I love the rain, and I love the cold. I walked home from work late at night last week, after the storm, and I felt at peace. The wind was blowing cold, carrying wet air from the ocean, and the drizzle came down onto the wet streets. But I was warm—I had my jacket on, and my hat. The weather cooled me off and took some of the steam in my head away.
Storms are nature’s way of renewing itself, sometimes violently. When the gentle rains water the plains of grass, things will open up and grow. And when the trees crash down in gale winds, there is destruction, sure—but it opens up space for new life to grow. And the water impregnates the land, and life will flourish then no matter what else has transpired before.
Earlier that day the mood was somber, but real. They changed the music on the radio in my coffee shop, from the typical rigidity of the same few classical songs. My coworker asked me about feeling numb, whether I had ever just wanted to blot it all out, no matter what the cost. I responded as best I could. “Of course I have. . . but that’s not living.”
During one of many faceless transactions—a peculiar veil descends between two people in customer service—a woman told me she had had a crazy day. A little time passed, the obligatory questions, and I asked why. “I found out a friend of mine died today.”
She was a beautiful girl, the woman said. Six feet tall, and the men just fell all over her. She did good work, worked for a politician, helped other people. Her death was a tragedy; she was cut down in the prime of her life.
I gave her as much sympathy as I could, before she left. “What’s your name?”
She looked me straight in the eye. “Diana.”
It makes sense that California is in a drought. I can’t help but think we’ve done this to ourselves, in a way. Once when I was little my family went to Palm Springs, in order to take a little vacation for ourselves. We drove two hours out of LA, and were there. It hardly seemed like a destination. The desert attitude of the city was magnified, put on display. The garish neon colors of the casinos washed away in the shimmering heat, and the sun beat down. “Be sure to drink plenty of water,” said my mom. I could already feel the heat pulling the moisture out of my lips. Here was a place where people pumped in water from other places to enjoy the same weather day after day, the same scorching sun. Old people liked it, my mom said. It’s easy on their joints.
The very next morning, before any of us were awake, we got a call on the hotel phone. My dad, ever the acrobat, had fallen down into a fake river on a golf course and broken his knee. This was a repeat injury, by the way. We spent the rest of our vacation—the first and final day—looking for an emergency room in strip malls and retirement communities. We found some place which slapped a brace on his leg as a temporary measure, and my mom drove the rest of the way home to seek proper medical treatment.
I think people want the desert, for the most part. They want the same perfect weather, eighty-five or ninety degrees, so they can throw on their bathing suits and dip their flabby bodies into shallow swimming pools, sip on margaritas and act out a weirdly ritualized performance of something which once actually made them happy. People want to come into my coffee shop, order the same drink, say the same words of benefaction, and then leave again. We live in a spiritual desert, where it rarely rains, and we try damn hard to keep it that way.
Last week a friend and I drove on the freeway in the pouring rain. She is a babysitter, and remarked impressed that the five-year-old she watches had personified the drought and the rain. He fancied them opposing forces: rain is the hero, drought is the villain. “Rain good, drought bad.”
I don’t know if it’s all that simple, but I was relieved when the rains came. The second rainy day, another coworker shared her crazy day—she had broken up with her boyfriend, for no apparent reason. Her distress was oddly comforting; it was a reassurance to me, he who constantly searches for sunshine in his relationships.
The contrast is what makes you appreciate the sunny times, after all. Too much and you’ll dry out—the effort of maintaining an optimistic face wears on the soul. But the rain will come again, without fail. Maybe when you’re least expecting it: when the sun is shining bright enough in your own world, when you’ve become accustomed to drought. And when it comes again, the wetness is all-encompassing. The winds and moisture of change may soak you to the bone. For me, it feels good to be reminded of the cold. Walking home on that rainy night I was enamored with the wet air seeping into my lungs, and the night air rolling in from the ocean.
And the next day, when the rain stopped, all that I had left were the clouds, those huge billowing spaceships making their way through the blue atmosphere, a strange reminder that the rain had evaporated again.