Have You Ever Seen the Rain?

Two weeks later and it was still storming outside. During this week, my very dearest and closest friend for whom I hold the utmost respect and admiration was visiting. A weekend just would not do, so King Ranch and I made arrangements to have her up the whole week. She’s a majestic, one-of-a-kind, not sure if she’s real or a myth, graceful, gorgeous woman—as such, I have started, appropriately, referring to her as The Unicorn.

Her given name is fine, I suppose. But to me, this woman is a mythological creature so rarely encountered that only few have managed to tell first-hand accounts of her majesty. The Unicorn—my Pennsylvania-born, French-speaking, vegetable-growing best friend.  It’s been five and a half years since she shook my hand for the first time.

I remember the turning point for our friendship. I was in my early 20’s and was a few weeks into recent singlehood from an ugly breakup. It wasn’t one of those mutual, clean-cut, let’s just walk away endings. It went down in flames. That breakup crashed and burned so badly that rescue efforts gave up on trying to find any remaining evidence on what really happened. Anyway, I was living alone and had lost every single means of communication with my list of confidants (or at least it seemed that way to me—it’s all quite blurry these days) in this battle of the breakup. It took me a few weeks to realize just how alone I was on that desert island. I think I had hopes of a rescue convoy showing up for the first while but when I realized no one was coming, things got weird—imagine Tom Hanks and Wilson.

Curled on the floor in my room and crying, I, for some reason, decided to call The Unicorn one night. I don’t really know why. She just kept appearing in my mind. At this point, I’d only known her a few months from having met at work—a mid-sized law firm in downtown Houston in which we were both legal assistants. I think it was her voice and the fact that she always, I mean always, made eye contact. Like, pupil-to-pupil, brain-to-brain connection. I always felt seen by her. Heard by her.

She also had what I like to refer to as ‘yankee honesty’. See, in the south, we’re usually very worried about making people feel comforted, even if that means sugar-coating things. The ‘yankee honesty’ that was born and bred into the Unicorn, I think, was what I subconsciously needed at the time. I needed some sense knocked into me, not to just be told what I wanted to hear to feel good about myself. So I called her and wouldn’t you know it, she had a raft. In that raft, she had a blanket, pizza, and unlimited wine.

I don’t think she’ll ever realize the shit-storm of drama in which I convinced myself I’d been drowning (hindsight, curling in a ball on the floor of my room alone could be considered dramatic. ‘Yankee honesty’ pointed out that I was probably better than that). I fought it—I fought my urge to open up to her. We’ve all been burned or damaged in some way or another and it makes us picky about who else we allow in to look around. But that night, her with her conversational raft and I with my drama—well, we sailed away into the sunset, never to return.

Because of the rain, The Unicorn and I had spent the better part of the day inside the house watching Little Foot roll around on the floor, desperately trying to crawl. In a white onesie patterned with red and blue cars, he kicked his feet wildly with his toes spread apart while gripping the carpet in his tiny fingers. Every minute or so, he stopped, rested his head on his hands, and then continued where he left off. He was so determined. We took turns encouraging him—I in English and The Unicorn in French.

The Unicorn loves my son. She loves my son like he’s her own. Neither King Ranch or I ever asked her to do this—she just did. She doesn’t become awkward when he begins to fuss or even when he enters into velociraptor-levels of shrieking like most people do. Most people, when the fits start, hand him over, look at us uncomfortably as if we’re holding a broken vase, and leave the room until it’s safe again to enter. Instead, the Unicorn never hesitates to pick him up, flailing or no, and speak to him back and forth in English and French. Such grace. She asks him what the matter is and compliments him on his vocal abilities.

I learned a lot observing the way The Unicorn interacts with Little Foot. As a new mom, I tread in the murky waters of parental panic with every new sound that he chirps, exhales, squeaks, or sputters. The burnt-toast smell of his head still made me noodle-kneed. I craved skin-to-skin contact with him and admittedly, this made me a wee bit overly protective of him, his safety, and his surroundings. The Unicorn, it seemed, approached this unconditional love for him with a level, clear mind. 

