The rain started in April.
It hasn’t stopped since.
I check my Weather app every morning. Select my Michigan location. See a string of gray clouds or dark blue dashes slanting to the side with a stubborn slash. If the rare yellow sun symbol is present, it’s shy. Never solo. Usually peeking out behind a cloud.
It’s as if the Sky broke up with the Sun. Refuses to let its rays get too close. Avoids bright blue. Pushes away the bouquets of white puffy clouds.
The Sky deals with the breakup by listening to Adele songs, filling herself up just to sob it all out. She sends big buckets of rain down on top of our black umbrellas, our silver cars, our empty farm fields. She drowns our good moods and muddies our sandcastles.
So we do the only thing we can do: we wait for the sun to shine again.
The endless rain started out innocently. I was a few weeks into my new job. Every morning, a gray ceiling of clouds or a curtain of rain followed me up the stairs and toward the bright red door of the office building.
I felt like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. Oh bother.
A few days passed.
“Oh look, it’s raining again,” I joked with my new co-workers as I glanced out the window at the end of the hallway. The wet pavement glistened.
Another day: “Hey Lindsay,” my co-worker Julie called from her office. “Guess what? It’s raining.”
Another day: “You guys,” I said, my voice low and serious. “I don’t know if you know this but…” –I paused—“it’s raining outside.”
Weeks passed. My Weather app continued to predict forecasts full of gray clouds and cold.
“Does Mother Nature know it is JUNE?” we asked. The oak trees continued to chug the water like a college kid over a keg stand.
Despite the pattern, I was never prepared for the weather, always running from the car to the building with my hand over my head. My own personal rebellion. If I don’t bring the umbrella, the weather won’t turn to rain.
If only it were that simple.
"I just can’t do this anymore,” my co-worker Patti finally said one rainy morning, her arms and eyebrows raised in disbelief. She sat behind her angled desk. The green walls and collages of photographs wrapped her in a cocoon of color, combatting the gray outside her window. “It’s impacting my mood. When I went to Philly, it was 80 degrees and pure sun.”
“I know, I hate to be a downer, but this is getting ridiculous,” I agreed.
"If we aren't careful, it will steal our mojo," she sighed and looked out the window. “Geez, can you believe it's gray AGAIN? It’s almost comical now. I'm so tired of this weather."
Then one day, the Sky finally took a break from the sobbing. We got a nice, summer day. It was a Saturday. Pure sun and warm temps.
“Do you think we should skip this church thing?” I asked my mom the night before. She works night shift at the hospital, so our mother/daughter days are rare. We were supposed to go to a women’s craft event. “Since it’s supposed to be so nice out?”
"No, we probably should go,” Mom said.
“Yeah, I guess. We did already sign up.” Still, I felt a pang of Fear of Missing Out on the sunshine party Michigan was throwing.
The next day, the sun danced with a cloudless sky as Mom and I spent the bulk of the afternoon inside a dimly lit gymnasium. We made cards and conversation, met new people and laughed, swapped stories and spent valuable time together for once. I was glad I was there, but I made big plans in my mind to stay outside as much as possible once the event was over.
The afternoon concluded with closing speakers: a mother/daughter duo. I settled into my plastic chair around the round table and got ready to listen to lighthearted and uplifting words.
That’s not what I got.
“We want you to think of a situation that is hard and difficult that you have gone through or are going through now,” the mom of the speaker duo—Kelly—said. She had a short blonde bob, red lipstick and glasses. “Then write that word down on the cards provided on your tables. When you’ve got your word, come up and pin the card to this bulletin board behind me.”
I glanced around at the tables surrounding me. About 20 women –mostly middle-aged, some younger, some older—sat in the chairs, pens poised. I recognized many of their faces, though they wore new masks of uncertainty as they looked at their card.
One by one, the women went up to the bulletin board and pinned their card like the tail to a donkey. Darting my eyes from side to side, I kept my card close to my chest until I stood directly in front of the board. I stabbed a clear pushpin to the top of the card and pushed it into the cork. I avoided eye contact as I hurried back to my seat.
After a few minutes, the bulletin board was full.
“OK,” Chyna—the other speaker, Kelly’s 20something daughter—said. “We all are going through things.” She looked at the full board, then back at us. “And to be honest, it sucks, right? “It just”—she sighed, her breath almost a whisper—“sucks.” She paused. The quiet fell on the room like a thud. She started reading the words on the cards out loud.
“Disappointment,” Chyna read. “Punishment. Failure. Mistake. Disappointment. Out of control. Depressed. Disappointment. Another disappointment.”
I looked in disbelief at the other women at the round tables. It never occurred to me that they might feel the rainy days of life, too. Most of these women were older than me. I figured they’d have it all figured out: this adulting, growing up, life in general puzzle.
But we can’t prevent the weather, no matter how many rainy days we’ve lived through.
