By day four, it struck me that the longevity of the rain was unusual. I reflected on this briefly, then removed my gaze from out the window and aimed it back towards the television. A talk show filled the screen. Young men learned before a live studio audience if they were the fathers of babies that accusatory young women were raising on their own. This sort of manufactured real life drama once held a certain degree of rubbernecking fascination for me. Now I watched exclusively because I could think of nothing better to do. Behind the ruckus of studio audiences and the energetic blare of commercial breaks, the patter of raindrops served as constant surround sound.
At first, concerned family members and friends were a steady presence. Phoned condolences came at twenty minute intervals. Must be so hard, they would say. First Antoinetta, now little Billy. How was I coping, they all asked. As well as could be expected, I always replied. My expectations were at a bare minimum, of course.
One by one, people resumed attending to the details of their own lives and ceased fussing over me. Not that they abandoned me entirely, but what more could they do than what they had already done? They were not my keepers. They had families and jobs and everyday hassles to deal with. I would be okay, given time. Time would soothe the deepest of wounds. Every day I would be one day further from the torment, one day closer to carrying on. I did not mind when people departed any more than I noticed them being around. Unlike the rain, they came and then they went away. The rain just kept falling. Had it been two weeks already? A look at the calendar informed me that it had been nearly three.
Billy's eyes were interchangeably blue and green and brown, depending on the lighting and the angle of one’s view. I don't know if this was miraculous. Probably not. Sure was a pretty thing to behold though. I had recently begun teaching him how to play baseball. I would toss a wiffle ball to him and he'd take a mighty swing every time. About once in every four tries he hit the ball cleanly and it would take off from the barrel of his bat like a bolt of lightning. Speaking of which, no thunder or lightning accompanies the rain outside my window. It is an acoustic performance of countless drummers each beating their own unique rhythm, yet somehow in perfect synchrony. Billy's face would light up when he made solid contact with the wiffle ball, sort of like Christmas, the fourth of July, and the strike of midnight ushering in New Year's Day all rolled into one. It was a beautiful thing to witness, every time.
We were driving home from the supermarket. Billy's cheeks were smudged with melted chocolate from the Milky Way bar in hand. He was singing a song learned earlier that day in preschool. I pulled to a stop at a red light and looked at him. He finished his song and smiled. Two teeth were prominently missing from his wide, infectious grin. It was a most wondrous thing to see. My son, my reason for being, or at least for being content with my overall state of affairs. His ears stuck out just like mine did at his age, like they still do a little. I tousled his hair, told him he had sung the song very well, which he had. I turned my attention back to the road. Red turned to green, I stepped on the gas pedal, the car went forward, and then the lights went out.
Billy's mother, my one true love as the expression goes, went by the lyrical name of Antoinetta. I usually just called her “baby”. We were an unlikely pair according to conventional wisdom, which is my least favorite type of wisdom. She was educated courtesy of a strict middle class Catholic family background, followed by four years of college during which she didn't rebel from her upbringing one bit. As for me, my father was an obscene memory bitterly recalled by my mother when she was drunk, high, pissed off, or any combination of the aforementioned. My replacement father figures were the scumbags she let into her bed whenever our groceries were running low, which was pretty much all the time. They had little interest in my mother once their moaning and groaning was done with, none for me at all. So I picked up most of my smarts on the streets. They led me to incarceration at the age of nineteen.
I survived my stint with body and mind intact. Prison was somewhat more dangerous to navigate than the home life that preceded it, but no more or less lonely. Just for the hell of it, no better motivation being available, I decided to try the straight and narrow when I was released. If it didn't work out, I could always go back to snatching purses and hot wiring cars. I obtained a janitorial position on a college campus. The job didn't pay much, but I did manage to meet a girl there. She was a senior, her name was Antoinetta, and against all odds she eventually agreed to become my girl and then my bride. So goes the short version of my happily but not quite for ever after fairy tale.
A month had passed since Billy was lowered into the ground. We plant seeds so they will grow. We plant people because they grow no more. There's no lesson in this, it's merely an observation. People suggested activities to help divert my melancholy. My friend Kevin bought us tickets to a baseball game. I declined to go because the trip seemed useless. The game would certainly be postponed on account of the rain. Kevin felt that the sky would cooperate. He's much more of an optimist than I. That's probably because his wife and kids are still alive, a luxury I do not share.
