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Tempo: The Color of Giving

Rochel Grunewald

If she could paint, Nina would run color onto every surface she could reach. The bed linen. The IV pole. The wall

Monday, June 26, 2017

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GRAY MATTER A painter she isn’t, but once upon a happier time Nina fancied herself a poet. Today she writes with her finger in the air above her bed. Her words are vaporous, passing almost before they are birthed

F rom her bed she can see a sliver of sky. It’s pale blue today, just shades off yesterday’s washed-out white. The color makes all the difference to her mood. Or maybe it is her mood that makes all the difference to the color?

If she could paint, Nina would coax shining streaks of life from dull blocks of watercolor. She would wield a magic wand dripping sunset shades and she would run color onto every surface she could reach. The bed linen. The IV pole. The wall.

Nina dreams in technicolor. When she is sleeping, life tastes of rainbows. When she wakes up, there is only white and gray.

Of course, there are also the mood charts Sarah makes her enter into the iPad every evening. They are mustard yellow and dull red and flashed through with white teeth, gnashed or grinning weirdly, but the colors are computerized and lifeless. Nina hates the charts. Sometimes she thinks they are more depressing than the illness.

But today will be a smiley day.

No reason why, except for the blue in the patch of sky. A miracle in her bloodstream, the cohort of meds balancing in blissful harmony, for once. Which means that for one blessed, beautiful day she can live with lightness in her heart. End her evening with a decisive click on the icon with a small smile, two wide-open eyes, no teeth. Her favorite.


The aggravating part of it all is that there is no knowing what tomorrow will bring. No holding onto this brush with joy — no, not joy, but something like contentment, at least. Just encountering the scent of paradise and wondering how long it will last this time.

There was a time when life was sweet.

When a midnight wail made me sigh

And morning cast brilliant glow when I rubbed my eyes

And I lived with a prism of emotion

And didn’t realize that

simply feeling,

was beautiful.


A painter she isn’t, but once upon a happier time Nina fancied herself a poet. Today she writes with her finger in the air above her bed. Her words are vaporous, passing almost before they are birthed.

She wakes up again before she realizes she has fallen asleep. How she can sleep when she wants to catch the day between her fingers, she doesn’t know, but the medications make her sleepy. Side effects. The least of them.

Shaya comes with breakfast and a smile in his eyes. He is one of the 36 hidden tzaddikim to handle all this, she decides. Last year’s nightmare of diagnosis and treatment and nights in a plastic hospital chair were one thing; none of them had bargained for the side effects of her medication turning into a tunnel of depression and cocktail of psychiatric medication, constantly balanced against treatment drugs and pain meds.

The toasted sandwich creamy with melted cheese catches her attention first. Her mouth waters guiltily at the brown, pale yellow; today, they are the colors of life and health and appetite. She forces herself to say hello before reaching out. He laughs and brings her a cup to wash.

“Eat something, we’ll talk soon,” he commands. She’s too grateful to care about the wary glint in his eye, the one that tells her how hard it must be for him to walk in each morning, never knowing just what he might find. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 548)

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