I believe my name was originally Yellow. I have very vivid memories of wearing the sunflower shirt. Then again I recall wearing black, and I know I had my share of violet days as well. Still, I am quite sure I was originally Yellow.
Like almost everything else, the confusion about names was Violet’s fault. The bloody fool.
It was a long time ago when we were still smaller than the Moms and Dads, and we never left the sleeping room.
The sleeping room was approximately seventy feet long and eighteen feet wide. We called it the sleeping room because we slept there. All our names for things were quite obvious in those days. The sleeping pods—stationed in pairs so that one brother would have his feet facing the wall and head facing the aisle—dominated one end of the white-tiled room. This left, of course, a good forty feet for the play area, not that we did much playing. The play area was delineated by four couches that could seat three of us at a time.
When we were older, we left the sleeping area and went to the kitchen and the cafeteria. Every morning, after we returned from breakfast, the Moms and Dads rolled in the book carts and two long tables, and we would study. By noon, lessons done, we would return to the kitchen and cafeteria, make and eat lunch, then return to the play area where the Moms and Dads would organize us into art or music or puzzles depending on what day of the week it was.
This was when we experienced our first big change. Suffered it, one might say.
Someone, another small person, was in the room when we returned from lunch.
The Moms and Dads had rolled in a puzzle, a big one, the kind that when assembled would be an amusement ride. One can tell not only because of the 12v battery but because of the handful of pieces that looked like dissected animal parts.
But that other small person. Smaller than Mom Joyce, he wore a very long pink, very sparkling shirt and no trousers. This stood out in my memory because it was indecent to not wear trousers. One ought to be punished when one does not wear trousers.
He was also strangely colored. We all had white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. And while we debated whether yellow or pale red or a very light beige was more an appropriate descriptor of our skin, we unanimously agreed that blond was a special word for yellow hair, and blue was the correct shade. However, this new small person was so different he rendered our conversations about our appearance arbitrary.
For example, his hair was brown, and his eyes were green and blue and brown. We’d never seen anyone but Moms and Dads with different hair and eye color. We’d never seen anyone but Moms and Dads and us.
We all stared trying to figure out what this new small person was. He clutched closer to Mom Joyce, holding her hand. He did not have the confidence of a Mom or a Dad, and he was smaller than them so he should have been an us. But his face was different than ours—in obvious ways, like not having blue eyes and blond hair and also in more subtle ways. His nose and mouth were shaped differently—so he couldn’t possibly be one of us.
Mom Joyce put her hands on the new person’s shoulders and said, “boys, I want you all to meet my daughter, Karen.”
I gasped. Daughter meant a little girl. A real live little girl. Just like in the storybooks. Lessons came to life. Not a long shirt, but a dress. A pink dress and not a ‘he’ at all. Because ‘she’ was the proper pronoun for females like the Moms and the girls in storybooks. Karen must have been a shade of pink.
Mom Joyce pointed at us. “Karen, that’s Red, Yellow, Green, Black, Gray, Blue, Indigo, White, Orange, and Violet.”
We all smiled, bowed our heads, and said, “pleased to meet you, Miss Karen.”
Karen looked afraid, but Mom Joyce smiled. “Very good, boys.”
“All ten passed criteria one acknowledging Karen’s gender and age.” Dad Bruce spoke into his wrist-recorder. He cleared his throat. “Unanimously.”
Mom Joyce went on smiling. “Karen is here today to help you put together the big puzzle. You are to play nicely. The puzzle will be a very large elephant. If you assemble it quickly enough, then you may all take turns riding the elephant.”
How exciting. We all studied the pieces without leaving our formation, assessing, judging, deliberating, delegating internally.
“Go on, Karen.” Mom Joyce pushed the new person towards us.
“Mommy, why do they all look alike? They’re weird.”
“That’s not nice, Karen. They are normal little boys, and they would like it very much if you played with them.”
I stepped forward and smiled. “Yes, please, Miss Karen. We’ve never met a little girl before.”
Karen regarded me with baffling uncertainty, then stepped back again.
“Yes, Miss Karen, come help with the puzzle,” said Red stepping forward and smiling.
“It’s an elephant, Karen!” White stepped forward and smiled.
“Mommy’s right here, darling.” Mom Joyce nudged her again, so Karen walked towards us.
The timer began.
Immediately, the ten of us industriously sorted and categorized the inner frames. Once that was accomplished, three of us put those together while the others went about separating the other pieces according to color, size, and purpose.
I fashioned the outside edge of the trunk, hauling one block to its mate when I noticed the little girl just stood there.
“Help out,” said Green.
Karen looked confused at all of us working quickly around her. “What am I supposed to do?”
Gray tried to be nice. “Well, Pink. You can put the frame together with Yellow, Red, and I.”
“My name is Karen.” She stamped her foot.
Gray bit his lip and looked around at the rest of us. Karen was obviously a shade of pink. I knew about shades of colors. Golden, sunflower, vomited corn.
Yes, I was definitely Yellow.
Karen slowly moved blocks and even worse put them in the wrong place. It became clear to all of us that she was not clever. More importantly, she was going to cost us our elephant ride.
Violet said, “That connects with this one, Karen. Bring it here, please.”
“No. It fits with this one.” She pressed the piece in where it did not belong.
So I picked it up and brought it to Violet.
“Hey, that was mine!” Karen stamped her shoes, which were also pink. Little lights flickered in them. “Jerk.”
I had never heard the word ‘jerk’ used that way and I thought it was a new shade of yellow. “No, just Yellow, please.”
I handed the ear part to Violet who slipped it easily into place. “And Violet said please. Besides, that’s part of the foot.”
“That’s stupid. Your names are stupid,” the little girl said. “Violet is a stupid name for a boy.”
We all looked at each other a moment, ten identical faces searching for answers.
Then Violet said, “Pink isn’t playing nicely.”
“I agree. Pink said ‘stupid.’ I heard him…” I realized my mistake. “Correction, her… so sorry. I heard her.”
White hit a button on the wall to stop the timer on the activity. We all stepped toward the little girl to take her arm so the Dads would know whom to punish.
Karen screamed and ran away, which wasn’t fair. None of us ran away when we had to be punished. Certainly, none of us would scream like that. It wasn’t rational.
“Pink,” shouted Orange. “Hold still. Or Mom Joyce won’t be able to tell you apart.”
“I don’t wanna be like you! I wanna stay me! I wanna be Karen!” She sobbed. “Let me go.”
Most of us had a hold on her, so I didn’t try to wedge in. I just went over the facts of the case against her. She’d called Violet and me stupid. She said Violet was a stupid name for a boy. It occurred to me in the picture books, only girls wore violet.
Violet held her arm, but he was staring at his shirt.
He was thinking about it too. Stupid name for a boy. Something that set Violet apart from the rest of us.