It’s really great how you don’t need nice things to be happy.
Yellow is the color of the shirt I wore in my first-grade rocking chair picture. For the sake of surprise, our silly, sticky, six-year-old selves were allowed to have a photo on the famous throne. Our assistant teacher snapped a photo of each of us the week before our parents were due to visit the school for back-to-school night. Then, when they came, they would be so pleased to find professional-looking pictures of us. I remember it took the whole day. I remember our assistant teacher asking, “do we want them in twenty-eleven?” while labeling the painted picture frames, asking if the other teacher wanted her to write the current year. She did, and so, the red-framed photo of me wearing a yellow shirt with a yellow name tag and a yellow back-to-school decal sits on my nightstand, marked “1st grade – 2011.” With time in permanent marker, the photo is a permanent marker of time: the last time I was photographed with naturally straight hair. It’s my mom’s favorite. She’s never looked at me the same since.
Yellow is the color of the dress I wore in my third-grade class photo. Bright yellow, the color of Starburst, with light yellow hearts. That photo sits in the photo slot of the old leather thing my dad kept in his office. I never knew what that thing was for, he never put anything in it. But, I do know that there was a plastic photo sleeve that left enough room for the 5x7s my school sold seasonally. Even though the leather thing itself always looked brand-new, the plastic photo sleevewas never seen without dust inside it, even when my dad first bought the thing. Behind the sleeve sits the infamous snapshot of my smiling eight-year-old self, with childishly charming crooked teeth and hair in a halo around my head. My first photo with curly hair. I don’t remember my hair ever looking like that. I don’t remember walking around with what was almost a perfect circle of hair floating around my head. And I’m positive no one commented on it at school that year. If they did, I would’ve remembered.
Yellow is the color of our old basement. It made me feel how confetti birthday cake tastes. My mom stored all our old things there, and my dad always hated it. I never spent much time there, only to blow bubbles. My whole house has been hardwood floor as long as I’ve lived here. My friends’ houses were carpeted. We had a carpet once, but my brother was allergic and we had to get rid of it. My mom said the chemicals in bubble formula stain hardwood floors, so when I found a bottle of bubbles in the hallway closet, I was sent to the basement: the only room with tile floor. I still never understood why my mom made me go there. The bubbles made stains there, too. On the occasion that my brother would join me downstairs, he would say that the dome shape the bubbles made when they landed on the floor looked like Patrick’s house from SpongeBob. We would then see who could keep their Patrick’s House standing the longest, not that we could even control it. To win, we started stepping on each others’ Patrick’s Houses. Our mom told us to stop making so much noise.
Yellow is the color of my old Belle figurine. I used to have a Disney-princess-themed room. I had a Disney-themed mat on my floor for me to play with my various Disney figurines which were housed in a pink Disney bag. I don’t recall what the mat was supposed to depict, but it was mostly green grass. There were yellow roads along it on which I made my princess figurines walk, and Cinderella’s carriage was in the corner, but that spot was strictly reserved for Cinderella herself. My favorite princess and favorite figurine was Belle. I dreamed of being her, of wearing blue, reading all day, and having all the townspeople know me. I didn’t care for her when she actually became a princess, but Plastic Belle was forever trapped in that fate. She appeared to be made of a different plastic than the other figurines; she was of a higher caliber than Jasmine or Aurora, or even Gaston, who came from the same set as her. Plastic Belle was glossy and round, not matte and pointy like the other princesses. I liked her yellow dress, even though I staunchly preferred the period where she wore blue. But even though she was round, Plastic Belle hurt the most to accidentally step on.
Yellow is the color of the turtle-shaped ring from my grandma. My grandma has a glass cup in a basket in her bathroom next to a tall jar of cinnamon-smelling, fall-themed potpourri that she keeps there year-round. The night of one of my elementary winter concerts,— third, fourth, or fifth grade, I can’t remember— I rushed to my grandma’s room to come collect her before we left. Typical of me at the time, I ventured off into her bathroom and fished around in that glass cup. My favorite color being blue, a gold ring with a scintillating sapphire stone caught my eye.
It was shaped like a turtle, and the gemstone was its shell. I tried it on my ring finger, but my brother told me that would mean I was married, so I wore it on my middle. When we got to the school, I saw an acquaintance of mine waiting outside. She was also wearing gold. “My mom made me wear this,” she complained, yanking at her necklace and scratching her neck. “Yeah.” I dragged my Mary Jane across the concrete, kicking a loose pebble. “Mine too.”
Yellow is the color of Laffy Taffy in the Wyndham Hotel in Virginia Beach. My mom and dad went to the same work conference in the same city at the same hotel for several years in a row. They brought my brother and me with them, but they never left us alone. On the days my mom was gone, she would come back with pastel-colored saltwater taffy in her purse. They were wrapped in wax paper, transparent and unmarked. Apparently, Virginia Beach is known for its saltwater taffy, but it didn’t taste at all like salt. It was sweet and sticky, like gum, except you can swallow it without worrying. One day, there was an entire glass dish of taffy. No one knew where it came from. We got back from the beach one day, and it was just there, sitting on a table in the middle of the hotel room. Excited, my brother and I finished the whole thing in a few minutes, right then and there. “More!” we demanded. “No more,” my mom said. She zipped open her purse and smiled, pulling out two Laffy Taffies: one lemon, and one lime. “Here,” she said. I had the lemon one. It was bland and reminded me of an eraser. I missed the old taffy.
Yellow is the color of what once was and what never was. Emblazoned and imprinted on the surface of “happy” in our brains; worshipped, romanticized, and glorified as “the good old days,” but blackened, tarnished, and ruined at recall. Yellow is the color of the past. Yellow is the color I miss. Yellow is the color of nostalgia.
Alexa Mendez (she/her) is a mixed Afro-Latina and Asian high school student from Long Island, New York. She has had a passion for writing since age 12 and currently specializes in creative nonfiction and essays as a member of her school’s English Scholars Honors Program. Outside of writing, she enjoys cross-stitching and listening to music, often simultaneously.