Ha-Tzevah Sagol (The Color Purple)

By Gabi Kirk

0. Motherland

Just before my Bat Mitzvah, my dad gave me permission to dye my hair, provided that I choose a “color not found in nature.” He meant neon, a high-resolution hue. I browsed the aisle of fluorescent oranges and pinks before settling on a temporary tone of deep purple. It barely shone in the light on my kinked, dark hair, a subtlety one can just make out in my seventh grade school picture.

My hair has often drawn attention, so the color made little difference. Like a web, it attracts questions, traps stares, and entangles a fair share of scratches and tugs, some desired and some not. Curious minds inquire, “So where are you from?” That question holds back possible judgments like a rat in a box. They’re hidden, but you can hear them sniff. If you don’t feed them, they’ll chew their way out. I’ve found rats nesting in my locks, nuzzled against my neck.

I’ve been granted phenotypic plasticity. Those who expect an exotic answer to their inquiry will be mildly disappointed. I have successfully blended into markets in Israel, Italy, and the Inner Sunset. But my birth certificate says California, and my “ethnicity,” a European mutt.

1. First wave

I come from red, settlements beyond the pale of my comfortable existence. In cafés and cramped apartments in Eastern Europe, we argued quickly in hushed tones about how the revolution would lift all ships. For all our disagreements and religious differences, we could still share bread. But then, change came, and it didn’t lift ours. We saw our neighbors beaten and broken, the red of dreams pooling in a puddle dripping from a father’s ear. So, abandoning a temporary home for another one that gave a bit more wiggle room, we left behind another set of empty shells, like hermit crabs, scattered across the sands of the globe.

When we crossed to our newly minted Promised Land, we quickly learned the rules of the game. There were others there already who suffered like us, wept unending, felt the sting of the rope of capitalism and brutality. Their suffering ran through our veins too. Some brought red dreams with them, mixing them with the black of anarchy upon arrival. Most of us were too tired to argue anymore. A more muted hue would do well for us. We eagerly took up the brush to paint the pale of our skins into our spirits.

2. Second wave

My blue spills over dams and crumbling retaining walls. I am tied to a land trapped between seas (Yam el Yam) even though I have no blood ties in that small sliver of bitterly contested desert. Those who did not go to America went to the ancient Promised Land. We pretended not to know we were not the only ones there. Those who spoke up for the rights of the natives were flooded with criticism and hate. Sixty years later, the blue of the flag remains. But the blue of the Jordan has been clogged with waste. The blue of the springs have been tapped dry. Blue instead flows into making the desert bloom and swimming pools built on top of crushed homes. We are proud of the blue glow of computer screens we have invented. I wonder if we will solve our wars and have the blue flow freely again, or if both sides will perish in the process.

3. Third wave

Red flows and meets the blue sea in estuarine ecstasy in a sleepy California town. The purple ebbs and dissipates. The seas sustain all life, from the squiggling brine shrimp, to the bellowing blue whale. I want to burrow in the muddy banks and hibernate for a while, rather than make a choice between my values and my community. I feel they should integrate as nicely as these two colors do, but I wonder if anyone else feels the same.

Published on page 29 of the Spring 2012 issue of Leviathan.

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