Many years ago, I had a friend with early arthritis who mentioned that whenever it rained, everything changed for him—his body slowed, his joints ached, and he remembered how old he was (his words).
While I’ve no definitive physical reaction to rainy weather, I have noticed my own unique response to it. It’s beyond the casual gaze out the streaked, foggy window, or the perfunctory lean toward the scent of nature drenched in rainfall. Instead it’s a deep-rooted thing—a snapshot in time of an incident that shaped and changed me.
And so sometimes, when it rains, I remember.
Usually, the memory comes fleeting and fast—and always, I push it aside to write about another day. But during a rainstorm a few weeks ago, I went combing through my files. I’ve been a recorder since I was a little girl, and I’ve saved most everything—I have the diary I kept from ages seven to eleven, the bounty of journals I locked in a drawer as a teen, and those I have on my nightstand as an adult. So when I found the story that’s popped into my head here and there over the last two decades, I felt inspired to finally commit the experience to words—this time as the vivid imprint that occasionally flares, something I recognize as the start of a transformation far deeper than raw, young me saw when she wrote it in calculated detail back then.
At 14, I was gangly and awkward. I had thick, bushy eyebrows hidden behind gigantic blue-framed glasses, and I wore baggy shirts and loose jeans to hide developing breasts and hips that had grown far wider than my mother’s. I’d already had braces for the first of two times, so I’d endured much of the teasing that came with them for years prior…but while my teeth were straight, I felt crooked. I felt small. I had a mind bursting with curiosity, but I, like many young teens, was just coming to understand this strange body of mine. I’d heard and read of what it could do, but I was timid, observing all the goings-on around me with a pair of huge, inquisitive eyes. Still, my body ached, somehow, for more—and at school, in my art class, I found it.
His name was Rob.
Rob was a boy three years older than me. He was tall and lean, with long, wild hair and deep, dark brown eyes. He wore a leather jacket, rings, and earrings, and rarely smiled—unless, I soon discovered, he was looking at me. I could feel him watching me from the table a few feet away, no matter who he was talking to, what he was drawing, or what the teacher had to say.
And one day—quietly, leaning close in his chair—Rob told me I was beautiful.
These words were foreign to me. I already had a boyfriend—he was a goofy boy a year older who had supposedly already had sex, but who refused to do anything with me for the six months we’d dated. He’d explained to me that “sex was trouble” and “smart, good girls didn’t want those things.” But occasionally, if I begged, he’d kiss me close-mouthed. Or, he’d push on one of my breasts and joke that my body would be more fun if the other breast would then pop up like a head in a Whack-a-Mole game. He was my very first boyfriend, and from him, I learned I was a weird nerd, an “okay but not great” trait, and that the reason he really liked me was because I wasn’t “too pretty” like the other girls he’d dated.
I suppose it’s not a big surprise Rob got my attention.
For two weeks after Rob complimented me, I remained quiet. I noticed him in class though, always watching me, making something buzz deep inside in a way I’d never felt before. The day he slipped his phone number my way, I fondled the paper for hours, wondering if I should follow the longing pulsing along my skin, and the desire filling my head. It distracted me when my boyfriend spoke of video games and burping, then reminded me I was needy when I asked him to kiss, and that if we did, we’d get caught, and the trouble we’d get into would all be my fault.
So I called Rob, and for two more weeks, we talked about our lives and mature things. He shared the trouble he got into with his friends, the potential risk of getting thrown out by his parents, his record with the law. I was a good girl through and through, and I couldn’t comprehend these sorts of tales. It seemed he was the very trouble my boyfriend told me I was for him—but Rob didn’t push me away or tell me I was weird, or only sort of pretty, or anything else I’d learned in last six months about myself. Most importantly, he didn’t tell me I was strange when I told him I had feelings for him, or that I wanted more than anything to kiss him.
This is why, when he asked me to meet him on a murky, drizzling Saturday, I knew it was what I needed to do.
Heart racing, limbs numb, face pink—I marched as fast as I could through the fog and sporadic tear drops of rain to meet him. With the amount of time I was allowed and the time it took to get there, we’d have a mere twenty minutes alone. But when I arrived at Rob’s side, this didn’t matter. He curved his hands around my back, affectionately, confidently, then dipped his lips near mine.
I was panting.
Rob kissed me hard and deep, pulling me up against his body as the rain sprinkled faintly on my forehead, nose, and cheeks. I had a flash of guilt when his tongue slipped into my mouth—this was new. This was close. This wasn’t anything my boyfriend would do.
“That’s gross,” he’d say.
But that clearly wasn’t what Rob thought. He kissed me there in the drizzle for a few minutes, then took my hand and led me to shelter under an enormous tree. When he pulled me into his lap, he cradled me and stared into my eyes.
I remember him asking permission every step of the way, the words a melody to the backdrop of rain pattering on the tree foliage above us. His questions came as teasing pauses paired with the most tantalizing of smiles. “Can I touch you here?” he’d said, creeping his fingertips up my thigh. “How about here?” he’d asked, catching the button of my pants. “And here?” he’d whispered, kissing me as I eagerly nodded and he slipped his fingers beneath my panties.
What came next felt like magic. I was caught up with the pattern of his fingers in time with his mouth. There were tingles shooting through me in ways I’d never dreamed of, ways I felt like I’d been waiting for without even realizing it. When I opened my eyes, Rob was as lost in the kiss as I was—but he didn’t stop to tell me the things I usually heard after a kiss. Instead he kissed me harder, fogging up my glasses in our closeness. And as the sprinkling quickened beyond the shelter of tree we sat under, I—loving every second of this thing I’d longed to do—tried to hold my breath so he wouldn’t hear me. I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad that I took the tiniest inhalations and wheezed them out in little bursts of sound.
In a few minutes, reality interrupted—the steps of someone passing nearby, the threat of time ticking by too fast. Rob withdrew his fingers before I could come to my senses, my lips parted, my eyes wild. “We should go,” he said. “Your parents will kill you if you’re late.”
So, hot and shaky, I straightened myself up and stood. Rob held my hand and stared ahead, pensive until we came back to the sidewalk. But my mind was on fire, my body screaming with some new awareness I didn’t have before. He kissed me goodbye and sent me on my way, and I remember the way his gaze felt on my back—heavy, heated, full of the wanting and longing that rivaled my own, but so much more experienced. Once I made it around the block, I breathed normally again—and that’s when the rain began to pour down faster over me, a cascade washing away the naïve, timid girl I’d been before.
When I got home, I called my boyfriend to tell him we were done. I’d like to say things with Rob continued in a normal fashion, but our relationship over the next year and a half would end up being one of the most complicated and painful of my life, fodder for stories not meant for this rainy day memory.
Still, a few weeks later, when I got contact lenses, plucked my huge eyebrows, and started feeling more comfortable in my skin—enough not to hide under layers and layers of fabric anymore—Rob was the first to acknowledge me when I got to class. Our conversations had dulled to occasional glances, a flickered memory of our secret rendezvous in the rain—but now he cast a smile in my direction and leaned close like he had on that first day, so only I could hear him.
“You were already beautiful,” he said, whistling under his breath. “But look at you now.”
I’d smiled and set to work on my art project, just as he’d gone back to talking to his friends. I didn’t know it then, but our moment had been tattooed on my memory, a catalyst of something he was the only one to see waiting inside me to break free.
Which is why sometimes, when it rains, I remember.