Red is my favorite color. It has been for as long as I can remember. But like many aspects of myself, red was lost somewhere in the depths of a strained marriage.
In my marital house, I was surrounded by neutral colors. Everything was brown. Brown furniture. Brown bedding. Brown walls. Even the few colors splashed within the rooms that were meant to pop - the royal blue dining room, the sage green kitchen -- seemed muted to me.
It was only natural that when my marriage ended and I moved out, the red would return. In so many ways, I didn't want to be muted anymore. So I went on a red rampage. Red sheets. Red towels. Red dishes. It didn't take long before I was surrounded in my new apartment by a color that reminded me to feel strong and confident and audacious.
That was the beginning of what I called the Red Years.
The Red Years were an era of struggle and uncertainty. It was a period when I had to live hour by hour because day to day was too much. But it was also a time of discovery. I had a blank slate, a chance to start over and redefine myself, a rare opportunity to figure out who I was without the influence of a significant other.
Redefinition after a breakup goes beyond a change in perspective toward yourself. It requires redefining values to external triggers. And sometimes trying to remove significance from everyday items like a mug or a necklace or a canvas on the wall is harder than the introspection process.
When someone is a main character in your life, he's a part of virtually everything you do, say, eat, hear, own, focus on, think about. You can find that person in every nook and cranny. So what are you supposed to do when that main character disappears?
I spent a large portion of the Red Years trying to figure that out, trying to follow the advice of my therapist who taught me how to assign new meanings to old triggers. Like celebrating my child's birthday at a particular restaurant so my memory of it revolves around my children and their giggles rather than the times I went there with that person. Or wearing a particular shirt on a girls' night out so I associate it with loyal friendship rather than a longing for date nights past.
I can't stop listening to music I enjoy or stop wearing my favorite color nail polish because they trigger memories of a person or a moment or a place where and when the love I no longer have was full. I can't stop ordering a certain kind of pizza or sitting in one of my chairs or doing a thousand other mundane things because they evoke visions of a special version of happiness, visions of a life past or a life that could have been. If I did that, I'd have to move and replace just about everything I own, give up hobbies, scrub my vocabulary, abandon mutual friends, get off all social media. These aren't realistic options.
During The Red Years, I altered what I could. I replaced pictures in frames. I boxed up items I wasn't ready to part with yet and hid them in the back of my closet. I created new Spotify playlists. I threw out my favorite red nail polish and bought a new bottle in a different shade. And I let time work its healing magic.
At the end of it all, I reached a level of contentment. I am content being single. I am content with my place in this world. I am content with my life. I no longer feel like I'm lost in the unknown and waiting for answers because I'm content accepting that I'll never get all the answers I want. And I'm content with the knowledge that every single person who stumbles into my life does so for a reason, and if they're meant to return in any way, shape or form after they've disappeared, then they'll catch up and help me redefine who they ultimately are to me.
The Red Years are over.
This doesn't mean I'm getting rid of my red dish towels or my red throw pillows or my dog's red collar. Red is still my favorite color. But now I'm redefining red to signify the end of an era of struggle and uncertainty. Red is no longer a reminder that I need to be strong and confident and audacious. It's a reminder that I already am.
And it's time for the next chapter.