Memory of Rain

Over at 1000 Awesome Things I read a great post on the joy of getting caught in the rain and I couldn’t help but think of the day Terry and I got caught in the rain in Cancun last July.

It began as a drizzle, plinking on the marble that surrounded the pool.  We were laying on one of those canopied poolside beds reading our books in the heavy summer air.  I thought the rain would relieve the humidity, but Cancun still breathed down on us.

We didn’t care about the rain or the humidity.  We relaxed and watched the drizzle become a steady rain.  And then the steady rain broke open into a deluge.  Never in my life have I seen rain like that!  We set our open books on our stomachs and watched the rain fill the walkways.

Our canopy leaked, gently at first, a drop here, a drop there.  And then the rain came in sheets, rivulets becoming pools where we sat.  It soaked through our towels, our clothes, our books.  It soaked through everything.

We watched others create makeshift umbrellas from towels and shirts as they ran for refuge at the thatched roof bars.  But not us.

Terry and I have been caught in the rain on our bicycles and we’ve learned that there is a saturation point, a point at which clothing, hair, skin is so sodden with water that it simply cannot contain another drop.  And we had reached that point.  So there was only one reasonable thing to do.

We stripped down to our bathing suits and jumped in the pool.

We were the only two swimming as the rain pelted the surface of the pool, but did not touch our bodies underneath.  We laughed and I kissed Terry, sucking the rain off his bottom lip.  The pool water was so warm, warmer even than the sultry air.

After our swim we dashed back to our canopy, gathered up our wet things, and sat down at an umbrella covered table at an outdoor café.  The waiters cowered in their white uniforms under the awnings, waiting for the downpour to stop.  We giggled at the people dodging from awning to awning trying to stay dry.

But this rain allowed no survivors.

The water puddled up over ankles and the waiters used giant squeegees to usher the water from the marbled paths back into the flowerbeds over and over again.  Men turned Coca Cola crates upside down and stood on them to save their leather shoes.  Terry and I ate lunch, my wet hair dripping on the table.

We walked back to our room in the rain and my arms and legs prickled with goosebumps.  Back in our room we sank into a hot bubble bath.  This is the part of the story where I fast forward.


Later that night I toweled off my wet hair until it sprung up in huge soft curls around my face.  No straight hair allowed in Cancun air.  I wrapped myself in a bathrobe and Terry and I pulled out our books and read some more while the rain pattered a percussion on our patio.

The rain had soaked through all 560 pages of The Poisonwood Bible and the pages crinkled up into waves.  Days later when all the pages were dry, the book was so fat with memories of the rain that it couldn’t even begin to close.  That book will never be the same.

And neither will I.

I, too, am fat with memories of that blessed rainy day.

Bird Therapy

Okay, it’s been long enough that I can write about this with a mix of humor and terror, instead of just sheer terror.

To begin with, I know nothing about babies.  It’s important that I state that for the record right up front.  I will probably always know nothing about babies because this area right here is a Baby-Free Zone.

Anyway, I have friends with babies and they read books about babies and stuff.  There is a book out that says if you swaddle, (gently) shake, and shush your baby when it cries, the baby will be happy.  In fact, the baby will be the happiest baby on the block, although I’m not entirely sure how that is determined.  Do they line up all the babies on the block and compare them to see which one smiles the widest?  That seems weird to me, but again, I know nothing about babies.

What I do know is that when I am upset, shaking (no matter how gently) does not make me feel better.  Also, shushing me when I’m crying is a mistake that is not going to end well for anyone involved.  As for swaddling, I haven’t tried that because Redding is just too hot to swaddle or be swaddled.  For the record Terry also does not like being shaken or shushed when he is upset.  Not that I tried it or anything.

At any rate the swaddle, shake and shush theory was fresh in my mind when we went to Mexico last month.  We went to the most lovely resort with so many swimming pools that I needed extra fingers to count them on.  It also had a private beach and it was on said beach that I found out parrots also do not care for being shushed.

Throughout our stay at the resort we saw photographers wandering around taking pictures of people with various animals.  One day there were incredible iguanas.  Another day there were cute little spider monkeys.  And then there were the parrots.  Hang on a sec, I just need to take a deep breath and go to my happy place.


