“The next time we get a good rain I’m going wash myself clean—of everything,” I said.
“Now, there’s a brilliant idea,” he smirked.
“I’m sick of waiting,” I said. “I want stand naked before the universe and set myself free.”
“Even better,” he snickered.
I didn’t care what he thought. I knew what was happening. 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 never shared my father’s fear of the unknown. He was a physicist, and a typical one. Everything was a machine, reducible to immutable law. Unfailingly, boringly, explainable.
“The ablution, the ritual bath, is as old as antiquity,” I said. “I need transformation. The water will be my guide.”
Somehow 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 my own culture, which seemed to me painfully superficial. The fact I’d done nothing with the Princeton education the old man had paid for. So what if I majored in comparative religion? There were worse crimes.
“I have no clue what you’re talking about,” my roommate said.
I sat up straight, stared him in the eye. “I’m talking about that slippery something underneath it all—the ‘you’ beneath you.”
That got a laugh.
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, a huge white mass creeping across the radar screen. “Boy, are we in for it,” the weather lady warned with a thinly veiled grin.
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 almost 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 on the uncut grass of the front lawn, anchored in the lotus posture, dressed only my birthday suit. All my problems, all those situations, all that karma — the rain would peel, peel, peel it off.
At 11 p.m., it began. Tiny drops pecked at my upturned face. Shivers danced down the length of my body. The plummeting barometer was palpable.
Then the onslaught came on, a torrential swamping from the stratosphere. In seconds I was drenched. I yahood like a crazy man, whipped my hair around, bid farewell to burdens. Oh, glorious wetness!
I don’t know when it happened — maybe 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 a lightness of being crept up and then overtook me. Euphoria charged every cell of my body, and it occurred to me that a journey of liberation should contain an element of lightness, the physical analogue to an uncoiling of mind. I wondered, Was this it? Was it happening?
Just then Mrs. Samuels’ decimated old Volvo pulled into the driveway next door and she got out and darted for her house under a pink umbrella. I sat up straight and waved and grinned reassuringly.
” !” Mrs. Samuels said, jabbing a finger repeatedly at my house. She then dismissed me with a flick of her hand and scurried for the safety of her front porch. I shrugged and resumed my pose.
The trouble was, when I looked back over at her, I saw my father, so help me, yelling and pointing at my house, just as 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 directly 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.
Suddenly, 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 beached sugar. My roommate came into focus, slouched in a chair at the foot of the bed. Above him, hanging on the wall like a foreboding gray eye, was a TV.
“What is this?” I said.
“It’s a hospital, jackass. Welcome back. Now you get to explain,” he said.
“Huh?” I muttered.
“What happened,” he said. “You were rolling around in the mud, saying the same thing, over and over: ‘Tell Mrs. Samuels I understand’. What, you mean that old bag next door? What’s she got to do with the price of tea in China? I’ve been sitting here for hours waiting for the answer to that one.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I gazed up at the TV. It stared right 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 lying on lounge chairs on a beautiful beach, watching the sun set over the ocean and sipping Mai Tai’s. The old man seemed different in some way, wiser, as if the afterlife agreed with him. He reached over and touched my shoulder and smiled.
“Don’t try so hard, kid,” he said. “It’s happening exactly the way it’s supposed to. Just let it. You can’t do a damn thing about it, anyway.”
Then the snow white walls were back, and the ache in my body. And the hard sun shining in through the hospital window. In fact, that sun shone brightly for weeks. It didn’t rain for some time, and that was just fine with me.