MISFIT DOC: In Living Color



There are so many stories I would tell you if I could only tell them in color. Tint them, shade them, make it so you could absorb what I remember. If I possessed a device, not unlike a View Master, I would tell you about the bird zoo at The Cherry Hill Mall, the carpeted tunnels at the entrance to The Children’s Place. I might even admit to that time in the closet between my father’s dress shirts with my cousin Greg.

What I need is a mad scientist to invent a mechanism whereby the colors of my memory reverberate back to you — in a way I don’t understand, but appreciate. So you can fully be there, in the mood of the hour.

“Was that when the world was in black and white?” My daughter asks.

I know I need to tell her the world was never in black and white, except I don’t 100% believe it to be true.

Instagram is the closest I’ve ever come to being satisfied with a photograph I’ve taken. In this way I am adequately able to tell you stories I never would otherwise. I can’t be certain you’ll understand the stories I am telling you, even with Instagram, but that’s not what matters. What matters is the relief of accurately capturing the essence of my awareness, showing you it really was the way it was.

Once I wrote a poem about the Echelon Mall, the second, less sophisticated South Jersey shopping mall. People loved the poem. I didn’t quite succeed in telling it in color, but I told it in words that had color. Not like Monday or June or jump have color, not like the words that when I think about them as words I envision in some shade of red. The words in the poem were enveloped in the actual tint of the Echelon Mall, circa 1982, which was not the same tint as the Echelon Mall, circa 1991. One was a brownish-orange like Stride Rite shoes, and the other a cool white florescent you need to blend with mauve in order to make Zinc Pink lipstick.

The story I want to tell you now takes place in an attic bedroom somewhere on the Main Line of Pennsylvania. In Hope’s attic bedroom. Bright, because she had a window, but dark, because we were whispering about witchcraft. I don’t remember anything else. The story ends there.

Another story I want to tell you takes place on the second floor of the Camden Country Public Library which was the same color as The Echelon Mall in 1982 and is that same color now, which means that when I return, like I did last summer, I am discovering time travel. (Almost. Like that time I almost floated to the top of the room in the middle of a nap with my infant son.)

It was real, though, and not a dream because of the aluminum pencil sharpener still bolted down to the librarian’s desk. The sharpener was something I could touch there — then, really — unlike the carpet, which was much too filthy.

One time, when I was a child, I snuck upstairs to the nonfiction section of the Camden County library to pluck my fingers through the drawer in the card catalog marked Wi – Wu. My heart pumped so hard that day, but for no good reason seeing as there was no book on witchcraft. Just Woodrow Wilson, Wimbledon, woodworking.

Witchcraft, when I call it up, appears in my mind as an orangey-brown, not unlike the color of diarrhea. But it has no smell. For this, I am grateful. Some people smell words; even smell colors. I have an extraordinary sense of smell, but not so powerful I smell things that don’t exist.

Some even hallucinate odors. They remember the scent of something that never happened, never was.

I’ve loved two men in my life. The two loves – not the men, but the love itself – are clouded in a haze the same shade as the hair on the head of each of the men. One exists in the past in a mist of Mountain Dew and the other in the present, seen through a watered down bottle of Hunt’s BBQ sauce. Again, odorless: The loves, not the men.

Of my three children, only one sees words in color. His Monday, he says, is green. This makes me feel both closer to him, and farther away. What kind of person, after all, can claim Monday is green?

There is no filter on Instagram the tint or shade of the Echelon Mall, which is probably better because if there was I might sneak down the street one Friday morning when my kids are fighting over the Wii, snap a picture of the tunnel slide at the playground, add a shadow that could pass for carpet, and burrow myself inside 1982.  I have so many questions for 1982.

One time, on Ebay, I found and purchased an old promotional postcard of the Cherry Hill Mall. The photograph it featured was of the bird zoo. The faded blue-greens of the postcard were not quite right, but right enough to make me certain I didn’t dream up the bird zoo. That it had been real once, in the middle of the hallway across Woolworth’s: tall tropical trees, parakeets chirping, an island – Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya—just perched there in the middle of a shopping mall in New Jersey.


A New Jersey native, Jen Maidenberg is a freelance editor, writer, and married mother of three living on a kibbutz in Northern Israel. She received an MA from the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University. In addition to her flash CNF column which appears bimonthly in District Lit, Jen writes author interviews for The Times of Israel and other outlets.

Submit a comment