As soon as we left the house for Friday night paletas, I knew. I could smell it in the air. That tell-tale mix of earth, minerals and water.
The rains were coming.
I was teased into thinking they’d arrived a week earlier when, on my walk home from school, a quick drizzle sputtered down. When the first droplets hit my arms–my arms, hot and sticky after a day spent herding teenagers in classrooms that grew hotter and thicker as the day wore on–it was as if I were electrified. Every cell in my body began zinging and bouncing and reaching for those rain drops. Those precious few drizzle drops that sent me home in a skip, only to be dashed by Nico’s solemn head shake, “No, no es la lluvia. Es muy temprano. Y lluvia ahorra es muy mala, muy mala. La próxima día será más húmedo y con mucho más calor.”
She was right. It wasn’t the rain. And so we were back to days where humidity built like anticipation, where the sun beat down unrelentingly despite the mounting gray on the horizon, and where endless dust lorded over us in the absence of precipitation.
But tonight, tonight I could smell it. The cicadas weren’t singing and it was still May, but that smell of imminent rain is unmistakable.
And so just as we were leaving our neighborhood paleta shop–Anna dripping with the remnants of coconut and strawberry popsicles and Rory still kicking with delight from the lilting Spanish baby coos of the shop owner–the sky erupted with a clap of thunder and the rain began.
We gasped. The shop owners giggled. The four of us stood in that doorway watching the rains fall, the streets swirl, the passersby dart for cover, the food carts pull out their awnings. The church across the street, lit up for the festivities celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe, became a beacon for the well-heeled parishioners navigating swollen puddles on their way to mass. Anna pointed and pulled me toward the door. “¡Afuera! ¡Agua! Agua, mamí. Vamos.”
And just like that, months of dust and heat and the feeling of being slowly baked dry were washed away by thick droplets splashing all around.
I had forgotten what the rain feels like. How in a summer thunderstorm you are simultaneously sticky and warm. How warm and cool currents swim around you in the air. How raindrops feel piercingly cold on your skin after a hot day. How gritty rain water splashes your feet and gets trapped under your toes. How the rivulets of water streaming from awnings are shockingly strong on your head as you run from one sheltered sidewalk square to the next.
I had forgotten what rain sounds like. The rhythmic patter of a steady rain. The chest rumbling of claps of thunder. The deafening noise of a quick downpour. And how it deadens the noise of that chaotic world all around you. How even traffic and dynamite and Friday night happy hours are muffled by the percussion of rain.
And I had forgotten what rain looks like to new eyes. How the puddles are impossibly enticing. How you can’t help but open up your mouth to the sky. How you feel like a tightly coiled spring that has finally, finally been let loose.
When we got home from paletas, Anna was unstoppable. Bounding through the puddles in our coto, running up and down, up and down the little street. “Splash, splash! ¡Agua! ¡Lluvia! Splash! ¡Mira!” She has mastered the art of jumping with two feet just in time to realize how much bigger a splash is when you can jump into a puddle two footed.
And I wonder if she remembers rain before this. The last time it rained for real–not the winter drizzles that wafted in and out of our Christmas holidays but real rain, rain like today–she was barely over a year old. Does she remember what that felt like? Does she remember running away from her papa as rains soaked the zócalo of Tlaquepaque? Does she remember arriving in Guadalajara amid a tormente or leaving Wisconsin amid a drought-busting downpour? Does she remember driving through a flash flood? Does she remember spring, its drizzles and gray-skied storms? Does she remember the feeling of water on her skin, water falling from the sky, water beneath her feet? Does she remember how green the world can be?
Does she remember rain?
Both times, at that moment that the sky opened–first with that tease of a drizzle last week and now with the rains that have enveloped us tonight–tears well, in harmony with the water coming from above. As if the rain, releasing months of pent up atmospheric pressure, is also releasing something in me. Washing away a school year full of emotional and physical upheaval, washing away my tensions and doubts and misgivings about this new life and instead reminding me that here we have come full circle.
When we arrived, it was raining. My first memories of our new life here in Guadalajara are of the rain: Crossing Lopez Mateos in galoshes after an evening downpour. Getting trapped in our kitchen in a hailstorm. Riding rivers of water home from an aborted celebration of el grito. Swimming in our little pool in Chacala while we waited for the clouds to part. Waking up in the middle of the night to secure our rooms from yet another downpour trying to weasel its way into our dry home.
So we have come full circle. The rains have come. The world will be green. There will be cool.
I am from the north, where precipitation is a fact of life. Where feet and feet and feet of snow fall. Where there is frequently so much rain in spring and early summer that entire lakes have been known to wash away and floodplains merge with rivers themselves. Where in the autumn, the rain turns crisp leaves into a sodden, burnt-orange ground cover. Where I find comfort in the drama and danger of a thunderstorm. Where rain is a given, despite drought years.
Here, though, I have been reveling in the novel. In sunshine every single day. Of skin kissed bronze by that relentless sun. Of doors and windows left open forever, with the only intruder an ever-present coating of dust. Of predictable warmth. I have felt nostalgic for the ebb and flow of the seasons at home, but I’ve also thanked the universe for letting me live in a place that is sunny, warm, dry…every. single. day. Never mind my skin slowly cracking and crinkling in the dryness. Never mind the tornado-like swirls of dusty earth on our way to the mountains. Never mind the forest fires slowly taking over each and every mountain surrounding this city. Never mind the coating of dirt caked on the world. Never mind my insatiable thirst. The novelty of this climate made me forget about rain.
While it may seem silly to be so moved and so excited about a perfectly reasonable weather phenomenon, after months and months of dryness, you are literally parched–the earth, your throat and skin, the streets, your garden. These past few weeks, I have felt like a dog, panting and walking with its tongue out, a primal way of asking the universe, “Water, please? I need water.”
Also, I can’t stop humming the Eurythmics.
I need this rain. My heart and skin and body are singing with this rain. The air coming in through the window is finally cool. Actually, cold. Icy, almost. I needed this rain.
These aren’t supposed to be the rains yet. The cicadas never sang and it is still May. It never reached the insufferable humidity about which I had been warned. So maybe this is just an aberration. Maybe tomorrow I will wake up to sunshine and heat and a wall of humidity still building to its climax. (If that’s the case, then I will go to the pool and enjoy another day of perpetual summer.) Or maybe it’s a May miracle, a gift from the Virgin of Guadalupe on the eve of her celebration day, and maybe the rains have finally come.
Whether it will rain tomorrow, I don’t know. But I needed this rain, today. We all did. The girl splashing in puddles, the papa laughing while filming her exploits, the baby gasping and sputtering as rain tickled his face for the first time, and me. We all needed it.
I forgot how much I love the rain.
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While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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