Back when I was 17 living with the father I barely knew, I would go running in the mornings when I had a free hour in-between the 6am seminary (ungodly hour), and school. I’d pull on my old dance pants (the only thing I had decent for exercise), my sports bra, and an old gym shirt, and run around the track in the big P.E. building that the small-town school almost never used. It was dark and empty, so I preferred it, especially given the fact that I wasn’t a runner by nature. Like any other teenage girl I was hyper-aware of the cellulite on my round thighs and the way my face turned bright red after only a minute of activity.
So, in the quiet, I would puff and count laps while other kids played jazz and talked about the ambiguous half-adult life they lead. I’m sure if my dad had chosen to live in a town just a little bit bigger than the coastal dot of Monmouth, Oregon, I would have had something else to do rather than run circles or toot a horn, but it did fine and dandy for me. It gave me a space for my own to think about what I just left.
One morning, trotting around the rubbery dark track, I heard rain on the tin roof; not an uncommon occurrence in this part of Oregon. It rained most mornings, whether it was a fine mist or a heavy downpour. Often times I’d try to pant quieter just so I could listen to the music above me, so precious to my desert-rat self. But on this particular morning, rather than suffocate myself, I opened the doors of the gym and ran out into the downpour to the outdoor track. No sooner had I leapt onto the black asphalt then I had to jump again in order to dodge the fattest worm I had ever seen—and it wasn’t alone. The whole track had turned striped with brown with long, fat, Oregon spoiled worms squiggling out to enjoy the rain.
I dodged them as I ran. Soon, I was laughing, head back in the pouring rain as I dodged huge worms, so unlike the small, almost anorexic worms of Las Vegas. I drank the air, unable to get enough of the sweet musk of water and became drunk with the scent. Faster and faster I went, leaping over worms, hands up in the air, face full of rain.
No one could have seen me. And even if they did, I didn’t care. I was free. Here in this rainy green place I had siblings who fought over video games and being first, where before in the desert my siblings fought for the ownership in court of the lie of who molested who. Here my step-mother made homemade dinner every night, an unheard of luxury to me, where back home in the desert my mother wept on the couch and couldn’t move from her bed. Here, when my father got angry, he spanked the younger kids and grounded the elder ones from the computer, rather than insulting us into a ball in our closets and making sure we felt so insignificant we couldn’t utter a word in our own defense.
The father I barely knew, I was learning of. His eyes didn’t pop. He laughed. He put Oreos on his face and tried to get them into his mouth. He insisted we eat our food because it was good for us and made bathroom jokes. He programmed computers until three in the morning because he couldn’t sleep and sometimes, sometimes, he’d point something out on me and say, ‘hey, look, you must be my daughter.’
I spun as I ran. Rain soaked my shirt to my skin, all the way to the only pair of underwear I had brought and washing away my make up. I didn’t hit a single worm, though I could see them wriggling even as I skipped over them.
No one screamed here. No one whispered horrible things in my ears. No one moved me from state to state every few months, keeping me friendless and alone. No one demanded my respect when I had given all that I had left to give.
I opened my mouth and drank it in. It tasted like water. Normal, plain water. But I was covered in it and it felt glorious. The clouds hung dark and heavy, and I had yet to see a speck of the sun, but I didn’t miss it.
I was far too thirsty.
When my watch read 7:45, I trotted back inside the empty gym. I peeled off my wet clothes, groaned over my soggy underwear, and patted myself dry with cheap paper towels. I went back to school, laughed with the friends I had just met, turned in my homework, paid attention like a good little girl, and listened to the rain. I could stay here. I remember thinking. I could really stay here if I wanted to, here in this cool and never grow thirsty again.
But I didn’t.