I have to admit, when I first saw the prompt I'd been given I thought, "Oh, no way. Nuh uh." I live in what people refer to as "Rainland" and I'm supposed to write about someone seeing rain for the first time?! It took a while for me to see the character and to understand why he'd never seen rain before. But I'm really glad I discovered him, because I think he's an interesting fellow. With any luck, you'll think so too.
Until I was 11 years old, I was raised somewhere in the vicinity of the Mojave Desert. I say raised, but that really paints too pretty of a picture. I was kept. I was kept hidden.
Back in 1967, when I was just a little over two years old a man I only know as Dwight kidnapped me from a park about an hour east of Seattle. It happened in one of those small seconds when my mother looked away, caught up in conversation with another neighborhood mom. I don't remember any of this, I only know it after the fact. Dwight kidnapped me to satisfy his wife, a woman I only know as Star.
That was way back before police had everything computerized and before Amber Alerts, and all that good stuff that helps people find criminals now. It was easy for Dwight and Star to just choogle on down the road, baby boy in tow. Besides, people had bigger things to worry about that year - war, riots, hippie freaks wandering around strung out on drugs. The whole world was chaos. A missing baby wasn't going to turn the world upside down.
Dwight and Star had no trouble crossing two state lines and driving halfway through California. They had already taken up residence on a piece of land that hosted nothing but an old house, chicken coops, goats and Joshua trees. Of course, I never saw any of this the whole time I was there. I was never allowed out of the old root cellar where they kept me.
Now, you could say, "Oh, poor Luke." But it's not necessary. For all those years, I didn't know any differently. My whole life was a dingy, dusty cellar. The only real light I ever saw was the hot Mojave sun filtering through the single filthy 6 X 12 window near the ceiling. And anyway, back then I wasn't known as Luke. I was known as James. Evidently Star had a real thing for Sweet Baby James Taylor. So, she called me James, or Jimmy T if she was in a particularly good mood.
Star wasn't so bad. I think in some ways she was as much a prisoner there as I was. Dwight was an odd mix of plan-for-the-apocalypse and laid-back hippie. He didn't much bother with me. I think a lot of the time he forgot I existed at all. He was either trying to scrabble something together out of that hard land, or working an odd job, or getting stoned. I was Star's pet and she could deal with me. Everything was copasetic so long as Dwight didn't have to lift a finger where I was concerned. That's the feeling I got from him anyway. And that was okay with me.
Star taught me to read. She'd sneak books home from the library for me. When she couldn't manage that, she'd bring one of her own books down to the cellar and have me read from that. I was eight years old when I read Oliver Twist, nine when I fell into a vortex of Steinbeck novels. I couldn't get enough of his books. The Dickens stuff was fine reading, but that world was foreign enough to be another planet. The Steinbeck stuff, however... well, I don't know. He just had a way of making it sound like his world was just upstairs and outside the door.
Not that I ever went upstairs, much less out the door. Later I was told that I'd been taken on a fine day in May. It wasn't until June 13, 1976 that I ever saw the great outdoors, and that was a confusing, scary day.
Star had brought me breakfast, cheerios with raisins and milk, just like always. She sat with me for a while and let me read to her from a goofy book about rabbits. It was called Watership Down. It was really a pretty good book and a definite departure from the usual classics that she'd bring me to read. I don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do remember that when the rabbits would go crazy with terror, they'd call it "going tharn." I remember when the planes smashed into the trade towers, I watched people running through the streets - wide eyed, lost, disbelieving - it came back to me then. Look at all of 'em going tharn.
I've gotten ahead. By years, it seems. Yeah. So, Star and I were in the cellar and I was reading to her. All of the sudden we heard Dwight slamming in through the screen door upstairs, hollering his head off. I couldn't really make it all out, something like, "They come... bastids... here... fucked... we're fucked." And that was all mixed together with him bellowing Star's name in between. I looked at her and I remember her face in that moment. It was the first time I ever saw someone's whole face say goodbye. Her eyes were glazed with tears, her mouth shut tight like she was trying to hold in words, nostrils flared, and cheeks flushed. She jumped to her feet, bent and gave me a kiss on the forehead - a kiss so fast and soft that it felt like a tiny feather had brushed my forehead. Then she was up the steps.
