We are in a drought but I decide to run a bath because the water will warm my body, melt away the stiffness in my joints. Sometimes a bath is the only way I know how to relax and when I allow myself to relax, energy slowly, ever so slowly, comes back to me. As the water fills the tub, I hold a bottle of eucalyptus oil upside down and the oil comes out, drop by drop, into the water. It is invigorating, this scent that I know so well because the land is filled with eucalyptus trees. I take off my shirt and shorts and immerse my body in water. In the west, where I am from, where I have been through droughts, through long dry days and nights, I am wanting water always. Hot showers, long baths, jacuzzis, pools. When I step out of the bath, I dry my skin with a towel, rub eucalyptus lotion into my damp skin, and put on black shorts and a brown shirt. I walk back into the living room and open the front door and see the patio is wet. I think, A neighbor has watered the lawn, but then I see the road is wet, too, and then I notice it is raining. It takes me so long to even recognize it. Rain, I think and almost say the word aloud. The word is on my lips, like the name of an old friend.
I am thinking of a woman and I want to tell her how I am used to being unlikable. Some people like me, some people don’t, and I don’t much care either way. I want to tell her I am a landscape, I am desert. Think of me as desert, I tell her in this imaginary conversation. As if that explains everything. She will have to see past my personality to the place my spirit resides but she is not concerned with the spirit so she will be like people and people see me as pretty and nice, at least at first. I could tell you a lot about people, actually, and I will, but not today. Today I am silent. Today I say nothing but something is stirring inside. You see, I tell her. It’s the cold desert winds picking up speed.
They leave on summer trips with their spouses, with their families, and when they are gone, I watch their pets and their gardens. The main rule is to care and love their homes while leaving no trace of myself.
None of these letters will have my name, I think, and stop looking through the mail, open the door, and place the envelopes in a basket. For a moment, I think housesitting is similar to ghosting, that I am not caring for the empty house, I am haunting it, but, of course, a woman who is haunted would believe such a thing.
I look up at the sky. The clouds are everywhere. They are grey and blue and look heavy. It will rain again soon. Late that night, I am unable to sleep, lying in an unfamiliar bed with the windows open. The bedroom faces the street and I can hear everything: cars and voices and animals. It is late and the air is still hot, still humid, and then I hear the rain. I close my eyes and listen as the water falls on the ground.
I am about to burst, she says, but the baby will not leave her belly. She had a doctor’s appointment. They want to induce labor. I want to wait. She waits. I have another doctor’s appointment, she says. I live here now. After the appointment, she says, They scared me into it. Something about low fluid levels. Tomorrow. 8 a.m. Her water will not break suddenly, the beginning will not be a surprise. She knows the exact hour she will begin to birth her daughter.
Here is a memory I will allow myself to recall. Here is a memory I will allow you to know. I stand in a driveway composed of small rocks, and my palms are open, facing upward as I look at the grey sky. Big drops of rain fall on my small hands, on my bare shoulders, on the smooth rocks. It is raining and it is warm. Warm Rain. I am surprised, I am fascinated, and want to share my discovery with my family.
I’m not used to the humidity here and I want it to pass. I want the summer to be hot and dry, to be like the west, but this summer refuses and instead is like back east. I try not to feel the wet heat, try not to see how it changes the landscape here. I shut myself indoors, turn on the fan. In the car, driving on the freeway, I place the air conditioning on full blast. I become angry if a cafe or bar or any public place isn’t filled with cool air. My body tenses, my thoughts are irritable, and when I leave these places, I promise never to return.
I sit outside on the balcony and read a book and pretend we had enough rain and the humidity has passed, but the sky is grey and the air is thick with heat and moisture. The weather reminds my body and my body remembers and my mind allows the memories or doesn’t. I am here in California, reading a book and drinking a cup of coffee on the balcony and I am in Connecticut, a young girl, standing in the driveway, surprised by warm rain. I can remember or not remember. I can be in two places at once. In one moment, I can desire two opposing things. In one moment, I can believe two contradictory ideas. Call it what you want: doublethink, trauma response, emotional intelligence, being human. Naming it doesn’t change what is happening.
I look at the land, at the grey sky, at the palm leaves hanging limp and slowly moving side to side. This summer, the land is dry and bare, the ground wants water. This summer, the air is wet and moist but there is little rain, little release. This morning, my spirit is a desert. This morning, my body is menstruating, emptying itself out, but I feel swollen and heavy, about to burst with memory and emotion but I won’t, not until I am ready.
Zoë Ruiz lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Weeklings, Salon, Two Serious Ladies, Trop and the anthology California Prose Directory (2014). She is the former managing editor of The Rumpus and currently produces READINGS, a Los Angeles based reading series.