and gaze at me with an impatient, long-suffering, yet strangely maternal look. Finally, I would relent, and open my arms for her to come bounding into them. “I love you!” I’d crow in between spasms of open laughter filled with childish joy.
One brisk day in the grey of Ohio’s April, Mom, Dad, and I took Lula to the veterinarian’s office. The air smelled of rich earth, the sort of hanging fragrance before the impending storm. I remember playing hopscotch on the stone walkway, grey rubber rain boots leaving wet marks scarcely bigger than the echoing one Lula made. I clambered into the van, smiling down at my friend, who followed me loyally. Lula limped to the van, one paw placed heavily in front of the other, padding to a stop at the short ledge before the door of the van. Normally, Lula would hop right in, but this time, despite my beckoning, she just sat there, a thin, flat whine emerging from her. Grumbling about how much weight she’d lost, Dad picked her up and set her down gently on the floor next to me. Elated, I reached across and violently slid the door shut with a slam that made Lula flinch. Just as we pulled out of the driveway, the swollen, bruise-grey clouds above us burst, painting the world in monochrome. Silvered droplets pummeled the roof of the van and slipped down my window. I chattered happily to Lula as I watched them slip to the bottom, betting her which of the rivulets would make it to the bottom of the window first, narrating the entire race. Lula’s eyes wandered, her snout, shot through with greying whiskers, nestled in her paws.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, trying to get her attention. “Sit.” She glanced wearily at me, sighed, and haltingly rose up off the ground and onto her haunches. “Stay,” I commanded before breaking out into an effervescent smile. Lula kept her misty eyes on me as she put her greying head into into my lap as I indulgently scratched behind her ears. “I love you,” I cooed. Together, we watched the world go by in snippets of color becoming increasingly indiscernible through the onslaught of sluicing rain.
I should have noticed, I suppose, the unnatural silence that hung ominously over my little family like a rumbling storm cloud, only vaguely noting that Mom and Dad hadn’t switched on the radio to the normal oldies station that blared country love ballads. Besides the heavy patter of drops and the laboured breaths of Lula, all was quiet. One hand on the steering wheel, Dad took Mom’s hand, squeezing it reassuringly. With white knuckles, she clasped it in hers like it was the only tether in the upcoming storm. They didn’t let go, didn’t say a word, not even when we pulled into the parking lot and I threw open the door and splashed in the mirror-like puddles, spinning and giggling in the rain. They held firm to each other when the man in the off-white scrubs had them sign a few papers on a clipboard and escorted us to Lula to say our goodbyes. Dad lifted me, still one handed, to reach Lula, who was reclining on her special cot, eyes closed. Those all-seeing eyes flashed open as I planted a slobbery smooch on her greying brow, reminiscent of the first of many gifts she had granted me. Lula’s tail wagged slightly, the grey coated end bobbing, as if she recognized the parallels of this moment, even if I, at the time, didn’t. Smiling slightly at her enthusiasm, I leaned over to whisper “I love you” into the cusp of her ear, throwing my arms around her in one last hug before my parents grasped my shoulders with one hand each and pulled me gently away. I like to imagine that Lula’s grey eyes were still on me, on her grey girl, as the orderly wheeled her bed away.
My parents only clung tighter to each other, bundled together on a hard-backed seat in the waiting room. I recall thinking they made an odd sight, two contrasting entities melding together through their embrace, settling into a single being while both sitting in a chair clearly made for one. They remained this way, stuck in an anticipatory but resigned state of consciousness under the too-bright fluorescent lights, until another nurse, this time a short, rounded woman with kind eyes, came out to tell us that the doctor was done with Lula and that we could go home now.
Only then did Mom and Dad pull apart, and only momentarily, to whisk me into their arms and onto Mom’s lap, where they embraced. Suddenly, Mom was sitting half off of Dad with me between them in a tangle of limbs and soft clothes and gasping breath. Mom buried her face in my hair, leaning back against Dad’s chest, shuddering in silent throes of heart wrenching sorrow. Dad’s chest heaved with choked sobs, rising and falling in rasping succession. He blinked rapidly, as if by entrapping the water that lingered at the edges of his vision, he could hold back the feelings that made him rock both of us gently back and forth. Mom didn’t bother to hide her tears, letting them smudge the tips of her mascara, spilling forth on their own accord as she stared silently at Dad until he too stopped hiding. I stared in wonder at the tears that streamed down from their eyes, cutting silver streaks across their familiar faces. Marveling at them, I trailed my fingertips across the curve my mom’s cheek bones, squinting at her, unable to comprehend this proof that even my invincible parents cried.
“Don’t cry, Mommy.” I consoled, worried, patting her cheek soothingly, “Don’t cry.” Smiling weakly, she nodded to me, reaching up a hand to hold my small palm to her cheek for a moment before extricating herself from the crowded chair. Standing, she clenched my hand firmly, then, wiping her face with the back of her own, offered the other to Dad. Looking her in the eyes, he grabbed hold, and we made our way in the downpour back to the van.
I wouldn’t understand for weeks why Mom’s eyes brimmed over when she found silvered dog hair entwined in Dad’s favorite sweater while doing the laundry, nor why Dad no longer brought dog treats with him on his morning walks after brewing his morning coffee in the stainless steel pot. Nothing seemed to have changed. Physically, I was still Lula’s grey girl, though for a while, the silvery laugh became a rare sound to hear in our little grey home. I could only conclude, as I sat on the couch swaddled in my grey comforter, staring at the dull grey urn on the stone mantle, that somehow, my life had irrevocably changed, and the little grey girl that had been left behind would never catch up.
Yet still, when I’m alone in bed during a thunderstorm, I think of grey eyes the color of mist at sunrise and whisper comforting words into the grey unknown.
“Sit. Stay. I love you.”