Allegory of the turquoise underwear

spectrum (n): 1. a band of colors, as seen in a rainbow, produced by separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to wavelength
2. a range used to classify something, or suggest that it can be classified, in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points

One day my husband, who’d been monitoring the kids changing into their swimsuits at my mother’s house, remarked that there was a pair of green underwear in the bathroom that he thought was our daughter’s. He said he’d asked her if she’d left behind a pair of green underwear and that she’d denied ownership of said garment. I shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps it belonged to my niece, who had also changed into swimming duds that day. A couple of hours later, when he was working on the other end of the pool day, which is to say facilitating the reinstatement of dry clothing, he came over to where my sister and I were sitting to share his mild annoyance over our child’s lack of attention to detail. He reported that the orphaned underwear, upon further investigation, did indeed belong to Summerly, and that the conversation had gone like this:

Brian (pointing at the underwear on the floor): “I really think those green underwear are yours.”
Summerly: “Oh, yeah, those are my underwear, but they’re not green; they’re blue.”

When he was telling us two women about this exchange, he held up the scrap of cotton in question as if to prove that his frustration was warranted and that our daughter was not only disorganized when it comes to her personal property but also misconstruing the shade of her own drawers. My sister and I took one glance at the underwear, looked at each other, and burst out laughing because it was obvious to both of us, without having to say a single word, that those underwear were conclusively, incontrovertibly, unmistakably, emphatically turquoise. I summed up the interaction by saying, “He saw, she saw,” and we laughed some more.

I’m frequently amazed by how much of life is all about interpretation, and how complicated communication can be as a result of it. The ways our senses and sensibilities transfer what we see and hear into apprehension, and how we internalize the stimuli that present themselves throughout each and every day, bring to bear such weighty significance on our experience of the world and its people. The fabric of human existence is spun with spectrum upon spectrum upon spectrum, perplexingly diverse and fascinatingly dynamic in their multitude and variability. Something that makes perfect sense to one person might be completely incomprehensible to someone else based on so very many factors, and this manifests itself in countless ways as we wend our way from one interaction to the next. What’s both humorous and ironic is that that day at the pool, when Brian described the underwear as green, he was including that detail with the intention of being helpful, adding specificity so as to promote clarity. In fact, if he hadn’t designated the color and simply inquired about the underwear without an adjective, perhaps the events would have unfolded differently and less confusingly. At any rate, at least now we all know one thing: when a man says something is green and a girl thinks that it’s blue, a woman and her sister can be sure it is definitely turquoise.

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