I grew up on the coastal plains of Texas, where hot summer storms made music on our metal roof. I have many memories of sitting on our large front deck watching sheets of water fall front the sky, flooding the spongey ground with large puddles of water, and filling the air with that sweet smell that every candle company in the world tries to imitate but can never quite match.
I remember how often we would lose power during those storms. Usually the outages only lasted a few hours, but I remember one summer when we lost electricity for 3 days. It was the the 2000’s, in the time before we all had cellphones and internet. My sisters, baby brothers, and I all sprawled out on my Mom’s big, king-sized bed together. We read books and played cards for hours, all by the light of the big bay window in Mom’s room. There was plenty to worry about, but with the power gone and the rain pouring nothing existed outside that room. In a few years our whole world would fall apart, but all that week we read and told stories and played games as it rained, and rained, and rained. We were kids and we carefree. We were safe at home, on Mom’s bed, under the window.
A few years later I moved to the desert.
In the Summer of 2008 I moved to Utah, and I have never known this state outside of the drought. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Sun shines in Utah all summer long. Storm and rain is rare here. Water is a commodity to be fought over, and flaunted in the form of green lawns. Compared to the humid, green and gray summers of my childhood; the dry, and blue of my teenage and adulthood were like another world. It was a new climate, a new landscape, and a a new life.
Everything in Utah was different, and it wasn’t just the weather.
Texas were poor. It wasn’t long after that 3-day power outage that reality caught up with us. My mother was married to an abusive man who made our lives dark and unstable. The stress, anxiety, fear, despair over our circumstances caused my older siblings to flee as soon as they were old enough to leave. My closest sister started to explode into anxiety-driven fits of rage. My mother began to wither into a shadow under the handwork in a dead-end job and abuse from her husband. And I learned to internalize and suppress my emotions. The rain and storms that used to thrill when I was small came to symbolize the pent-up emotions buried inside. During summer, when I couldn’t escape to school, I could pretend the seasonal rain washed away my fear. The thunder and lightning expressed the emotions I couldn’t show. It was a temporary fix until we would make our permanent escape. I felt most calm and in control when it rained.
Utah was our way out of that life, and away from that abusive man. Utah was our chance to start over in a place full of summer sun and winter snow. The change was so sudden and so drastic that my Texas childhood no longer felt real. Having already internalized and buried my trauma it became easier to distance myself from the past. My memories were fading with combination of time and repression. If I pretended the past wasn’t real, if I couldn’t remember the bad things, and if I pretended I wasn’t traumatized than I would be fine. I remembered only the good things about Texas– like watching the thunderstorms on the front deck and reading with my sister’s on Mom’s bed. It was surprisingly simple.
In Utah it was easy to forget.
My life and the dry climate Utah is so different from my life and the humid air of Texas that it’s easy to disassociate the two. I could look back at the past and cherry-pick memories like watching clips of your favorite movie scenes. It was so easy to think of that place, that life, and that person as something separate and different from who I am now. It was my coping method for years, until my mind rebelled. Even in therapy, while working on confronting the repressed traumas, I approached my subconscious as another person, with different experiences, and different emotions. Two states, two lives, and two people in one body. I was making peace by leaving the stormy-times behind in another world that couldn’t reach me.
Then it rained.
The decade-and-a-half long drought broke this spring when the rain started to fall. From April through May, against all desert logic, it rained and it rained, and it rained. In the eleven years I’ve lived in Utah I’ve never seen precipitation like this. The occasional blizzard has blown through in winter, and short, 10-seconds-showers have fallen in Spring and Fall, but true rain in Utah is rare. At least, it was since I’ve been here. But something changed, and It’s rained nearly every day this month, like it did in every day in the summers of my childhood. Every day that it’s rain I sat in my bed under the window, and watch the drops fall- just as I did from another bed, under another window years ago. For a few hours each day I am back in Texas again. I’m jumping back and forth between my past and the present, between who I was and who I am. Suddenly, I can’t forget anymore, that the little girl watching the rain while her world was in turmoil, was me. She is still me.
The rain here in Utah is different than a southern storm.
In Texas, rain is warm and long like a shower- loud with thunder, and hanging around for the rest of the afternoon and deep into the night. There never seemed to be a beginning or an end to the gray skies until they faded into black. In the mountains the rain is cold, the droplets are long and narrow, and the event is often short, with little thunder or lightning fanfare, and the clouds clear away once they’ve been relieved of their load. When I watch the rain from my own bed, in my own apartment in Utah there is resolution the sun returns. The more it’s rained this season, the more I’ve thought about how these two types of rain reflect my life. The Texas downpours of my childhood were heavy, uncontrollable, and powerful. They reflected the turmoil of my life, and the chaos of my mind: overwhelming, consistent, and in desperate need of relief and escape. The Utah showers are like my adulthood- temporary slips into darkness leaving whispered reminders of the past that once was.
I still love storms for their power and beauty, and I’ve learned to love the short desert rains. I love them both for what they are in a literal sense, and what they have come to mean to me and my development. I am that storm-filled girl in Texas, and I am also the desert-rain woman in Utah. I have grown, adapted, and changed with my environment through both hurricanes and droughts. Through it all, I finally learned that I don’t have to forget who I was to be who I am, but I don’t have to let my past define me either. Regardless of the weather of my life, I can survive and thrive. It’s simple and obvious, but it was something I forgot until this last month, when it rained.