If you’ve ever seen Facebook pictures of your friends at color runs, you’ll know exactly what I didn’t look like last Sunday afternoon.
For years, I’ve scrolled through happy, artfully rainbow faces and thought about how much I wanted to participate in a color run, too. I imagined running through the gauntlet of cheering spectators. I imagined racing through multicolored powder clouds, pigmenting the canvas of my shirt. I imagined looping an arm around another’s and beaming for the camera. I imagined someone asking me kindly to please get out of their picture, who did I think I was.
Everything about color runs appealed to me, and by everything I obviously mean just the color part. I looked into ways to participate without running, but usually the only volunteering work for which I could sign up was handing out water bottles and throwing color on other people. From this I reasoned that I would probably be able to better achieve the intended effect sitting alone in my kitchen and just upending the contents of a couple hundred Pixy Stix onto my person, so I passed on the opportunity.
As I rarely honor promises I make myself, I still hadn’t had a color experience before last week (two years since I learned about color runs). So when my friends brought up attending our school’s Holi celebration, I found my long-awaited opportunity.
Holi is a Hindu “festival of colors” that signals the arrival of spring. It’s basically a free-for-all in which participants smear/wipe/dump packets of colored powder, called rang, onto each other, disregarding social boundaries. Exactly my cup of tea.
The event, hosted by the Hindu Students Association on a library lawn, was amazing. Two minutes in, a stranger backward-bear-hugged me, smudging my sides crimson. My friend drew the appropriate red eyebrows onto Ginger Friend and yellow eyebrows on me. I tried dumping packets of color into another friend’s hair and was mystified when the color kept vanishing and flying into my mouth.
Me: *coughing because I’m sick again* I’m guessing this experience is worth about four years.
Someone: As in time flies when you’re having fun?
Me: As in all the color dust I’m choking on is making me revise my budgeted 87 years to 83.
The DJ switched from traditional to contemporary club music, and we toppled into the writhing crowd. We “danced.” My sweat blended colors into attractive brown strains in attractive places such as the creases of my elbows, which my friends kindly pointed out to me.
I remembered the tasteful pastel streaks and megawatt smiles of the Facebook Color Runners and contrasted those images with my own practically orange complexion. Apart from my eyelids and lips, every inch of my face looked like a four-year-old had gone to town on it with a paint roller and vats of Sherwin-Williams. Alternatively, I looked like I’d been thrown into a blender.
Me: You know how all war movies have that one scene of a guy dying in a trench?
Me: I look like that guy.
But of course the full Holi experience wouldn’t have been complete without the aftermath. I’ve only been to one Holi, but friends have always mentioned that the dye is impossible to get out.
Somewhere along the walk of shame back to my dorm, I walked past a mirror. Froze. Slowly walked back for the horrifying close-up. Doubled my pace.
My roommate, woken up from her nap, opened the door and blinked. We stared at each other for a moment before she wordlessly burrowed back into her covers and went back to sleep. Using tissues to protect my change of clothes from stained fingers, I grabbed my shower caddy.
Inside the shower, I couldn’t exactly see if I was getting the dye out, but I assumed I was done when I stopped wringing red from my hair. I twisted the shower knob, stepped outside, and made eye contact with myself in one of the bathroom mirrors.
Me: Oh no.
I hadn’t gotten all the color out. Not even close. My hairline and most of my forehead remained bright red. The sides of my face were yellow orange like I’d contoured along my jaw with highlighter. Leaning closer, I also had a yellow mustache.
Four washes (with toilet paper, hand soap, and sink water) later, I still sported what looked like a hairline bruise from someone clobbering me in the forehead with a baseball bat. I left the bathroom to salvage my clothes, having stopped scrubbing more because I’d run of patience than actual progress, and passed my RA.
RA: I see you went to Holi.
Me: What on earth makes you say that?
RA: Everyone who went is a little red.
I resigned myself to my fate and just walked around campus the next day as I was. Obviously, I got a lot of commentary on the state of my face—“look who went to Holi”—“oh, I thought that was just a really bad sunburn”—and actually began to feel offended when people didn’t ask what I’d done to my face, because then did that mean there wasn’t much of a difference? But there were more people than I thought who immediately understood, and I felt connected to everyone with red imprints. (You can be sure I took advantage of the conversation fodder.)
People who’d gone talked about how fun Holi was and people who hadn’t talked about how they regretted not going, and then we all closed the subject, to be continued next year.
Or so I thought.
Meeting With Peer Mentor, Two Days Later
Peer Mentor: Hi Nicole, I see you went to Holi.
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