Purple is a Fruit
May 13, 2010 3:57 pm
Updated: May 14, 2010 1:06 pm
Yesterday at school my best friend pulled me aside and asked in a low, worried voice whether or not I could keep a secret. I gave the usual good-friend response and said of course. She glanced around nervously and asked if we could discuss it in an empty science lab nearby. At this point I was slightly concerned. Was she in trouble for that party we went to last Saturday? I swear we thought it would end by 10. Her boyfriend wasn't in our math class today. Were they in a fight? Come to think of it, her eyes looked a little red. Was it just me or were Benjamin Franklin's eyes following me from his black-and-white portrait a few feet away? Of course, I couldn't help but burst out laughing when she said to me in a hushed whisper "I see colors when I think of numbers."
She followed this by explaining in detail her life-long struggle with synesthesia, a neurological condition that forces her to associate colors to certain words, letters, or numbers. Apparently she had thought this to be a perfectly normal trait until she mentioned it to the school guidance counselor. The counselor, ironically named Mrs. Friendly, is one of those baffling anomalies in which someone who hates kids ends up working with them every day for a living. She'd managed to convince my friend's parents that their child was severely handicapped until they went home that night and actually researched the condition and found out how harmless it is.
To give my friend some peace of mind for the remaining school day, I told her that I associated colors with different foods. To be fair, this was only partially true. It did make her feel a little better, though. We've all seen the Simpsons episode where wide-eyed Homer explains the nutritional benefits of purple jelly doughnuts. I only experience this sort of gourmet synesthisia in a very specific case. When I was young I read a book in which a woman is asked by a blind boy to explain the color red. She tells him to eat a ripe berry and plays a lively song on the guitar as he does so. I have never again eaten a berry, be they blueberries, strawberries, or otherwise, without thinking of the color red.