I watched from the window as my daughter and my mom laughed and laughed, romping in the tiny pools formed from the recent summer rain. Their bare feet slapped into the water sending it up splashing onto them, and each time little Ariana would erupt in a fit of giggles. Watching them reminded me of a different lifetime – a lifetime only a few short years before – when I danced in the rain with someone else.
My husband and I had just moved into our new house in North Carolina. The majority of our things were still stored in boxes; random assortments of photos and mismatched decorations adorned the white walls in a sad attempt to make the space feel like home. We had fallen in love with the area, not the house. Nestled on a wide-open field with horse farms on each end of the street, our little duplex had the perfect country-living feel, and we embraced the freeness it provided.
August in eastern North Carolina was a precarious time. After scorching and humid summers, the heat would often break with rainstorms. Rumors of hurricanes would be whispered among the non-natives, preparing for the storm season to arrive in full fury. We enjoyed sitting on our front porch, our feet kicked up against the front railing, enjoying the reprieve from the humidity. We wouldn’t have these opportunities for much longer, with trainings and deployments only a moment away, so we soaked them in as much as we could. We didn’t let the storm that could sometimes be our lives keep us from enjoying the rare simple, happy moments we did have.
This particular night we were entwined on the small bench on our porch, hoping to catch sight of some stars. We were talking, discussing the many upcoming changes to our lives – preparing, planning, predicting.
“I think the baby’s room will be perfect,” he said. “It’s a little smaller than I’d like, but I know it will work,” I replied. “Only a few more boxes to unpack.” He laughed in his knowing way. We’d barely started unpacking the mountains of boxes stacked in our rooms. “I wonder if the baby will have your laugh,” I pondered. “I hope she’ll have your laugh,” he teased, poking me, making me giggle. “As long as she doesn’t have my nose,” I said, scrunching my least favorite feature up. He leaned in and kissed the tip of my nose. “I hope she does.”
There was a lull in our conversation. “Only a couple more trainings left,” I said, switching topics. He nodded. He’d be out in the field training a few more times before deployment, whenever that would be. It loomed on the horizon, but with no set date yet, we continued to live life as usual.
“I wish we knew when you were going. I’m ready to get it over with,” I said about the upcoming deployment.
“Want to get rid of me so soon?” He said, his smile with a hint of mischief. “No, I want you back already.” I leaned against him, breathing him in, locking away the feel of him to keep close all the times he would be gone.
We had only been married a few weeks longer than we had lived here, and I had been pregnant nearly the same amount of time. We had made countless adjustments the last few months, and even more were coming. The conversation on this night didn’t include stress though, for once, just the gentle conversation of two people excited to see what was next.
In typical North Carolina fashion, the sky abruptly opened up, letting loose a full shower without any warning. The cool drops in the warm night were more than welcome after the staggering heat of the day. I looked at him beside me out of the corner of my eye. I let the grin creep up over my face, wondering if he would figure me out before I unveiled my plan. He knew me well enough to know that I was up to something, but hadn’t quite processed what it could be yet.
I reached my hands to my waistband and started wiggling the stretchy maternity shorts over my round belly and hips, thanking the darkness of the night for hiding my newly present stretch marks. I stood in my underwear, smiling broadly while yanking my shirt over my head and tossing it at my laughing husband. I kicked the discarded shorts out of my way and bolted down the three front porch steps.
“RAIN DANCE!” I yelled, reaching my arms out wide and then above my head, twirling and spinning in circles, laughing. I heard him laughing behind me, and knew he was thinking what a dork he fell in love with. I was always up to something crazy and a little strange, and yet he still found it endearing and typically joined in on my silly plans.
I looked up to see my boxer-clad husband running down the steps to join me. He, too, had thrown his clothes in a heap and bounded into the cool shower. The grass was slick, just the way I liked my Carolina grass. Normally, it was brittle and sharp, and not at all acceptable for my favorite footwear – none – but on nights like these, the parched grass drank readily, and the relief in the green-brown pieces beneath my feet was palpable. We joined hands and frolicked. We weren’t graceful and I doubt it would have been a pretty sight, but we were happy and carefree for once in our high-stress military-ruled lives.
“Rain dance!” We continued to shout, laughing with our whole bodies, the giggles coming from the tips of our toes and escaping our mouths. We were little kids again in full-grown bodies, he with his tattooed and muscled military body, and I with my swollen midsection growing life, the droplets streaking down the faces tattooed on his back like tears of momentary and surprising joy; running between my breasts and over my belly like tiny streams navigating valleys and hills.
He pulled me tight to him, our slick bodies pressed together, the rain catching and pooling in the gaps between us.
“I love you with all my heart, mind, body, and soul,” he said, his eyes smiling yet earnest. This was his phrase to me, always. I never tired of hearing it or, later, reading it at the end of his letters. He moved a hand to my protruding belly, “And our little girl, too. She’s going to love nights like these.” Little did he know how true that statement would be.
