Breadcrumb #135

KEN VALENTI

It was raining the day I was born. I remember this, I swear.

    Water thrummed at the hospital window from a grey sky and made me drowsy. Alive not yet an hour and already, all I wanted was sleep. A nurse placed me, all seven pounds, four ounces of me, on my mother’s chest and Mom said in a croaky, tired version of the voice I would come to know; “Welcome to the world, Stephen Elijah Warren.”

    And the rain rushed the glass.

_____

    Seven years later, a heatwave broke with a downpour, a trillion drops of water hushing the scorched sidewalk. I went for a walk in the downpour. No raincoat, no umbrella. Just me in jeans, sneakers and a cotton shirt, feeling like the raindrops that pelted me had fallen with the express purpose of soaking me. They wanted to break on me, run along my skin. And I spun, and stomped in puddles and sang, “La! La! La!” until my mother grabbed me and yanked me by the wrist back to the house.

I went for a walk in the downpour. No raincoat, no umbrella. Just me in jeans, sneakers and a cotton shirt, feeling like the raindrops that pelted me had fallen with the express purpose of soaking me.

    “Look at you! Look at you!” Her words came fast and low, as if she were talking to herself. She was rubbing me down roughly with a thick towel, fresh with the scent of Tide. I was horrified that she had made me strip down so she could dry me off. “What the hell were you doing?”

    “I’m sorry, mom. It reminded me of when I was born.”

    That got her to stop, at least for a moment. “What was that?”

    “Remember? When I was born? And it was raining outside, like this?” 

    “How could you possibly remember the day you were born?”

    “I just do.”

    “You’re eyes weren’t open yet. Besides, it was sunny.”

    “It couldn’t be. Maybe, like, it was sunny in the morning, but after I was born, it was raining?”

    “You mean you brought the rain?” A small note of mirth slipped into her rattled voice. “With your cloudy disposition?”

    "I don’t know. I like rain.”

    Really I loved the rain. Walking in a deluge, I had no worries. I didn’t have to look out for the big kids on my block, the ones that were almost teenagers. I had wanted to be their friend, but they made me pretend to be their pet cow as an initiation, then refused to hang out with me anyway. I had to walk around on all fours, eat grass and say, “Moo.” And when I stood up and said, “Now can I play with you?” Allen Teague, the leader of the group said, “Oops. You stood up before I said you could. You blew it. See ya later.”

    Now they always found ways to push me or get in my way. But when it was raining, the world was mine.

    “It was sunny,” Mom said, bringing my attention back. She got back to drying me off, though by then, I was as dry as I was going to get; “Do you think I would forget anything about that day?”

    “But we danced. In the rain.” My own comment surprised even me. I only remembered the dancing just then, and only vaguely. I wasn’t sure how it could have been true. But I was sure that it was.

    Mom didn’t bother to respond to me directly. She muttered to herself, something about being unable to put up with my nonsense.

    I tried to get my father on my side at dinner that night.

    “Dad. It was raining the day I was born, right?”

    But he only said, “I’d go with your mother on this.”

    “Stevie,” my mother said. “Stop being silly.”

_____

   The day she left, sun shone on the maroon Toyota she packed up to go away, making the car difficult to look at.

    “He couldn’t even come help,” my father said bitterly.

    “He thought there might be a scene,” my mother said. “He was right, wasn’t he?”

    “Just go.”

    When she bent down to touch my face, I could feel my father bristle, even though he stood behind me. I remember that sense, that perception of the bristling, even more than I remember the touch of my mother’s fingers.

    “Be my good little Stevie.” And she left me there, crying.

_____

    After she left, Dad took me to do more things. Ball games, sailing lessons, a local arts-and-crafts fair. I smiled a lot, and he smiled back, but each of us was doing it more for the other than for ourselves. After a couple of weeks, though, the smiles became easier. They were real again.

    When my first report card of the new school year came, I was scared. A D+ in science, C- in math. An F in history.

    I felt as if my insides were cold. Like I was becoming a zombie from the inside out. I waited for Dad’s fury when he looked over the marks. Instead he exhaled a deep breath and said, “You really miss her, don’t you?”

    And I cried all over again.

_____

     It was years before I raised the subject again. Dad had made my favorite dinner – lamb and beef burgers with a mess of fried onions. He’d been happy lately. He’d begun seeing a woman he’d met online. Her name was Sarah.

    I was almost 11 now. And when I saw the perfect dinner waiting for me, I was immediately afraid. Was he about to tell me he was going to marry Sarah? They’d just met! Did these things happen so quickly?

    Maybe I was trying to head off the serious talk about Sarah when I asked, “Wasn’t it raining? I mean, the day I was born?”

    It took Dad a moment to catch up, and he laughed in surprise.

    “Where did that come from, Steve?”

    “I remember being with Mom. And the rain. I remember her blue eyes.”

    “You think your mother has blue eyes?”

    I knew better than to say “Yes” to a question like that, so I went with the classic standby: “I don’t know.”

    Dad recovered a photo album he’d stored in the basement. He dropped it in front of me and opened it to photos of us on Cape Cod. One shot of her smiling over a cracked lobster, I could clearly see that her eyes were gray.

    “You see?” Dad said. “Do you see blue eyes?”

    I was surprised at how annoyed he was.

    But I know that, the day I was born, her eyes were blue. I know that it was raining. I remember it. And in that moment, I remembered so much more. I remembered how she held me up and smiled, and her eyes were so blue, and she wore a dress to match, a dress that I recognized as the color of San Francisco Bay, even though I would not see San Francisco Bay for another five years, when we visited her brother in Sausalito.

     She wore a delicate silver chain with a single silver drop on the end. Not a tear, but a drop of rain. She lifted me, and she took me outside and danced with me in the downpour. But I could not tell this to Dad, so I only answered his question. Did I see blue eyes in the photo?
“No.”

_____

    Dad died a few years ago. The other day, Mom’s brother called. He’s out East now.

    “You should see her. We hope she’ll remember you.”

    She’s in a nursing home a couple of hours from me. I almost didn’t recognize her. Her skin hangs loose on her face and arms now. But there is still some of the sandy color left in her hair and her eyes are still gray. Yes, gray, like in Dad’s photos. Not blue.

    Her head bobbed with Parkinson’s. Her hand shook as she turned the page of The Daily News. I had forgotten how religiously she had read the tabloid when I was a kid. Now, she barely nodded at me, just politely enough to keep a stranger from complaining that she was rude. Her eyes seemed to look only at the photos and to see nothing.

    I asked her in my best chatty voice what she just read and she frowned and said, “Don’t be a wise-ass.”

    It’s something I remembered her telling me when I was a kid. Did she recognize me, or did she say this to all people who annoyed her?

    “Mom? Do you know who I am?”

    The gray eyes roamed over my face. 

    “You?” she said, as if remembering long ago. “It’s you?”

    “Do you know my name?”

    Her head shook, but maybe that was just Parkinson’s. The nurse had warned me not to push her, not to try to force her to remember. But I couldn’t help myself.

    "I don’t remember.” Her voice was barely a whisper.

    “Do you remember anything?” I asked.

    Softly, she said, “It was raining the day you were born.”

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