Carolina Rain

The storm tonight came fast in the shrouding darkness, fat wet droplets beading on my windshield, cold against my shoulders, dark on the stones that line my driveway. The clouds and wind might have fortold a thunderstorm, were the clouds a little darker, a little heavier, a little more stratus and flattened against the glass ceiling in the sky. But there are seldom thunderstorms in February, no lightning spearing down, or up, from the sky to snap the soul to attention and sear the inner retinas with prismatic shadows.

There were few thunderstorms in our Fuling, but torrential rains – being tropical enough to enjoy banana trees on our balconies and sitting at the junction of the Wu and the Yangtze ensured that those would always be an option, even on the bonniest of days.

I’ll never forget how the rain could come careening out of a clear … well, grey … sky, absolute buckets of it so a minute outside left one drenched and gasping like a fish.

There was one such rain toward the end of my last semester. We were teaching in Lidu by that time, and I was holding office hours. There were two young women conversing with me – Maggie and … perhaps Dylan? When we heard the rain smack against the concrete everything, I was struck with the intense and inconquerable desire to dance in it, and the girls – endearing, individual souls that they were – chose to join me. We ran down the pavement from the office building to the park behind the campus, screaming joy and probably a little insanity. We danced through the Secret Garden door, upon which I imagine I’ll ruminate sometime, and over the cobbled stairs. Students in classes could see us out of their many storied windows, and I’m sure found us absolutely daft – no doubt the pernicious and dangerous imperialist influence of the foreign teacher. This wasn’t the first such dance in a deluge for me. But it was for the girls. They’d never done it before and probably haven’t done it since. But I hope they remember it.

Indeed, as the rain dwindled to an occasional pop against the pavement, we walked back to the office, cold and quite wet, hair and clothing clinging to skin and smiles miles wide on all our faces.

Maybe they thought it was foolish and insane too, but they joined me, and enjoyed themselves. The screams and topics that poured loose with the tears of the sky were human, and female, and not English Corner prompts. Those kinds of connections, for me, were as precious as they were rare. I wore China Face so long that the old wives were right – my face did freeze that way. But for brief moments of absurdity, things were real.

I think occasionally (or more than occasionally, in my case) giving in to the eternal insanity within us all that yearns daily for release depressurizes us, allows us to remain functional for another day.

There are a lot of Chinese rains I recall, and many memorable ones in my life before and after, but that one snuggles in my mind tonight. And it makes me happy.

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