We were expecting King Ranch to be home any minute from work and I was flirting with apprehension about his commute because outside, it poured wildly. As Forrest Gump told us once upon a time, “we been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways…”  

Ignoring my little tossed in, worrisome comments of “I hope King Ranch is okay,” and “it’s really coming down out there,” The Unicorn, instead, stayed completely focused on rooting for Little Foot’s first crawl.

She glanced up at me over her glasses, shot me a small smile where only one corner lifts as if it was being tugged with thread, and then muttered some lyrical words in French to Little Foot. She was signaling to me that it was okay. Exhale. And it was.

Moments later, Bunny brayed proudly in the yard over the rain sounds announcing King Ranch’s arrival. She does this everyday—shouts for his homecoming. The Unicorn scooped up Little Foot as I made my way outside through the downpour to open the gate for King Ranch. He parked the blue Subaru, stepped out, and immediately I saw that he was feeling grief. His shoulders were hunched forward and his eyes were distant and disturbed—a glossy coating over deep brown despair. “What happened?” I asked, yelling over the rain sounds. My hair had begun to plaster to my neck.

“Black chicken,” he said, “she’s gone.”

“What?” I asked.

“She was hit by a car. She’s right down the road.” He pointed down the street, teeth gritting and one eye pinched shut—the rain pounded.

“Are you sure it’s her?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s her. I think it must have just happened, too.”

I’ve described the 7 rockstars for whom we are not sure if they’re chickens or roosters. There are, however, two other roaming birds that we know for sure are a chicken and a rooster. We’ve been referring to them as Black Chicken and White Rooster because, well, the chicken is all black the rooster is mostly white but for a green tail that, depending on the light, shimmers like oil on cement. We’ve discovered recently that Black Chicken has been laying eggs in the coop that was left by the seller of the home.

King Ranch said he would meet me inside shortly so I retreated to the house, soaked, to tell the Unicorn this news.

“That’s terrible,” she said, holding a grinning Little Foot on her knee, “what can I do?” She grinned back at Little Foot.

I asked her to look after Little Foot so I could help out King Ranch to which she replied, “of course!” and gave Little Foot an Eskimo kiss. I found my boots, a hat, a jacket, and then dug through a few large cardboard boxes looking for the same for King Ranch.

After I found at least a windbreaker for him, I headed back out into the rain. King Ranch was in the rosebushes with a shovel—his light, blue button-down work shirt soaked through and clinging to his body. His thick, black hair matted across his forehead and his teeth were gritting. The rain pelted him and drops fell from his brow and nose. He was burying Black Chicken. He must have run down the street to retrieve her.

He hadn’t noticed me standing there in the driveway watching him. I was wondering how he must have collected Black chicken’s floppy, bloody corpse, and brought it back so quickly. I also wondered why he, himself wasn’t bloody. He could have easily allowed Black Chicken to become a flatter and less-recognizable lump of roadkill over the next few days. But that’s not who he is. He is a king indeed: one who doesn’t let any of his own die in vain.

This was an ideal final resting spot for a chicken—under the freshly trimmed pink rosebushes. To be able to return to the ground and sprout into endless blooms must be eternally satisfying.

Back inside, King Ranch clutching a thick, brown towel around his bare, upper body—he’d removed his soaked shirt—we all stood by the front window. The wind blew the thick sheets of rain in all directions, switching without warning. The Unicorn was holding Little Foot and I had an arm wrapped around a damp, chilly King Ranch. We were all silent.

From behind the large magnolia tree which sits about 30 feet from the front window, White Rooster, who had been Black Chicken’s companion (the literal yang to her yin) emerged and started to crow—his neck extending high and beak pointing straight up. I’ve never seen him come out of hiding during the rain. He paced a few feet and then stopped to crow again, his branch-like feet making ripples in the puddles in which they stepped. He fluttered a bit and crowed. Pace, crow. Flutter, crow.

He was calling for her.

None of us really knew what to say to each other. This moment hung heavily in the air—his confusion and our unknowingness of just what we should do. We just watched.