It is no secret that I am terrified of birds.  We have a history.  Birds like to poop on me, pull my hair and wreak havoc on me in general.  I won’t even talk about the birds who nest by my front door each spring and buzz the tower whenever I try to enter/exit my own house.  Or the turkey vultures that nearly made me pee my bike shorts.  Horrifying, absolutely horrifying.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yes, the beautiful private beach.  So there we were relaxing on the beach when I spotted the photographer and his assistant walking towards us with two giant parrots.  The blood drained from my face and sweat trickled out of my armpits.

“Let’s have our picture taken with the birds!” said Terry, who knows I am terrified of birds.

“No. Way. In. Hell.”  I shook my head as the photographer walked closer.

“Please, honey, do it for me.”  Terry begged.

“Senorita, would you like your picture with the parrots?” asked the photographer.  He might as well have asked if I’d like a pap smear.

“No.  Tengo miedo.” I replied.

Roughly translated, that means “No.  All birds are in a conspiracy against me and they’ve found me here to peck me to death starting with my eyes.”

Okay, maybe it just means “No.  I’m afraid.”

“Tienes miedo de los pajaros?” The photographer and his assistant started laughing so hard that I think they actually cried.  Terry may or may not have been laughing with them.  I’m not entirely sure because I was keeping my eye on the birds.

“C’mon, honey, do it for my birthday.” said Terry, who never asks for anything.  Terry had his picture taken with the birds perched on his shoulders.

“Senorita, c’mon.  Take your picture with the birds.” coaxed the photographer’s assistant.

“Come on, honey.  These are nice birds.” said Terry, holding one of the parrots in his arms like a baby.

I edged over next to Terry.  And then the assistant put one of the parrots on my shoulder.  My bare shoulder that only had a bathing suit strap around it.  The bird claws were touching my skin!  My actual skin!

My shoulders shot to my ears and my head shot backwards, giving me no less than 19 chins.  Very attractive, I’m sure.

“Relax your shoulders, senorita.” the photographer said trying to get a decent shot.

I could not relax my shoulders.  A giant parrot was on me.

“Saca la foto.”  I screeched from between the gritted teeth of my nervous smile.

The bird inched closer to my head and began to caw in my ear.  My happy place was nowhere to be found.

“Relax, senorita.”

The bird began to caw louder, more insistently.  Trying to remain calm and not think of how this bird was obviously seconds away from pecking through my skull down to my brain, I thought about that baby book.

“Shhhh, shhhhh, shhhhhhh.” I shushed the parrot while trying to smile at the camera.  The bird moved closer and put its beak into my hair.

“Saca la foto!!!  SACA LA FOTO!!!”  I shrieked as fear ran all prickly through my veins.  The bird cawed louder.

“Shh, shhh, shhhh,” I said trying to calm the bird and myself.

There may have been some shouting next.  Okay, there was definitely shouting.

“SACA LA FOTO!!!  SACA LA FOTO!!!!”  I implored the photographer, who was barely able to take the picture because he was shaking so hard from laughter.

Finally the photographer had the shots he wanted.  Okay, not the shots he wanted, but shots nonetheless.  The assistant removed the bird from my shoulder.

I walked over to where we’d previously been blissfully reading on the beach.  The assistant followed me with the parrot on his arm.

“Senorita, pet the bird.”  I shook my head.

“It will be like bird therapy.” He placed my hand on the bird and ran it up and down the parrot’s back a few times.  After the assistant was sufficiently convinced that I was no longer afraid, they took the parrots down the beach where other people were overjoyed to have their pictures taken with such majestic creatures.

I remain terrified of birds, possibly even more terrified than before.  But I have learned two important lessons:

1. Parrots do not like to be shushed.

2. The photographer’s assistant was right.  I need therapy.

The Blanket

I tuck under the green blanket you bought me in Mexico when we were much younger, when our faces were unlined and our eyes unclouded by what would become our history.

It is here on the couch, toes wiggling free in the fringe at the bottom of the blanket, that I write.  Propped up with a pillow behind my back in the red walls of our living room is where I am a writer, where I am the truest value of myself.

It’s where I write about teaching and the untainted faces of my students.  It’s where I paint in the details of my town as seen from two wheels.  It’s the place I write about you and I and how we swam beyond pain and have now come up for air in this place of joy.

On the computer I bought with money, blood money, from my dead father, I figure out who I am, what my purpose is.

