Back when I was 17, after I had just moved in with the father I barely knew, I would go running in the mornings during the free hour in-between the 6am Seminary and school. I’d pull on my old dance pants, my sports bra, and an old gym shirt and run around the track in the big P.E. building that the small-town school rarely used. It was dark and empty, so I preferred it. Like any other teenage girl, I was hyper-aware of the cellulite on my round thighs and the way my face turned bright red with exertion.
So, in the quiet, I would puff and count laps while in the school’s main building kids played jazz and talked about the ambiguous, half-adult life they lead. I’m sure if Dad had chosen to live in a town just a little bigger than the dot of Monmouth, Oregon, I would have had something else to do then run, but it did fine and dandy for me. It gave me a space of my own to think about what I had left behind with my mother.
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 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 as long, fat, Oregon spoiled worms squiggled out to enjoy the rain.
I dodged them as I ran. Soon I was laughing head back in the downpour. I drank the air, unable to get enough of the sweet musk of water and became drunk with the scent. Faster and faster I ran, hands up in the air, face full of rain, and leaping over worms that were so unlike their anorexic brothers of Las Vegas
No one could have seen me. And even if they did, I didn’t care. 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 in court for the ownership 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 or 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 Oregon 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 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 down to the only pair of underwear I had brought and washed away my makeup. 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 it was 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 to.
At 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, paid attention in class like a good girl, and listened to the rain. I could stay here. I’d thought. I could really stay here if I wanted to, and never grow thirsty again.