There were a lot of things I missed about the Midwest when we lived in California, and I could write an almost never-ending list of things I hated living in the Bay Area. But I missed nothing more than rain.
I missed thunderstorms that could be called ‘rolling’. I missed thunder and lightning and getting caught in an unexpected shower. I missed open skies full of ominous grey clouds and the way my windowpanes shook- tremors implying they could give way at any moment- when heavy thunder cracked against my house. I missed falling asleep to the soft sound of a summer storm. And I missed the regularity and frequency of rain.
Most people from the Bay liked to argue that I only held this opinion because I lived there during drought years- and the three years that I lived in Oakland were some of the driest on record- but it’s more than that. Rain isn’t really rain in California. It doesn’t fall in wide sheets, save a short period each winter. Rain is more of a heavy mist that was just too lazy to rise back into the clouds. It hovers around you, immune to modern technology like umbrellas. And it only happens seasonally. It’s so infrequent that natives lose all ability to operate vehicles or really even go outside. The only people you see outside on a rainy day in the East Bay are transplants. I have waxed poetic about rain to strangers in bars because they too are from somewhere else that knows what rain is supposed to sound and feel like.
I say all this because as I sit here on my back porch in Chicago, soaking up a bit of cold autumn rain, I simultaneously feel more at home than ever and yet as far away from what that word has meant to me over the years. Even though it’s cold and wet and I’m sitting on an uncomfortable milk crate- I feel safe. The rain a reminder to stay grounded in reality. But I’m not at home. This house once absolutely felt like home, more than my parent’s house or anywhere else I’ve lived. I don’t know if it’s simply because time has passed or because I’m a different person now, but it isn’t home anymore, at least not yet. Maybe because the right people aren’t here. But, it doesn’t make any sense. My spouse is still here. He’s all I’ve ever needed to make a house a home before.
In our small, weird apartment in Oakland, we built a family. It’s wasn’t always good. It wasn’t always nice. That’s kind of what family is, in a way though. I had people that somehow insisted on working their way through my stubbornness, past my weirdness and into my life. Sometimes I did the same to them. We ate together and laughed together and hopefully became slightly better, different people together. Now we’re not just on opposite ends of the Berkeley/ Oakland divide, but strewn across the globe. We were never meant to be a forever family- board games, beer and brisket can only hold together so much. It’s what happens in Grad school. You meet amazing, wonderful people that are going to be a part of your life forever, and then you move apart. You have to become adults. You have to move closer to your biological family and further from the people that feel like family. I really miss them. I miss seeing them all the time. I’m so afraid to build a new friend-base here because I feel like my relatives should be good enough. Or worse, what if we do built another family? What if we finally get all the strings in our support net tied properly, and they leave? Or we leave? I know my spouse’s 5 year plan involves moving a few states east. What then? I can’t keep tying and untying the net of people around us. It’s too hard. When I say I can’t do it, I mean it. I don’t know that I can, either physically or emotionally. Every time I debate texting a friend for coffee, I stop. Do I really want to invest in this if it will be impermanent and painful again? I don’t know where to go from here. While I know I can’t continue by myself, I also don’t know how to head into such a potentially painful unknown future.
When I was in California, I missed the rain.
Now that I have the rain, I miss my family.