Nonfiction by Trista Cornelius
You know it’s been raining all night because you frequently woke to the sound of water clattering on your roof and the wind splashing it against the side of the house like an aggressive housekeeper whipping the dirt out of her rugs. When you heard this in the dark of night and during the gloomy suggestion of dawn, you smiled, breathed in the clean, wet scent, and snuggled deeper into your flannel sheets. You didn’t wonder about your daily morning jog, fret whether or not to go out there and face all that. Instead, you smiled a little more at the thought.
Morning light finally arrives. You ponder briefly about what to wear, then grab the usual: decades-old sweatpants, a t-shirt from the half-marathon you limped one spring, wool socks, ball cap with knit cap over it, running shoes, and your old black coat. You open the front door and leaves rush forward like determined protestors. You usher them back out but express your appreciation for their efforts and the way the sheen of rain enhances their gold and maroon colors.
Without hesitation, you’re out on the sidewalk, doing your jog-trot and smiling broadly in spite of raindrops so thick you feel as if you’re breathing underwater. No one else is out. It’s an empty movie set. Then, a bike-commuter whizzes by, but his expression is the opposite of yours: grit, determination, and a little pissed. If you’re going to be out in it, you think, you may as well embrace it.
Most mornings, you do not feel like this. Instead, you labor over tying your shoes, just to delay the run, your first effort of a long day ahead. Usually, you battle dread and anxiety, but not today. Today, you think of the poet Rilke who wrote about dragons – his metaphor for fear and despair. He believed fighting your dragons, putting your energy into resisting them, only makes them more powerful. Rilke advises that you accept their existence, accept the dread and anxiety. Today, you try not to think much about dragons at all, try not to notice them bearing down. Today, you let the rain’s relentless abundance consume your attention.
At first you jog delicately, side stepping puddles. After a few blocks, you encounter the first flooded intersection. Debris clogs sewage drains, making them completely invisible in the foot-deep mini-pond. You find a route around. Even so, as soon as you’re back on the sidewalk, perky yellow leaves mask a small but deep puddle. Your right foot sinks in, soaking wool sock and dousing the leg of your sweat pants so thoroughly, the weight of the rainwater drags the waistband downward, threatening to tug the pants right off. By the second flooded intersection, where an SUV crawls through but still expels waves of water waist high, you dive right in. Why not? You’re soaked already. Your socks weigh about three pounds each. Your old coat no longer lives up to its water-resistant label and is like the lush at the bar, avidly soaking up every last drop and looking for more.
By now, you’re ecstatic. It’s November but almost warm outside and the rain is thick, soft, and silky. Branches have crashed all over sidewalks and into the streets in the night. You leap over them like a cat, like a fat cat anchored down by extra pounds of matted fur. You don’t think to worry about more branches crashing down on your head. This won’t happen to you. You’re part of the scene, part of this storm. The trees seem to know that. In fact, you’re so sure the trees know it, you leap up to high-five a crimson-leafed cherry tree which shimmers in response.
A silver haze curtains the wide, empty avenues. A jogger dressed in black comes into focus, running toward you down the middle of the street, only the second person you’ve seen in this post-apocalyptic rain. You prepare a smile, consider leaping out from the sidewalk to embrace her, to acknowledge: “We’re here! You and me, out in this! No one else.” Obviously you’re sisters. But as she nears and you beam your dripping smile, she stays focused forward, eyes on the ground, frowning and furious. This almost makes you sad, reminds you of your dragons, so after she passes, you hip-bump a hedge and deliberately leap into a puddle next to someone’s driveway.
Nevertheless, the dragons are right behind you, beside you, in front of you. Rilke suggests that no matter what burden they lean onto your shoulders or what ache they burn in your clenched stomach, a calm, steady gaze will unveil their disguise and reveal the scaly beasts to be princesses, princesses “who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.” You want to act with beauty and courage, not just once, but all the time. Leaping into puddles feels a little bit beautiful and somewhat courageous. You squint through the rain, try to eye your dragons squarely.
More branches cover sidewalks and streets. Rain, you realize, has the power to float houses, cities, and countries right off the map. Rain feeds toxic molds and mildews. And yet, that seems like a different kind of rain. An angry rain. Not today’s rain that mutes all sound but its own.
Soon, you’re home, more wet than if you’d stepped into the shower fully clothed. You stand on the doormat inside, strip off your hat, coat, and sweat pants. Your wet wool socks mop shiny footprints everywhere you step on the wood floor. You wrap a blanket around your bare legs and sit down to write.
Sometimes it’s a day to stay in, to find your favorite blanket, a library book, a cup of tea, and wait it out. Sometimes it’s a day to open the front door and step right into it, embrace it unconditionally, stubbornly refuse to be blown off course. A day to strive for beauty and courage. To see if a kind, steady gaze will unveil the princess hiding inside the dragon. To see if Rilke had it right: that the things that scare us are, in their deepest essence, things that want our love. Today was that kind of day.