Our lips met, warm and soft, dotted with cool and wet. He wrapped me into a dance, the only music the hum and rush of the rain. We danced to the beat of the drops falling on us and the sounds of life pulsing through us; heartbeats, breaths, and sighs. Our dancing had always been interesting. In the clubs, he would always do what I termed the “Jonny Porto arms,” this weird maneuver where he would stick his arms straight out pumping them back and forth while “seductively” walking toward me. I would fall over in hysterics every time, ruining his intentions. Our dancing tonight wasn’t any less interesting; featuring twirls and dips with some occasional bumping and foot crunching. We were two silly non-kids dancing awkwardly and grateful there was no one watching – that we knew of.
As the rain began to taper off, we headed back to the porch and he ran inside to grab us towels. We stood in front of the door, the water pooling around our feet, attempting to towel off as much as possible before entering the air-conditioned house. When we finally felt brave enough, we ventured in. The cool air rushed over our skin, kissing us with tiny goose bumps along our arms and legs. We left our wet undergarments on the front porch and opted for blankets only, curling into one another on our couch, our bodies pressed together providing sufficient warmth to be comfortable.
“Remember the first time?” he asked.
I smiled broadly, “How could I forget?”
“That was awesome,” he used his go-to word for describing greatness, pulling me closer. I nodded in agreement and nuzzled into his warm skin. I had always called him my space heater and tonight was no exception. There were times that I told him if I could, I would crawl inside his skin not only for warmth but to be closer to him.
The “first time” he was referring to was the first time we played in the rain. We still lived in Maryland then, and we weren’t married yet. He was fresh out of boot camp, and I was fresh out of college. We really were just two kids pretending to be adults then, and we were beginning to fall in love. I had picked him up from the barracks during a tropical storm and suggested we go somewhere on the water to watch it. We ended up at Swan Harbor Farm, a popular wedding venue and fishing spot not far from where we lived. A wedding was being held that day, even in the midst of the storm, but we didn’t let that deter us. We parked and ran, hand in hand, past the tent full of wedding guests through the sloping fields to the dock on the bay. We walked the dock and jumped in puddles and rain danced – fully clothed that time. We laughed at each other and the crazy chance that two rain-loving weirdos would find each other.
We took an “adventure” through the woods and came to an old slab of concrete, which appeared to have once been some sort of dock or pier. It was broken and jagged and largely graffitied and not at all the romantic spot we made it out to be. We took temporary shelter under the cover of trees on that abandoned pier that had receded into the woods and we made love, listening to the wind and rain perform their own kind of song and dance all around us. It was awkward, and wet, and mildly uncomfortable, but “awesome” still doesn’t describe how magnificent it really was.
“It definitely was,” I waggled my eyebrows at him and he laughed. He gave me a squeeze and we continued to reminisce. About that night, about the night we just had, and about the ones to come. We didn’t talk about the impending separations, the stress of moving, or my crazy pregnancy hormones. There was magic in the moment that we didn’t want to destroy with thoughts of real life.
Eventually, the moment diminished, and our routine slipped in. We showered and dressed, watched some television, and went to bed. But while the moment may have slipped away, the magic stayed. The magic never left with him; it remained with me each time he left and still remains now, even though he’s been gone two years.
I stayed in North Carolina another year and a half after he died, but the storms weren’t the same anymore. Nothing was. Eventually, it was time to go home.
Even in Maryland, there are the good rains – the ones without thunder and lightning that are a welcome cool after an exceptionally hot day, where the rain rushes straight down and cleanses all of the day’s worries and madness in one clean sweep.
Our daughter delights in them now, just as we had then, just as her father knew she would. She jumps in puddles with her grandma, she rain dances, all the while laughing and squealing in the joy of the sprinkles on her skin. The little drops are reflected in her deep brown eyes, the eyes that are so strikingly similar to his. Amidst the glee of her first rain dance lies the sorrow of the void. In moments like these, it is painfully obvious that all we have left are memories, and I am transported back. Back to that time in North Carolina, with the pregnant belly and the moving boxes and the what ifs and the unknowns – our first time in our new home, the first time at the beginning of our new life – also our last time, our last rain dance.
Our little girl spins and holds her arms in the air. Her wide smile, his smile, plastered on her face, below the nose that did end up looking like my own. His absence is so jarringly evident. Yet, in her movements, I see him; in her giggles, I hear him. The last pieces of him.
Not being able to resist any longer, I pull myself from my memories and head out the back door to join them in the driveway, so I can rain dance with her. The pavement is still warm under the puddles and the drops hitting against my legs are refreshing. I hesitate only a moment before throwing my own arms into the air and spinning alongside her. I turn my face to the sky and smile, a real smile, allowing myself happiness. The rain kisses my skin, feather light kisses, as if sent directly from him. I pick her up and swing her around. I hold her close to me. She presses her face against mine, holding my face between her chubby toddler hands, and smashes her lips onto my cheek. He may not be here, but she is, and all of the love is. That can never leave.
It wasn’t a special occasion. Or maybe it was, because anytime we are together it’s special: an investment in our relationship, our therapist says. My carnivorous husband had made dinner reservations for a fancy vegetarian restaurant because he knows it’s one of my favorites. I was ready to cancel our plans, though, because it was a long drive. A big effort for a meal. And I was tired. It had been a long day of cleaning the gutters, sweeping leaves, and vacuuming followed by a hike. We could save money and stay in and drink Taylor Fladgate and play Settlers of Catan. But he convinced me we should go.
So I got dressed up. Or did I? I had leggings on. The kind normally paired...