Hard things are happening. Right now. In this past week alone, I’ve heard from friends about difficult scenarios that add to the weight that we constantly carry. Miscarriages and misunderstandings. Illnesses and death. Mold in the house. Surgery in the hospital.
I keep waiting for the day that it all will go away. Like clouds parting, the dark news will make way for clear blue skies. Everything will be 100% perfect.
But it doesn’t. And it won’t. Because this is life, and we get a mix of the good and not-so-good. We have our own thunderstorms. We just don’t look out the same windows to see the lightning strike.
We don’t see each other in the counseling office.
In the doctor’s waiting room. Or the hospital hallway.
On the cold bathroom floor tile.
Underneath the pillars that once built such a strong foundation.
Alone in the car listening to that one John Mayer song that breaks your heart in two.
In the bed, staring at the ceiling fan spinning around and around and around at 2:24 a.m.
The tough stuff is what we all have in common. We all know what it feels like to get hit with the rain.
Last weekend, Adam and I got up early to plant pink and white impatiens under the two maple trees in our yard. I bought flats of dark purple petunias to fill a couple of whiskey barrels to sit on our porch. We rushed to get the roots into the dirt, trying to beat—once again—another rainstorm scheduled to arrive at our doorstep that afternoon.
The next day, I hovered over the whiskey barrel, now full of flowers. The petunias’ petals drooped downward, looking heavy and heartbroken like the sky.
“Dang it, these petunias,” I panicked, peering closely at their green stems and placing my fingers in the wet dirt. “I knew they’d die. Look at ‘em. Not even a day and they’re dying. Do you think the rain made it worse?”
Adam looked at the flowers, then at me. “Give them a break,” he said. “It’s been a day. They’re stressed. They just got planted. They aren’t dying.”
Flowers need the rain. We need the storms. But social media forgets to factor in that equation. Instagram and Facebook are like California: endless sun.
But what does constant sunshine and no rain cause?
A few days later—after a forecast full of rain clouds with patches of sun—I examined my petunias again. The petals were perky this time, their faces turned upward to look at the sky. Their stems had stretched. They weren’t just alive. They were growing.
It’s not all about reacting to the rain's existence. It’s accepting the rain's presence and respecting what it can do. The dark and dreary allow us to grow. To accept what is. To appreciate the good weather when it’s here…and learn to live --not just wait to live--when it’s not. To have both the umbrellas AND the sunglasses on hand…because we’ll need one or the other eventually.
And no matter how heartbroken the Sky may feel, she will always be the one that holds the Sun.
I never thought Stone Cold Steve Austin would get between Mom and me.
And yet, here we were.
“No,” she said. “This is not happening. No way.” She clutched the Stone Cold doll as if her life depended on it.
It really was a doll, not one of those plastic wrestler figurines, though my younger brother had those growing up, too. Back then, he had an entire bin full of the late 90s World Wrestling Federation stars: Kane. The Undertaker. Paul Bearer. X-Pac. Triple H. An eclectic mix of Good Guys and Bad Guys, complete with scowls and six packs.
Ryan’s favorite was Stone Cold Steve Austin, whose wrestling persona was all blue-collar, beer-guzzling, trash-talking. His neck would twist and turn as he stood across from his latest arch nemesis in the ring, spitting out one witty, raw, rude insult after another. But Austin was the good guy. The “face.” The hero who saved the day: one Stone Cold Stunner move at a time.
When Ryan was six or seven, he dressed up as Austin for Halloween. Mom used her Cover Girl brown eyeliner pen to draw a mustache and goatee to match the wrestler. With his new facial hair, vest and AUSTIN 3:16 hat, Ryan looked like a mini version of the Texas Rattlesnake.
Now, Mom held tightly to our doll pal Stone Cold. He stretched about a foot long. Plastic bald head and bulging arms. Soft cloth body. His black tight tee matched his black combat boots and wrestling briefs. His eyebrows were painted angry: a face that now matched my mother’s expression as she looked at me.
We faced off between my parent’s entryway and the kitchen. Brown eyes locked, hands on hips. The oak grandfather clock scolded us with its tick-tick-tick. Dad sat behind me at the kitchen table. I’d call him in for backup, though I was hoping to win this one on my own.
“You can’t,” I said. My eyes drifted to Stone Cold, lifeless in my mom’s hands. No Stunners today. “I get it, I do, but these are our memories. From childhood. Like, come on,”—I gestured toward the doll—“that was Ryan’s. He loved Stone Cold, remember? We can’t just getridof him.”
“Lindsay, you had no idea that Stone Cold was here until I brought him up from the basement,” Mom said. Her voice was as crisp as fresh linen. “We can’t keep all this STUFF.” She shook Stone Cold. He was not rattled.
