Thunder

“Stay close to me, there might be thunder!”

It was a stormy afternoon in California, dark clouds covered the usually blue sky as rain pounded down. My sister and I had been playing outside when the downpour started. We rushed across the yard to safety, and my sister, being older and very protective, grabbed my hand and said to me, “Stay close to me, there might be thunder!” And, just as she said it, a huge thunderclap burst through the sounds of rainfall.

I was probably 3 or 4 when this happened, but I still remember it clearly. It was one of the few moments in my childhood when I felt completely loved and safe. My sister and I were very close when we were young. From the moment I was born, she loved me. She often showed it in weird ways like tricking me into eating a mud taco, pinning me down to spit on my face, and trying to throw me out the bathroom window of a hotel to save me from our parents, but despite the questionable moments, she was always there to protect and love me. The first line of defense against a dark and dangerous world.

Just two little girls.

As we got older, it became harder for her to protect me. Danger lurked in unexpected places in our household. Slaps that flew for no apparent reason, quiet whispers of things children should not know. We lived with the constant nagging feeling that something terrible was about to happen, and it was only a matter of time before someone really got hurt. Eventually, I learned to protect myself. But the nasty side effects of growing up knowing mostly fear and sadness showed themselves as I raged into my teenage years full of anger and pain. There was no way for her to reach me, so we drifted apart.

As teenagers, I worked through my internal turmoil with drugs, promiscuity and a fully immersive socio-economic study of the drifter culture, she sought her escape by channeling her intense fight for survival into academia. She graduated valedictorian and I narrowly escaped death on more than one occasion. But even worlds apart, she was always there. She did the things our parents should have done. She had the hard conversations, she offered support and she showed me love. She did the best that any slightly older child could do. And so, with time, we found our way back to each other.

Our reunion started when she left for college and invited me to join her for a skirt party and underage drinking. Next, I visited her one year for Thanksgiving. It was just me and her in a little apartment making chicken, peppered brownies, and rekindling the love and joy we had shared as children. We drank too much champagne, made incredibly stupid videos, and laughed until tears of joy rolled down our faces. After that, the visits became more frequent and the calls longer. The space between us disappeared, and there we were, as close and full of love as two children running from a rainstorm.

This year, thunder struck again. With my sister in Los Angles and me in France, we reach across the ocean to escape the storm. We both protect each other now. We share the hard conversations, the offers of support and show love to each other when it is needed. We call on each other to remember what is real and what is not. To remind each other not to get lost in hope. To accept our limitations and put our energy where it matters most. We help each other to make the tough calls, to face the hard truths and to prepare for the inevitable. In life, there will always be thunder. There will always be storms and scary things. What matters, are the people who will take your hand and pull you close. No matter how far away it may seem, love will always be there when the storm hits.

The face of love!

Goodbye Blue Sky

California. It is the place that I am from, but it is not my home. I told my friend this over coffee at Christmas and I think I broke her heart. Somehow selling my house didn’t tip her off that my move was intended to be permanent. Sometimes I wonder why it is that I hate that place so much. It is, in fact, quite beautiful and there are many things that I love. I love the oak trees and the way they twist and turn as they grow, I love the redwoods, I love that it smells like pot absolutely everywhere, I love the hills in the springtime when they are a vibrant green, I love the poppies that splash orange across the landscape, I love the endless rows of vineyards as their colors transform to red in the fall, I love the drive up to Lake Tahoe in the wintertime and that first moment when you realize you are finally in the snow, I love the cliffs of Mendocino and watching the waves kiss the fog just before they crash and I love the tacos, so many tacos. But even with all this love, it’s not enough to defeat the hate.

I hate the traffic, I hate the way that people say “like” every other word, I hate that in the summer all the grasses die and I am left staring at a barren wasteland until November, I hate the Target parking lot on Sunday afternoons as everyone makes their final push for ultimate consumerism before the week is up, I hate the hipsters that think they’re saving the planet by drinking a Fairtrade light roast as they type away on their MacBooks in the recently constructed coffee shop, I hate that we have cities where the contrast between wealth and poverty is so rampant, but what I hate the most, truly the most, is the endless blue sky that can last for days, weeks, and even months. It’s not even really blue, but a brownish grey-blue extending for miles and miles, only stopping when blocked by some hideous construction or when it disappears into the haze of desiccated earth. It’s a sky that just stares at you, reminding you that there will be no rain, no clouds, no escape from the endless sun. In March a sky like this can be moderately pleasant, but by June my heart has withered with the grasses where it remains trapped, hiding from the heat, waiting to come alive again with the first rain.

The year I moved to England there was a national scandal – a resident who claimed to “love the weather.” That resident was me. English weather was a dream come true. It rained, and then it rained, and then it rained, and then it stopped raining and fluffy white clouds floated gracefully across the sky as the sun peeked through illuminating the vibrant green hills, and then it rained, and then it was foggy – that sweet soft fog that surrounds you like the world is giving you a cool wet hug, and then it rained, and then it sprinkled, and then it poured and then it rained. It was beautiful! I regularly took taxis from my home to the train station and when the drivers heard my accent they’d always ask, “Soo, how d’ya like England then?” “Oh, I love it!” I’d reply, “I love the weather, it’s perfect!” I could see their eyes glance back at me in the rear view mirror, they would shift their weight a bit in discomfort and then look back again, certain that the passenger they had picked up was, in fact, crazy.

I never truly realized just how much I loved the rain until that year in England. In California, if it rains people stay inside. Hikes get delayed, BBQs cancelled, the only good thing to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix in a protest of disgust towards the damp surroundings. This is not the case in England, with the majority of days being wet life must go on. Hikes are taken in waterproof pants, BBQs happen with creative backyard construction and a sense of humor, and Netflix is watched in much the same fashion but with the added bonus of a bacon butty and good ol’ cuppa tea.

During my first really wet hike in England, I came alive in a brand new way! I could not hide my childish glee as I scampered down the mountainside surrounded by vibrant greens and wet rocks. We didn’t do this in California, and I had no idea what I had been missing! Everywhere the rain splashed. My face and feet were soaked but my body protected by borrowed raingear. In the months that followed nothing could keep me indoors as I explored hillsides, creeks, meadows and woods. For the first time in my life, I felt at home. I wanted to stay, but life had other plans for me and I returned to the blazing California sun filled with longing for the life I was leaving behind.

Now I am in France where the weather is all confused. Some days I feel the crispness of the cold winter air as I carefully tread on icy paths. Other days, the rain falls down around me giving my heart that flutter of delight. And still other days, I am reminded of the cruel California sun as the clouds dissipate to reveal an expanse of blue. But the sun here doesn’t bother me as much, it doesn’t threaten to stay too long or drain my heart of happiness. The blue sky here is actually blue and, even when cloudless, has a certain charm. Maybe it wasn’t the blue skies I hated so much after all. Maybe it was just living in a place that never felt like home. Or maybe, I’m able to enjoy it because I know that after the sun, the rain will come. There is, after all, nothing quite like a rainy day.

Just a girl in the rain.