I step onto the porch and look for the rain. The sun won’t return until tomorrow, I know. But I need it. I crave rules. Facts. Certainty. Rely on the sun to control when I rise and fall, to let me out in the light, let me hide in the dark where secrets seize my mind—down two more pounds this week.
A jacket and sweatpants, warm coffee. Hugging the side of the house, away from the porch rails where my indigo morning glories climb, I stay dry. Clear spheres ricochet off the wood like fireworks, splaying into fingers of light.
Rain is better than fireworks. No detonation, no recoil. Instead I can wake to taps on dark windows and rest my head again; I can rise from bed in the sun-less morning’s murk—the color of nothing and everything at once, gray and white so devoid of gold I blink to reset my eyes, my expectations of the day.
No, it’s not back into bed I want to go; it’s outside, where I find myself now among my indigo friends, where stray raindrops tickle my toes and the pecks on the roof are blooming popcorn kernels; it’s outside, where lanterns that have sat on my porch all summer no longer look transparent; teardrops spot the glass until it appears shattered. Tomorrow the lanterns will seem whole again, unblemished. I will, too.
Listen: city rivers flowing toward sewers, or maybe distant cars crashing into puddles. Water’s rushing to or from somewhere and I’d like to imagine it’s rushing over leaves, sliding down branches and trunks like a child down a water-slide—unconcerned by goose-bumps rising on limbs or scratches carved on the way down or the mother warning from above, Get out of the rain!
Lightning rarely threatens me here, in Boston, where I crave the unmistakable Florida strikes that birthed my fascination for storms. A tree set ablaze at summer camp. Ocean water quaking beneath a severed sky. Ominous, prophetic, impossible to ignore.
Sirens: streaming down that distant road like ribbons wavering in the wind—long, undulating like a rollercoaster, up and down. Maybe, upon the rain’s slippery pavement, cars skid and doughnut and crash. Maybe a life is oscillating with the sirens that ripple toward the scene in my head. Maybe a parent or child is hanging on. Maybe even a dog, like the white fluffy one I watch prance across the neighbor’s porch. Were their seatbelts secured? Was music leaking from their speakers when it—whatever it was—happened, when the sirens rolled out of bed?
They’re fading now. I imagine the car is light gray like today’s sky—no visible clouds, brightened by the sun that is and isn’t there, that’s hidden from view but refuses to stop burning. I wonder if this light-gray sky is cloudless and its opaqueness bright because it’s open today, the distance between here and there—whatever those places might be—shortened, a path into one or the other temporarily open, accepting. I wonder if that means the wavering takes less time to stop, if you can just go and be gone and stay.
From my porch I read of Iceland summers, when light lingers for so many hours one loses the cyclical sense of night and day, dark and light. One loses night altogether. I might lose myself in such a place. Unending light forbids secrecy. It is insistent, pushy. It glimmers off protruding collarbones.
I cannot imagine surviving a day when the light never leaves—when I cannot hide my thinning limbs and my perfectly portioned meals and my unrelenting past—though I also cannot imagine surviving a day without its calculable demands.
And yet: the sun is hidden but the clock is still ticking. Its rhythmic regularity claims me.
Instead of listening to my body’s pleas, I rationalize another story: It’s almost ten-thirty, therefore it’s almost eleven, and if I stay outside long enough eleven-thirty will arrive before I know it, and I’ll just happen to have waited ‘til then to eat breakfast so I’ll be hungry for lunch later, too. In fact I’ll probably eat every meal later than usual—probably avoid snacks altogether. Maybe then I won’t fear the scale even though I know that number needs to rise instead of fall. Even though I know, somewhere in my body and not yet in my cognitive mind, that the unspoken—an old boyfriend’s ruling hand—finds its way into the shrinking body and bloating mind; that to liberate myself in the present, I must appraise my hoarded past. The pockmarked walls and bloody fists, the car veered off the road.
I ignore my empty belly and think instead of those surging sirens, that imagined family and light-gray car and skating tires, those clouded, rain-slicked windows feigning shattered glass.
I can see it now: the glass is shattered. Music’s still leaking from speakers and sirens are riding toward that family, away from my porch where raindrops explode and the ancient sun cackles behind invisible cloud shields and a light-gray sky stretches over us all like a warning mother—Get out of the rain!
As these images begin to slide from my brain, I’m still longing for that prophetic lightning. But I’m left with only the ticking clock and deceiving sky, with the day I now fear might never break. I can’t survive twelve more hours of this limitless, lawless gray. I want it—and the past—to just go and be gone and stay.
Caitlin McGill is a 2016 St. Botolph Emerging Artist Award winner and the 2014 winner of the Rafael Torch Nonfiction Literary Award. Her work has been supported by the Bread Loaf Writers’ conference and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, The Chattahoochee Review, Crab Orchard Review, Consequence, Iron Horse Literary Review, Vox, War, Literature, & the Arts, and several other magazines. She recently completed a memoir about intergenerational trauma, inherited survival mechanisms, immigration, race, class, addiction, mental illness, war, and the cost of ignoring our histories. One essay from her book was named a Notable in The Best American Essays 2016.