“You wouldn’t want all this crap if it was in your house,” she continued. Her eyes were big now, her voice rising like a wave. “It’s all crap. Total junk.”
Oh no. I knew this tone. This tone meant rollercoaster results. Hop on board and watch Jeanne spiral.
“We are hoarders,” she stated matter-of-factly. “That’s what we are. We are a bunch of HOARDERS just like on that television show. Your dad,” she looked over my shoulder at him—“is a HOARDER.”
And here…we…go. Arms up, everybody.
I sighed. “We are not hoarders.”
“We are!” Mom argued. “We have a basement full of crap. You don’t even live here anymore and you still have a ton of stuff up in your closet.”
“I went through things.”
Mom raised her eyebrow. “Oh really? Then why do we need your old prom dresses? Where are you going to wear those?”
True. I needed to donate those.I pictured my junior year prom dress hanging in my old bedroom closet. It was pale pink: the color of cotton candy and strawberry ice cream.
“Dad,” I now said, turning around to face my father sitting in his spot at the kitchen table. “Do you hear this? Mom is getting rid of our childhood.”
Dad stood up from the table. “No, she’s not.” He walked toward my mom, still holding onto Stone Cold Steve Austin. “We aren’t getting rid of the kids’ toys, Jean.”
Mom shuddered, incredulous. “Oh OK, so they’re just going to sit in the basement, collecting dust? Why do we need to keep all of this stuff? This is ridiculous. It’s JUNK.”
Dad reached out and took Stone Cold. “No, it’s not, we aren’t hoarders, it’s fine.” He gave Stone Cold to me, opened the front door and walked out toward the backyard. That was that.
“We are hoarders,” Mom repeated as the door shut behind my dad. But her voice had quieted, the tinge of defeat softening its edges. She turned around and went upstairs. I carried Stone Cold back downstairs into the basement, his face as tough as ever. Another match won. Ring the bell.
In my own house, I tend to lean toward Mom—who wants to get rid of everything—versus Dad—who wants to get rid of nothing. Earlier this year, I hopped on the minimalism bandwagon for a hot second. The approach to life centers on the concept of getting rid of stuff/things/etc. that is not of true use or happiness. Like everyone else, I watched that show on Netflix with Marie Kondo and perused her book, “Spark Joy.” I got inspired. Took everything in my closet, threw it in the living room, organized it. Kept the items that brought me joy(that was Marie Kondo’s big requirement).Got rid of the clothes that didn’t.
It felt nice, to clear things out that I didn’t need anymore. The things that had holes, or had faded, or didn’t fit, or wasn’t quite me.
As someone who likes to keep things tidy, I was loving this minimalism thing. Goodbye purposeless items! Gimme all that joy. Only joy.
Until I came across my stuff that was more than stuff. They were time capsules. Memories stitched into the fabric. Feelings faded into the paint.
And that’s when I realized that things aren’t always just things. The ordinary, everyday items can also be special and symbolic.
Things can serve as an extension of a friend you don’t talk to anymore, or a time that you can’t get back. A tangible memory that provides proof that your brain and your heart are not playing tricks on you. Yes, that really happened. See, look: Here’s the movie stub. Here’s that sweatshirt. The burnt CD with the words he scribbled in Sharpie. The faded Pistons shirt, the scuffed tap shoes, the tarnished trophy.
It happened. It did. You did. We did.
Here. Look. Remember.
Things mean memories. Memories that may seem insignificant, or forgotten, or lost. Until you rub the dress’s taffeta fabric in between your fingers, or pop in the Tim McGraw CD, or hug the brown teddy bear with the hole in it’s neck.
Our symbols—our things—are different for all of us. The memory assigns the meaning. Suddenly, something ordinary isn’t so ordinary anymore.
You see a maize and blue Michigan snapback hat or a cherry red Ford F150 truck and think nothing of it. I see my dad. I will always see my dad.
You see a cream-colored lace dress and think, “Oh, that’s pretty.” I see my and my friend Cassie’s Halloween costume, when dressing up as “dead dolls” brightened our day during a dark time.
My list goes on and on:
A mustard-colored sweater. Fuzzy socks.
A Dreamland baby doll. A tie-dyed Girls on the Run T-Shirt.
Fuschia Fusion eye shadow. Silver and blue track spikes. A wooden piggy bank.
A George Strait cassette tape. A Bob Evans name tag. Pink ballet slippers.
Like archeologists uncovering forgotten bones, the simple act of spring cleaning can stir up memories and ghosts.
That’s why some people keep things: to remember.
And that’s why people get rid of things: to forget.
We get to choose what we take, and what we let go.
Today, Stone Cold remains at my parents’ house. Ryan now has his own beard; he doesn’t need Mom to draw it on with eyeliner. But the wrestling doll represents a time in our lives that once was. A season that we remember. Despite all the space things take up, sometimes the memory is worth more than the space.