I love the rain--the sound, the smell, the feel. I love it more than anything that isn't mammal. Sometimes more than some mammals I know. It feels like a thing to me, like a breathing thing, alive and magical. Maybe it is a residual effect from living in the desert for five years. I understood why societies worship the weather and nature, particularly when you live in a place not designed to sustain human life. Rain brought everything back from the brink of death. The desert after the rains is green, flowering, aromatic.
I grew up in a place with moss and ferns and bunnies. A hike through the woods had you occasionally glancing at the forest floor for roots and loose rocks. I moved to the Sonoran desert when I was 20, and lived there for five years. In the desert, every thing is designed for survival and protection. Hikes through the desert are filled with heat, snakes, scorpions, dehydration, heat stroke, javalina, large cats, disorientation. Toads exude psychotropic poison that make you freak the fuck out. Spiders the size of your hand poise to attack from the inside of your shoes. Your senses are heightened. It feels important and exhausting to be in the desert, because you learn how you are wired. Fight or flight. Alone or part of a tribe. Everything is raw and spiny and poisonous and designed for only its own survival. I began to worship and hang my life on the weather, the moon and the winds.
In the Sonoran desert, there is a type of cactus that is just a ball of spines. They call it a jumping cactus. Spines in every direction, free from the confines of roots. It just rolls, jumps, waits for someone to stick to. My dog stepped on one during a hike, and then bit into it to remove it from his paw. It took us three hours with doggie valium and pliers to free the spines from his tongue and mouth. I remember holding him in the back of the truck as he whimpered and growled, while my ex-husband wrenched the thorns from his jaw. You don't just walk after an incident like that. You treadly lightly, come prepared, expect the jumping cactus.
You can fry an egg on the sidewalk in three minutes during a Tucson summer. You can roast pork butt in your car while you work all day. But then monsoon season rolls in. The storms blow through town. And the egg washes away into the street, through the gutters and into the fast moving arroyo, haunted by La Llorona. As you stand in your yard, rain washing over you, you can see lightning hitting the different parts of the city. It looks like Thor throwing bolts at the impious. When the rains come, people rejoice. They stand in their yards in August and let the rains soak them and wash everything away-- the anger, the vulnerability, the need to be poised for attack. Everything is okay when the rains come.
Everything will be okay.
The storm woke me this morning on the heels of a the Sturgeon Moon. Thunder rattled the house, and Jack started barking. My first thought was that a tree fell into our living room. I always go to the worst place first. The dog just barked after a loud thunderclap and I imagined our Japanese maple uprooted and thrown through our lounge. I ran downstairs and the dog was standing in the kitchen staring at me. We regarded each other. I wondered what he thought of the noise, if he thought a tree fell through the upstairs. I opened the back door for him. He poked his head out, sniffed, then came back in, refusing to leave the dry house, even though he hadn't been out all night. Fairweather dog.
Many years ago, when I just left my first marriage and alone for the first time in four years, I had a boyfriend who was full Native American of two different tribes. He taught me about the moons, their names, and the stars. He considered me half, since my mother's people were Central American Indian.
We are both of Aztlan, sister.
But neither of us were truly from the desert where we met, yet it was the first place where we felt at home in our lives, surrounded by people who looked like us. Aztlan, we called it. The ancestral home of the native peoples. We lived in the country of Aztlan. All us brown folk of the same tribe. Nothing could hurt us there, I thought. He wore a long braid down his back, sometimes two. When he dressed for work, he tied a bowtie and plaited his hair and wore a corduroy jacket with elbow pads. Most evenings, we poured some bourbon and listened to AM radio on a transistor. We would sit on a blanket in his backyard and watch the stars. He was a philosophy professor and we enjoyed sparring about God and relativism. We played Scrabble for hours, and danced in the moonlight. I couldn't imagine being happier until I wasn't.
The switch flipped on night. I turned off the happy. He dropped me off at work the next morning, and I knew we were both too proud to ever talk again. He repeated the argument from the night before, "Marry me, or never see me again." And I knew the time was not right. I knew I was too muddled to be anyone's wife. But all I wanted was him.
Give me a year. A year for my broken heart to recover.
Now or never. It should already be healed by our love. By the fate we share. We are both of the Moon. We are both of Aztlan.
But love doesn't work that way, I pleaded.
But I don't work your way, he said.
And he drove his truck into the sunrise. I missed him before his truck was out of view. I missed him before that even, when we sat up all night and he gave me the ultimatum. It was five thirty in the morning when he drove away. I had insomnia for weeks before I met him, and in the months we dated. So, everything felt like a dream. He would sleep and I would smoke cigarettes and read and watch him sleep. I always drifted off after work in the hot desert afternoons, sleeping for four hours before he came over after his day. Sometimes I would fall asleep at four in the morning, and wake again at five, tired and spent, afraid I was going insane from the lack of sleep. I couldn't make decisions without real sleep. I could be married before I was divorced.
I worked that day, bleary-eyed and confused. I told no one of the night before. I just worked in a fog, the heat and hurt permeating my being. I refused all the offers of drinks after work, and walked home in the hot desert sun. The heat rose off the road creating mirages of puddles. The humidity had risen that morning. When I was half way back to my little adobe house, the sky opened up.
It was like a blanket of rain dropped to earth covering everything. And I ran. Feet pounding. My bag soaked. Being caught in the rain makes you feel wetter than if you were naked in the shower. Your soul feels drenched. Your bone marrow feels wet. I was wholly present in the run. I was in my body once again. I stopped running at the awareness of it. I remembered this Buddhist saying about walking in the rain being unpleasant only if you are trying to stay dry. And so I let myself be wet and free and light and alone. I cried, but not out of sadness exactly, maybe out of surrender, out of fear, out of the battle between me and my nature. I cried and laughed and cried. I missed him, but I knew I would survive.
I am nothing but a jumping cactus some days. Thorny. Unattached. Readying myself for the next passer-by, until the rain transforms me into something resembling human. I thought about all this today when the rain woke me and the dog barked.