Little Foot started to fuss, I imagine, because we were all so silent and awkward. The Unicorn kissed his cheek and wandered off towards the nursery singing, Frère Jacques, Dormez-vous…” As she passed us, she touched her hand to each of our backs.

I looked over at King Ranch  whose hair was beginning to dry in different directions and leaned into him.

The next morning, the sun was out. The yard and driveway were spotted with pools of murky rainwater. I took a walk outside through the with The Unicorn who was telling me a story about one of the children that she babysits and how that child reminds her of Little Foot because he’s “just so perceptive” and “I can’t wait to see who they become.” Pooled rainwater was reaching in waves into the sky.

We headed down to the rosebushes where Black Chicken was buried just the day before—I wanted to show her where King Ranch laid her down to rest.

We both stopped abruptly. White rooster was sitting on top of the loose dirt of Black Chicken’s grave. I’ve never seen him sit before—I’ve only ever seen him and Black Chicken on the move or scratching at bugs in the yard. He looked so small sitting there—his little body wide, spread out over the ground. His head was cocked and he was silent. I stared. He blinked and cocked his head the other direction.

“Is this where -” The Unicorn started, clearing her throat.

“Yes,” I interrupted.

“Oh my,” she said.

We stood in silence.

I had no idea that roosters and chickens could have bonds like this.

The Unicorn said, “Love is real.”

I said, “Mhm.”

And it is. In all forms. Romantic. Platonic. Parental. Poultry. I think you just need to allow yourself to be open to it. You have to let your walls down sometimes to let others in, even if it hurts. I think we should all lead a little more with our hearts so that we can give a friend confidence. So that we can paddle out with a raft and save someone who really needs it. So that we can do right by all creatures who, as it turns out, aren’t as simple as we once thought. So that we know we won’t be forgotten when we pass away. So that our children can learn to love, too.

The Unicorn reached for my hand, “It’s okay,” she said.

I grasped her delicate hand. “How are your hands always so soft?” I asked, slightly grinning.

“They’re not,” she said, “yours are just always calloused.”

I laughed and she did too and together, we walked back to the house, still holding hands.

I can’t wait to see how Black Chicken will bloom.

We’re all livin’…Kumbaya

One of the first major differences one notices when moving from a bustling city to the quaint and quiet country is the increase of critter sightings. All kinds of critters, big and small, become part of the backdrop to daily chores and travels.

As I’m typing this, I’m still struggling with two rosebush thorns buried deep in the side of my right index finger after a dangerous rescue mission.

Last week, on one of those heated afternoons where the sun microwaves the standing water off the cement and up through the sky, I noticed our two dogs, Thing One and Thing Two, frantically digging, pawing, and fussing at the underside of our rosebush that’s closest to the road.   Being dangerously near the spot where I found that poor half-eaten Mickey Mouse a few weeks ago, I approached cautiously with my trimming shears and a boot. The dogs fussed and whined, “Look mom, do you see it? Look what we found! What is it? Get it!!”

It took me a while to figure out what they smelled because I wasn’t sure what I was looking for besides my fear that it could be a diseased rodent (yes, they’re cute, but their unpredictable behavior and sharp teeth would make any mom nervous.)

Pushing aside thorned-limbs here and there while swatting away the bees that I disturbed and using the back of my gardening glove to wipe the sweat from my brow, I finally realized that a dinner-plate sized turtle had somehow wedged itself way up in the branches of this bush. His legs, head, and tail were bunched up in his shell, but I could see his little nostrils and the glint of his glossy, black eyes peeking back at me.

I have no idea how this clearly determined and adventurous turtle must have gotten this far into the oversized bush, because I ended up having to chop away somewhere between a third and a half of the entire plant just to reach him. I chopped branch after branch after branch (still following the advice to trim at the knuckles) and finally made a clearing large enough to squeeze in and grab the shelled-fella. The dogs were ecstatic. I retrieved what they thought must have become their new toy. They bounced like Tigger and woofed and wagged, but I only gave them a sniff before telling them to be nice.

