The rain was coming down so hard that my bangs covered my eyes. Puddles in the shape of my feet were growing in my flip flops, abandoned on the stairs we sat on. No wind blew, but the rain on the leaves created a chorus reminiscent of the hurricanes I lived through during my youth. The larger drops hitting the cars down the stairs from where we sat pinged and panged as we stared at the darkness where the soccer field should be. I had stopped feeling the cold over an hour ago.
This rainstorm soaked my school’s campus in late April at the end of the hardest academic semester of my life. I felt drained. The final papers had been turned in, yet the work was nowhere near over. I had become lost in my print budget and Norton anthologies. Wordsworth and I had become dear companions in our search for the truth of Christianity. I had grammatically understood Lewis and his argument on sins of thought before I understood them ideologically. I parsed sentences in my sleep and during the hymns in chapel. At night I felt the twinges in my shoulder from archery and tennis, a physical memory of an old injury. I had come to enjoy the pressure of the bowstring on my two fingers, as I had always enjoyed the strain of the western grip in tennis. Focusing for brief moments on something other than literature, archery allowed me to step outside the stress. Archery is figuring out the way your own eyes deceive you and then using it to your advantage; to hit the bulls-eye I would have to aim off the right bottom corner of the target. I developed grooves in my fingers from holding the string, making them feel peculiar as I turned the pages of Romantics and Victorians alike. In tennis, I fought my opponent for control during a time in which I felt like I had none. Some of the greatest writers of our canon whispered of adventures to take, of forests to explore, of love to experience. Coleridge shared his albatross in the form of a surprise lecture from a professor whom I have always struggled with on a poem I did not understand. While stress-relieving at times, the activity courses provided little relief from a continuous academic attack on the psyche. Stress cannot be stalled by a perfect ten or an ace down the line.
She texted me at 10:15; I was making tea. It was a simple word, a recognizable mark, and the exact activity that I needed. “Walk?” I left my phone in my room and seconds later stepped into the lounge of my dorm wearing flip flops. She had known my response before I replied and was already waiting. I could see the trees whipping in the wind through the doors. We stepped out into the rain.
The first drop hit my cheek like an icy tear and for the first time in months, my shoulders didn’t tense. My feet slid out the sides of my flip flops as I stepped forward. I took them off and picked them up, the slimy sand covering my toes reminding me of a beach walk with my mother eight years ago. Mid-October and still warm enough for swimming along the Gulf Coast of Florida, we were staying at a condominium of one of her coworkers. I had just watched the third episode of Lost the night before and I had visions of a plane crash outside our balcony. A putt-putt golf course stood across the street and we had gone there the previous day during the Friday night seventies boogie. Mom still knew all the words to “Rapper’s Delight” as I discovered on holes seven, eight, nine, and ten. There was a family behind us in the course and the two daughters were as visibly embarrassed as I was because their father was rapping along as fluently as my mom. We were squeezing through the mermaid’s secret tunnel and I made awkward eye contact with the girls. We shared small smiles which quickly evolved into laughter. Mom and I walked everywhere that week on the beach, and this was our final night before returning to our new, post-divorce home. I imagined that I was on the island, feeling the sand stick to the back of my knees. I wanted to be on Oceanic 815 because it was a mystery and it was away from this new life. The waves were rolling into Indian Rocks Beach on a never-ending cycle and the sun illuminated their tips. Standing there, I felt the sun on my face and it made life feel like the old normal for a second.
On the sidewalk where during the day I listened to Tennyson and Moliere converse in my head, I felt the little pebbles that were freed by students trudging their way to class dig into my heels. That is all homework really is: minor, sharp pains along the journey of life. But these minor sharp pains are moments of learning. I remember things I learned in elementary school just as clearly as I remember why I have the scar on my foot from body-surfing in Costa Rica. These things I have learned are impressions left either on my skin or in my memory. The slick grass gave way to my weight, and the mud squished up between my toes. There are always stains along the journey. Whether it is the first bad grade I received – an F in 4th grade science on a quiz I missed because I was sick and she would not let me make it up – or the first time I manipulated my divorced parents and got caught – watching a movie with dad that mom said I could not watch. Some of these learning experiences were simple: to get good grades work harder. Others were not as simple and came with consequences, but things rarely are simple or consequence-free with sin. The rain stopped as we walked past the sundial outside the library. It was a shadowy pedestal because it was a nighttime rain, but I like to believe it was because for just that night time was irrelevant. We stood next to it for a moment before I jokingly broke into a rain dance.
The rain came down harder. Bent double in front of the old, iron clock, we laughed because of the dance’s success. My feet had kicked out like a drunken line dancer and my arms had soared wide as I twirled in a circle while making unintelligible noises and chanting. I realize now how foolish I looked. Being shy, this is something I would not do in front of just anyone. Normally she would have made fun of me for something like this. I realize now we were both too exhausted to care. We walked on the mud and the pebbles and ceased noticing their existence. It felt like we were flying.
But there we found ourselves, sitting in the middle of a wooden staircase, watching the hollowed outline of my feet fill with rainwater, talking about life and our dreams. The floodlight from the parking lot flickered above our heads. We talked about the moments – whether problems with acquaintances or teachers or questions with God – in life that do not make sense to either of us. We laughed as we remembered the times with others from a semester past. The rain kept coming down, and I was refreshed.
Author’s Note: Written in 2010