Torrential Downpour

I woke up this morning at 3 a.m. to the kind of rain that begs you to submit to it. It sounded like the sky had found millions of tons of dry rice and was emptying the grains mercilessly onto the sidewalks. 

I lay awake for an hour thinking about this kind of rain. It's tropical, and if you've never been caught up in it, you don't understand. When I moved to New Orleans six years ago from Portland, I thought I understood rain. People called Portland "rainy" all the time. Sometimes on an airplane flying from Any Other Destination to Portland, I'd overhear someone say, "Portland's got lots of trees, but I don't think I'd be able to stand the rain." M. Ward even wrote a song about it. Basically, I thought I was a rain pro. I couldn't have been more wrong.

In Portland, it doesn't really rain so much as it drizzles. The city is almost always in this low-hanging, gray, perpetually wet condition. Portland is the manic-depressive version of "rainy." But if Portland is manic-depressive, New Orleans is bipolar. Not just the everyday variety of bipolar, where doctors will tell you you can help yourself by adjusting your diet -- but clinically bipolar, and sometimes out-of-control about it.

The rain here comes in sheets. The rain here comes in dams breaking; in floods; in crushing wet mobs that feel like the end of the world. The rain here means business.

I remember the first time I experienced it, and I didn't know what to make of it. I tried to drive in it, which was stupid. I had this meeting to get to uptown, and the rain started to come down the way it does here, and I thought, "Well, I can handle this," and walked out into it. I was instantaneously drenched, of course, and I don't mean that in a sexy way. 

I couldn't really drive -- for one thing I had a really cheap car, and the water had clogged some part of it that helped it to run, so it kept stalling. Ten minutes into my trek, I pulled over to the side of the road and started sobbing. The rain would never stop! I would never get to the meeting! I would get fired from my brand new job, and I would lose my house to debt, and (most importantly) everyone would laugh at me for not being able to navigate the rain.

Then the rain stopped. It always does. I got to the meeting, soaking wet, just ten minutes late. Everyone else was also late -- even later than I was. Everyone else, it seemed, understood that when it rains like this, you kind of just have to wait it out.

In the months that passed, I learned how to weather the tropical storms. I lived on the fourth floor of an old southern mansion, complete with creaky floors and cracking brick from the 1700s. It was exactly the kind of house to learn about storms in. My cat and I would sit in the crook of the window and look out at the sky when it'd rain like this. The lightning in Oregon comes in boring old flashes, more like paparazzi than weather. In New Orleans, the lightning comes in impressive sticks and and branches. During a typical thunderstorm, I watched the sky give way to impossible electrical forests.

Eventually, I grew to love the storms. Cool people are into thunderstorms right off the bat, but I have to confess that they took me some time. They're powerful; they take over. But the reason to love them is not because of that; it's because eventually, they let go and move on.

Since the rain woke me this morning, it has stopped. Now I can hear the world readjusting outside. There are the petal-soft footsteps of raindrops every few moments, falling from the gutters of houses and the bumpers of cars. There are birds.

You feel that this will last forever. You might know in your brain that it will not; you might understand how pain works, and that eventually it lets go of its grip, and you don't feel it anymore. But anyway, you feel that it's got a hold on you. There are moments where you are alone and you don't know what to do. There are times, too, when you are mean, or pushy, or angry, because you want to wrestle it; you want to get the reigns back; you want control. But it will pass, of course. Storms run their courses, all of them do. Do not forget that, especially when it's dark, especially when you want to muscle your way through it, especially when you are trying to make sense of it. You can't make sense of it. Just watch it. This is the kind of rain that begs you to submit to it. But you have to learn that you can't let go of it; it must let go of you.