The reptile enthusiast in me wanted to keep the turtle. When I was 10 years old, my dad and I were on a drive down a long country highway when we happened upon a small tortoise crossing the road. I screamed for him to pull over, so we did, and that little guy became my pet who lived in our backyard for the next 11 years. Every winter, he would hibernate, and every February, he would emerge and yawn for an hour and urinate for just as long. I loved that tortoise. Sheldon was his name.  Alas, he ran away when I was off at college. My tortoise ran away.

But here’s the strange thing. As much as I wanted to keep this turtle for what I believe was mostly nostalgic-sake, this country life has taught me how much all these little critters need each other to exist properly. There’s a much more clearly illustrated circle of life out here.

For example, a few days before this turtle rescue mission, I took Little Foot around the corner to the lake to watch the clouds, the ripples, and the reflections. As we approached the shore (and forgive me for graphic descriptions here), we passed a very large, bloated, white-bellied deer, hooves up and neck kinked out to the side in the field next to the lake-access point. I’m not sure how this poor girl ended up here – I didn’t see any sign of attack. But there she was. Her fur still shiny and body perfectly in-tact. I couldn’t be certain, but she still looked warm. Even the flies hadn’t found her yet. I made sure to keep Little Foot’s attention on the water – not that I think he’d understand death yet, but why take the chance?

Two days later, all three of us – King Ranch, Little Foot and I – all walked down to the lake again and all that was left of this poor girl was bare bone. BARE BONE. Not even all of them. I’m flabbergasted with how quickly the food chain cleared her away. Sad. But also amazed.

Our status is dwarfed out here. Humans, I mean. I don’t feel like we reign supreme like we like to think we do elsewhere. As sad as it was to see such an elegant creature succumb to death and ultimately scavengers completely decomposing her, I can’t help but appreciate how many other animals and their families must have been fed. I would do anything necessary to feed my child – so don’t they have the same right?

Even though this living-along-side of nature instead of over it makes me feel smaller, it gives me purpose. I feel like I’m a part of something here – some sort of centuries-old order of man vs beast. It’s instinctual. It’s primal. It’s much more than convenience and scheduling.

It causes me to more deeply consider my own mortality. This is something that happened when I became a parent. It hit me dramatically one night when I put Toy Story on to watch with Little Foot. I so distinctly remembered enjoying this movie as a child while my parents watched us watch it. I had no idea then that I would one day be seeing Woody and Buzz battle it out with my own child. Yet, there I was, Little Foot in my lap, his eyes fixated on the screen while I rested my nose on the top of his head that still has that toast-like, new-born baby smell.  It was overwhelming – a circle of life moment. I cried. It was a precious moment in parenthood. A very temporary, blink-of-an-eye moment. There will be a day all too soon when Little Foot is off to hang out with his friends, not daring to sit and watch cartoons with me.

I imagine it was a blink-of-an-eye moment that was the last of that belly-up deer. A blink-of-an-eye moment that the turtle got stuck in the bush (as fast as a turtle can blink an eye, of course.) And it forces an appreciation of each of these moments. These moments that now days we can’t seem to get through quickly enough. I hear so often that “I can’t wait until Friday” or “Geeze is it five o’clock yet?” It makes me sad that the human race has turned into a ‘getting through the day’ species. All of these days add up and are gone before we realize it. Then it’s over. Like the deer…recognizable one day…a pile of some bones the next. A whole creature: gone.

Whatever you may or may not believe happens to us when we exhale our last breath is beside the point. What matters is that each of these moments we experience…well…they’ll never come back. So soak them all in. We’re all a part of something much bigger and complex than we could ever comprehend. So don’t try to. Instead, just soak in the surroundings. Give the little guy a hand. Marvel in the beauty that are these moments.

I let the turtle go. I imagine that he has returned home having experienced adventure – that his friends are noting how different he is now that he’s returned more worldly and wise. A great adventure. That’s all this life really is – a great adventure. Big or small, we all have opportunities to do something good – to live fully and with purpose. Most importantly, we have the opportunity to all be in this together.