That was the last I ever saw of Star, of either of them, although I couldn't tell you how many days or weeks it had been before that when I'd last seen Dwight. The next thing I knew, there was a whole lot more scuffling and noise upstairs. Lots of voices, and I can't remember ever before that hearing any voices except for Star's and Dwight's. I sat down there for I don't know how long. Finally the door opened and an ATF officer came down the steps. He stopped short when he saw me, mouth hanging open for a minute. Then he turned and yelled up the stairs, "Holy shit! There's a kid down here!"
So, for the first time in a little over nine years, I saw the outside world. I didn't see much that first day. They shielded my eyes because it was so bright out there. I remember squinting at the brightness even with an old t-shirt wrapped around my head. They brought me to a hospital where I was examined and kept for observation. Somewhere along the way the officials determined that I didn't really belong with Dwight and Star. A little more research and a week later, they figured out who my real parents were.
The whole time I stayed in the hospital. Kind nurses came and went and brought me all kinds of food to tempt my appetite. A volunteer came by with a little cart full of books. They were all too juvenile for my reading level, but I grabbed a stack anyway. It was something to do. The whole time I didn't talk. I wasn't afraid to talk, I just felt like a foreigner, like somehow the noise that would come out of my mouth wouldn't be the same language. It's difficult to explain.
Finally a nurse came in and announced that there were a couple of people who were anxious to see me. I nodded, indicating she could let them in. A woman walked in first. She had hair the same color as mine, and eyes the same shade of sea green. She had her hand clamped over her mouth and tears ran down her cheeks as she took faltering steps toward the bed. The man holding her elbow was tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, but I recognized the shape of his face as my own. The nurse and the social worker who'd followed them in came to the other side of the bed. "These are your parents, Luke." It was the first time I'd been called by my true name that I could remember. So began the slow process of rebuilding my place in the real world.
It was still another week before I spoke to anyone. I remember it well because it was a notable day in history for a lot of reasons. It happened to be the Fourth of July, the year of America's bicentennial. It's also the first day I can recall rain. My folks and I had gone to a parking lot that looked out on Mt. Si in Northbend, WA. Mom had packed a picnic and we had blankets and pillows and Dad's old transistor radio. We were listening to some rock n' roll tunes - I couldn't get enough of that stuff. After virtual silence for so many years, the beat made me feel grounded somehow, as if the bass thump was coming right out of the earth and into my shoes. Mom had just dished up some strawberry shortcake, having made it her mission to "fatten up our boy." The fireworks started at the old high school. Dad had explained them before we'd left the house, but they were prettier than anything I could have imagined.
Dad tousled my hair and I turned toward Mom, holding out my dish in a more-please gesture. That was when I felt it hit the top of my head. I flinched and dropped my dish. Again, something wet and cold slammed into my neck. Suddenly it was everywhere. I looked from one parent to the other, horrified, terrified. Mom understood first. "Luke... shhh.... shhh... it's just rain. Just a little rain..." The first word I spoke to my parents was, "Rain." I understood the word. I'd read about it enough in all the books Star had brought me to read. "Rain," I said again, and held my hand out in an attempt to catch it.
I jumped off of the tailgate and began to spin around. "Rain.... rain.... rain...." I laughed then. My mother joined me, mimicking my rain mantra, spinning along with me. I think I saw tears in Dad's eyes. Maybe it was a trick of the rain and the streetlight, but I like to think they were tears.
That was 36 years and a different lifetime ago. I don't think I was too damaged by Dwight and Star. A lot of my early childhood is just a blur that I don't really remember except for reading all those books. Every now and then some character in my dreams will call me James and it takes me a minute upon waking to recall that my real name is Luke.
What's funny is that although I spent much of my childhood in the desert I never saw any of it. Even so, I've never had any kind of motivation to ever want to leave the Pacific NW. It really doesn't rain here as much as people think, but it does rain more than they'd expect. I love the rain. I've never tired of it, even on my worst days. I welcome the rain every time. And I'll tell you something else, I'll die just as happy if I never see a goddamned desert.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Tara Roberts gave me this prompt: You live somewhere where you've never seen rain. You visit somewhere new one day where it is a common occurrence. What is your reaction to seeing rain, fall from the sky, for the first time? Joy or fear?. I gave Grace O'Malley this prompt: I guess we managed to dodge the bullet that time...