“The next time we get a good rain I’m going to wash myself clean—of everything,” I said.
“There’s a brilliant idea,” my roommate snickered.
“I have to understand this thing, this life,” I said. “I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of searching. I need to know what to do.”
“And?” he said.
“I’m going to to stand naked before the universe and set myself free.”
That brought on a convulsion of laughter. “Sounds like you,” he said.
I didn’t care what he thought. I knew what was going on. He was channeling my father again. The two of them were the same. They worshiped cold, lifeless facts, while I argued that anything was possible. I didn’t share my father’s fear of not knowing. Dad was a physicist and an unshakable scientific materialist. Everything was a machine, reducible to immutable law. Unfailingly, boringly, explainable.
“The ablution, the ritual bath, will be my rite of choice,” I said.
I’d gotten the idea I could wash myself free of everything – my history, my past; my nature, even. Cleanse it away like the day’s grime. Unemployment. Aimlessness. A growing disdain for this culture, which seemed to me was headed for the hopelessly meaningless. It was true I was aimless. I hadn’t done anything with the Princeton education my old man had paid big bucks for. What could you do with a degree in comparative religion?
“I have no clue what you’re talking about,” my roommate said.
“I’m talking about that slippery something underneath it all—the ‘you’ beneath you. That’s my target.”
I knew what I needed. Rain. Lots of rain.
For weeks I tuned into the Weather Channel until at last a frontal system with some juice showed up, an amoeba-like mass creeping across the radar screen. “Boy, are we in for it,” the weather lady warned with the kind of gushy enthusiasm one saves for the most cherished occasions.
The clouds stole in late that evening—dark, brooding, not a hint of innocence. The gray mass pulled in as casually as a glacier, until the sky was so low you could just about reach up and touch it. I felt the air pocket shrink as the cloud ceiling lidded us in, pulled tight at the horizons.
I took my position in the wild grass of the front lawn. I anchored myself in the lotus position, wearing only my birthday suit. All my problems, all those situations, all that karma — the rain would peel, peel, peel it off.
At midnight it began. Tiny drops began to peck at my upturned face. Shivers danced down the length of my body. The plummeting barometer was palpable.
The onslaught came, a torrential swamping from the stratosphere. I was drenched in seconds. I yahood like a crazy man, whipped my hair around, bid farewell to burdens. Oh, glorious wetness!
I don’t know when it happened — around the time I could no longer distinguish my numbing legs from the muddy lawn — but in the constant beating of rain against my anatomy an unmistakable lightness of being overtook me. Euphoria charged through the cells of my body, and it occurred to me that a journey of liberation should contain an element of buoyancy, the logical physical analogue to an uncoiling of mind. Was this it? Was it happening?
Mrs. Samuels’ ancient Volvo pulled into the driveway next door. She got out and darted for her house under a pink umbrella. When she glanced over at me, I sat up straight and waved and grinned at her reassuringly.
” !” Mrs. Samuels called out.
She was jabbing a finger at my house. I didn’t stir. She dismissed me with a flick of her hand as she headed for the safety of her front porch. I shrugged and resumed my pose of concentration.
The trouble was, when I looked back over to where she had been standing, I saw my father, so help me, yelling and pointing at my house, just like she had. I couldn’t hear him, either.
Now I began to worry. This owing mostly to the fact that my father had been dead for five years. I watched in stunned disbelief as he strolled over in my direction and knelt down in front of me, looked into my eyes and began to speak. Still, nothing!
But now, unlike with Mrs. Samuels, I could tell by the way he was mouthing the words that he was cognizant of my problem. He wanted me to read his lips.
So, there I sat, utterly drenched, in a tremendous thunderstorm, at the doorstep of the sublime, with the ghost of my dead father intent on communicating with me, and damned if I was going to miss that message! It was clear I had been led to this. Here was the reply to my query, by way the rain, speaking to me.
Dear old Dad, determined proxy of the universe, continued to mouth the same words over and over. First Mrs. Samuels and now Father. I simmered with frustration.
To complicate matters, his form began to blur and shimmy.
As he flickered violently, a moment before he completely dissolved, I understood! I read it straight off the old man’s lips. Finally I had gotten the message of the universe, as it spoke to me. A payoff, at last, for my pains.
The words were unmistakably clear.
“Get out of the rain,” my father said before he blipped out of existence.
* * *
I woke up in a room as white as bleached sugar. My roommate came into focus, slouched in a chair at the foot of the bed. His eyes were down to slits. Above him, hanging on the wall like some kind of terrible gray eye, was a TV set.
“What is this?” I said, feeling panicky.
“It’s a hospital, jackass. Welcome back. You got hit by lightning. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Except now you get to explain what the hell that was,” he said.
“Huh?” I muttered. I touched a bandage on my shoulder. “Lightning?”
“Yeah,” he said. “When I heard the screams, I came out and saw you rolling around in the mud, saying the same thing, over and over: ‘Tell Mrs. Samuels I understand’. You mean that old bag next door? What’s she got to do with the price of weed in China? I’ve been sitting here all this time waiting to hear the answer to that one.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I gazed up at the TV. It was staring back at me. I lost consciousness.
Sometime later I regained it. Or at least some of it.
I had a dream about my father that night. We were spread out on lounge chairs on a shimmering white-sand beach, watching the sun set over the ocean and sipping Mai Tai’s. The old man seemed different in some way; wiser maybe, as if the afterlife agreed with him. He reached over and touched my shoulder reassuringly. He smiled.
“Don’t try so hard, kid,” he said. “It’s happening exactly the way it’s supposed to. Your job? Just let it. Take my word, you can’t do a damn thing about it, anyway.”
I opened my eyes. The snow white walls came into focus, as did the ache in my shoulder. Bright sun was shining in through the hospital window. In fact, that sun shone unabated for weeks on end. It didn’t rain for some time, and that was just fine with me.