Faces come to me here in intricate detail, illustrating my life.

In the solitude of our home, I write without veils, with truth so searing that I have to throw the blanket off and let the cool air slap against the sweat gathering on my skin.

This is writing, breathless and demanding, rushing red warmth into my cheeks.

In this version of myself I’m learning to let go, to type with racing fingers, to wander halls of my mind, to slip into the corners.  My destination is unknown and there is a freedom in that.  I can’t help but think that I am secure in that leap because I am grounded in our home, grounded by you.

I remember the day you bought me the blanket, walking in the market stalls of Tijuana after a long day building a church of stucco and tar babies.  We walked a careless pace, eating from taco stands.  The new blanket was made of itchy wool, so scratchy I could not sleep under it.  Instead I piled it atop other blankets.

Fifteen years later it’s been washed so many times, spun through and dried, that all the itchy fibers have been rubbed away.  I press the soft corner to my cheek and I wonder if you and I are the same way.

After a time of cleansing and spinning dry until there were no more tears, we are soft.  You are soft and I press my cheek to yours.  I curl under the blanket of you and write.

What is my favorite subject?


You are my happy ending.

You Had Me At ‘Hole In My Pants’

I have a gift for doing embarrassing things. I call it a gift because it seems like something that has been bestowed upon me. No matter how hard I try, I simply can’t avoid committing acts of humiliation. I live in the land of mortification, but as much as I’d like to think otherwise, this time it was all my fault.

From day one on this cruise to Mexico with Terry I’ve tried extra hard not to do anything that might cause me to be shamefaced in any way. I daresay I’ve been vigilant. I’ve taken smaller bites at meals, so as not to choke or spit anything on anyone. I’ve been careful only to carry one thing in each hand so I don’t drop stuff. I’ve checked my teeth at least nine times each day for stray bits of food. I’ve scrutinized the bottom of my shoes each and every time I’ve left the bathroom. I’ve been walking at a slower pace to prevent unwarranted tripping.

Other than one tiny slip up, when ice cream dribbled out of the cone and onto my shirt, I’ve been doing pretty well. Wait, there was also the time when I tried to exit a lounge chair and it clamped down on my leg, but only Terry was there to see that and the bruise will vanish soon enough, so it doesn’t really count. Oh, there was also the bathrobe in the toilet mishap, but I was alone so that definitely doesn’t count. There was also that time the old lady grouched at me for walking the wrong direction on the promenade, but I’m pretty sure she was just in a mood. That definitely doesn’t count. Overall, I’d say I’m doing pretty well. I’m proud to report that I haven’t tripped once or dropped a single thing during the four days we’ve been on board. I should have known that humiliation was saving the big guns for later.

It all began with packing for the trip. I hate packing. I hate packing so much that a friend gave me a shirt with a tag that says “I hate packing.” It has a suitcase with clothes dropping into it. All the clothes are shaped like Tetris pieces. And I LOVE Tetris. I feel giddy when I’m playing Tetris and I’ve built a rectangular crevasse and that long, skinny piece floats down, saving the day. It’s nirvana. I sometimes dream in Tetris.

Anyway, back to the necessary evil of packing. I am a chronic over packer. I pack everything under the sun and then cajole a little more into the suitcase. Even my Grandma makes fun of my packing gluttony. This trip Terry urged me to pack lighter. Terry is wise. Terry is organized. His things always fit into a tidy little suitcase, without any weird bulges or zipper strain. In fact, as we were packing he said “There’s too much room in my suitcase. My things are going to shift around.” Yes, he’s that good. I was inspired.

Clad in my awesome Tetris shirt, I sifted through my suitcase and started tossing superfluous items. I tossed my jacket and a second pair of black dress shoes. I nixed a handful of t-shirts. I tossed one of five books. I placed an extra pair of pants back into the closet. I threw out my second pair of workout clothes because, seriously, who was I kidding? Yes, I even sorted through my underwear and threw out my granny panties in lieu of sexier, and therefore smaller panties.

Then I came to my two most favorite clothing items, two pairs of cropped tuxedo pants. They fit me perfectly. When I found them in Target a couple of years ago, I bought them in both black and gray and felt a touch of sadness that they weren’t available in more colors. I laid out each pair on my bed, considering which pair would make the cut. Black goes with everything. I hung the gray pair back in the closet and tucked the black ones back into my now roomy suitcase. I didn’t even have to use the extended zipper area. Job well done, McCauley, job well done.

As I’m telling you this story, I realize it didn’t actually start with the packing, but with a card game. The week before our trip was parent teacher conference week. I enjoy this week, but it makes for really long work days. One of the ways I like to unwind is to play cards. This was the case on Monday night. I’d taught and held six parent teacher conferences. I was drained. I asked Terry if he wanted to play cards. He plopped down on the living room floor. As I squatted to join him on the floor, I heard the distinct ripping of seams followed by a cool draft near my rear end. I reached down and, sure enough, I could poke three fingers right through the seat of my favorite black, cropped tuxedo pants. The thread had apparently lost all authority over the fabric. I was mildly embarrassed, but glad the pants had given out in the privacy of my home and not during class or worse yet at a parent teacher conference. I threw the pants in the hamper to be washed and then taken to the seamstress. My busy week continued and I forgot all about getting the tear repaired.

Thursday evening I did the wash and was laughing hysterically at 30 Rock as I folded the laundry. I didn’t pay any attention to the clothes in my hands. I folded my black tuxedo crops. Having erased the unfortunate seam incident completely from my mind, I tossed them in my suitcase, somehow totally missing the GIANT HOLE in the bottom. They made the final packing cut Friday afternoon. That’s right, I packed a pair of pants with a colossal hole in them.

I did not again become aware of the gaping hole in my pants until the following Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. As I took them out of the closet and laid them on the bed, I caught a glimpse of the gap in the seam. I picked them up and immediately turned three shades of crimson.

You see, in my zeal to become a more efficient packer, I’d planned on wearing some things multiple times. I’d already worn them one afternoon while reading on the deck and also the night before. The night before!?! Oh no, no, no, no! I replayed the events of the night before. I’d worn them to dinner last night. After dinner I’d raced up six flights of stairs for an ice cream cone. I zipped down seven flights of stairs and to the other end of the ship where Terry and I listened to some singers. (Yes, I know the ship has elevators.  In order to eat the ice cream, I have to climb the stairs. Plus I don’t like it when people wearing fanny packs bump up against me in the elevator. And trust me, fanny packers are a dime a dozen on this ship.) After the singers, we’d rushed to the other end of the ship to watch an Indonesian cultural show. Then back across the ship and up two flights of stairs to our room. I’d run all over the ship with a chasm in my pants.

On Thanksgiving morning, as I sat on the bed pondering my idiocy, I realized something else. My panties. Oh no, my panties! All my regular sized panties were at home tucked neatly in a drawer. I’m pretty sure the ones I was wearing that evening are scant enough that they can’t even be technically classified as underwear. As I paraded around the ship that night, chances are pink lace and a lot of skin were saying hello from the seat of my pants. Terry says he didn’t notice and nobody else said anything. I’m all about laughing at myself, but being the literal butt of the joke takes it to a whole new level. Maybe, just maybe nobody noticed. And that would be something to be truly thankful for.

As Thanksgiving evening approached, Terry and I watched the sunset together. I told him I loved him. He smiled and held my hand. Then I started laying it on thick, you know all that mushy stuff they say in movies. Barely keeping a straight face, I looked him in the eye and murmured, “You complete me.” Without missing a beat he replied, “You had me at ‘hole in my pants’.”

Good to see you again, Mexico.

A few hours from now, Terry and I will be driving to Sac to catch a flight to San Diego and hop a ship to cruise around Mexico for a week.  Some of my fondest memories from my teenage years and early adulthood are from trips to Mexico.  No, I’m not talking about those crazy high school drinking excursions you see on Dateline.  For eight or nine summers, I spent time in Mexico as a short-term missionary.  Yeah, God was surprised, too.

My first time in Mexico, I was part of the construction team.  We built a small church near Tijuana.  We mixed cement with shovels, hammered up black rolls of pungent tar paper, and rolled out miles of chicken wire to stucco the walls.  This was all very cool to my fourteen year old self.  My task for the majority of the build was to measure out all of the boards to be nailed into place.  I measured and marked all day long for my saw team.  (It helped that my saw team happened to be two cute boys.)

On the last day of the build, as we were packing up, we spotted a fire on the hillside across the road.  The hillside was brown with weeds and spotted with houses made from salvaged materials.  One home was made primarily of wooden Coldwell Banker signs.  As the fire devoured the weeds, a horde of us grabbed our shovels and ran up the hill.  We dug trenches to hold the fire, threw piles of dirt to extinguish it and pounded out hot spots.  After the fire was out, we put the shovel handles between our legs, sat on the mouths of the shovels and slid all the way back down the hill.  It was a fantastic ride.

That evening we were joined by many neighbors from the hillside at a candlelight service in the newborn church.  Whenever I hear the words “thinking globally” or “global community” or any of the other catchy phrases people throw around, I think of that candlelight services and the glowing faces in that little church near Tijuana.

The following summer I was on two teams.  The build team worked on an orphanage during the early hours.  Then in the afternoons and evenings I went out with the drama team to perform and give my testimony at church services and neighborhood gatherings.  At a training before the trip we had to audition for parts in one of the dramas.  The female part choices were a hypocrite and a glamorous girl.  I tried out for the hypocrite, but my movements weren’t crisp enough.  I auditioned for the glamorous girl, but as we were “walking gracefully”, I tripped and fell.  On my face.  I was embarrassed and turned a deep shade of red.  Luckily for me, there was one more part that hadn’t been announced; a clown.  When I tripped, the trainers handed me the clown mask immediately.

And so it was that on a sticky afternoon in Mexico, we were rehearsing for an evening performance.  Dressed in black we held our masks in place and a handsome stranger started our music.  As the drama unfolded, each character pulled a mask down to reveal their true self.  I pulled my mask down and locked eyes with the handsome stranger.  His eyes were limpid pools of chocolate.  My body did the motions of my part, but my mind was swimming in those eyes, oh those eyes.  I was a goner.  The stranger was Terry, whose eyes still turn me to jell-o.

On my third trip to Mexico, I chose to return to both teams.  I loved it all, but when the fire died down each night and it was time to retire to our tents, I laid awake until the sun announced it was time to get up and build again.  After several nights of reaching for sleep just outside my grasp, I was desperate for rest.  That night as I prayed, I pleaded with God to let me sleep.

I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  I laid motionless in a deep, dreamless sleep unaware of the storm that rolled in.  More accurately, the storm that rolled in and wreaked havoc. The pelting rain collapsed many tents, causing people to seek refuge in cars, the kitchen, and even in the bathrooms.  Mud slides relocated some tents entirely.  Thunder and lightning caused nearby cattle to break through a fence and tromp around in the chaos.

I awoke the next morning to a steady drip, drip, drip between my eyes.  I looked up and saw that my tent had collected a large puddle of water directly above my head.  Huh, must have rained last night, I thought.  I unzipped my sleeping bag and it released water like I was squeezing a sponge.  Must have rained A LOT last night. I glanced over to the other side of the tent.  It had collapsed.  I dressed, grabbed my toothbrush, and unzipped my tent.  I looked out and saw the scars of the storm.

I wandered up to the kitchen and Terry filled me in on the events of the night, including the part when he came to rescue me, only to find me wrapped in the gentle arms of sleep.  As the sun cut the clouds, I stood outside brushing my teeth.  People hung their belongings out to dry, repaired tents, and herded cattle back to the neighboring ranch.  Everything I owned was wet.  My tent was plastered with red mud and only partially standing.  But me, I’d never been better.  I was rested and happy.

I returned to the same campsite year after year.  In one corner of the campsite there was a cement water tower with ladder up one side.  Each evening I would slip away from the group and sit on top of the water tower.  As the wind licked my sunburned ears, I would pray, meditate, and write.  On clear nights I gazed out over sleeping Mexico and in the distance I could see a faint triangle of ocean.  It was serene.  My experiences as a missionary and this humble campsite became home to me.

In a few hours, I’ll board a ship to visit some of the more polished cities of Mexico.  My days will be spent lounging on beaches and devouring piles of books.  Nights will be spent eating fancy cuisine with my favorite brown-eyed boy.  I’ll treasure every second of it, but at night on the deck as the wind licks my sunburned ears, I’ll gaze out over the vast ocean longing for my second home.  I miss the grit.  I miss the work.  I miss the glow.  I miss the faces.  But most of all I miss the serenity of the water tower and my tiny triangle of ocean.  I’ll return to it someday, but for now let me just say, it’s good to see you again, Mexico.