My mother, a much more civilized version than the woman who raised me, requested that I accompany her to the mall, or to see a silly movie, or to at least take a walk around the block with her. Like wine, not that I know much about wine, she has improved considerably with age. By the time Billy came along, he had a downright reputable grandmother to love him as only a grandmother can. He had everything I never did growing up. For this I was very pleased. I also appreciated that my mother wanted to keep me company, to raise my spirits with the concerned attention that she was offering late in my life, which was a good deal better than never. But I would not be going outside with her or anyone else until the rain ceased. This had become my policy, my mantra, my most holy vow. The onslaught of liquid crystals was as unremitting as it seemed infinite, neither waxing nor waning, simply descending like locusts on doomed crops. The rain appeared to my eyes as the Indians must have looked to Custer, presuming that in his final moments he grew resigned to the inevitable outcome rather than fighting till the bitter end.
A drunk driver plowed his car into the side of mine a second or two after I rolled past that deceitful green light. The side that Billy was sitting on. He was killed almost instantly. One moment my precocious four-year old son is singing a song for me, the next, poof, everything that matters has vanished. If I can be grateful for anything, it is that Billy went quickly and painlessly. Sadly, this could not be said for Antoinetta. Her stomach cancer was a vicious, hideous beast from within. It ate her alive one agonizing bite at a time, and it did likewise to my heart. The thing she had wanted more than anything else in creation was to be a mother. Her wish was granted, but the daydream was lived for less than a year. Had we not started a family, I'm certain that her death would also have been the end of me. But there was Billy to consider, so I forced myself to remain strong. I would do whatever I could to fill the void in our lives. I would love him enough for two. That is what I swore to do, and that is the promise I made good on up until Billy sung his final song.
My mother let in the men in the white coats. They spoke to me, but their words were gibberish and not worth the effort of response. My mother explained that the men wanted to take me someplace where I could receive help. I required no assistance, so shook my head with hope that the gesture would banish them and leave me in peace. This did not happen, but rather, the opposite occurred. They forcibly raised me from off the sofa. They clearly intended to take me outside. I told them that I refused to leave. I did not want to subject myself to the rain. It had been falling for forty biblical days and nights. The world outside my door had likely been transformed into an ocean. For some reason I could not recall if I knew how to swim, but I knew it was best to not find out the hard way. I wanted to be left alone, safe in the confines of my home, my museum to the wonderful life I had lucked into for awhile, my ark upon the waves of God's cruel indifference, my comfortably furnished tomb.
I expected that the men, even though they outnumbered me five to one, would fail to match my resolve. I was mistaken, for although my will was gargantuan, strength had abandoned my body. I noticed, perhaps for the first time, several plates of mostly untouched food that my mother had prepared and attempted to coax me into eating. Had I consumed the nourishment, perhaps my escape efforts would have been more vigorous. Instead I was handled with ease, as if possessing less muscles than a rag doll. My arms were constricted. I was dragged outside where the rain immediately began to pelt me, though it somehow appeared to be leaving the men in white untouched. On me alone it administered a wet and merciless punishment for crimes I failed to recall committing. It stung like a swarm of bloodthirsty bees.
Now I sit alone in a padded room. My arms are still confined. The people here are afraid that I will hurt them, or maybe do harm to myself. Perhaps they are right. I don't know anymore. I don't care anymore. I keep recalling one of my all time favorite days, the one that changed if not saved my life. As it so happened, I was sweeping the floor when a lovely coed passed by. I took a moment to observer her shapely figure recede down the hallway of the school building. That was when I noticed a slip of paper fall out from one of the books under her arms. She did not realize that the document was no longer in her possession. I rushed to retrieve it, then to catch up to the girl and return it to her. We spoke briefly. The paper was very important and she was quite grateful that I had spotted it. She claimed to always be losing things, thank goodness her head was attached to her shoulders. I grew intoxicated by her smile, dizzy from the warmth that her eyes exuded. Moments after she left, I scolded myself for falling prey to such feelings. I did not need to be told that I was way out of my league. Nevertheless, I could not wait to see her again.
Antoinetta will come for me someday, and she will bring Billy with her. Nothing would make me happier than to see the two of them again. I left no forwarding address, but I'm sure my wife will be able to track me down. Probably the only reason they have not shown up yet is this never ending rain. As soon as it stops, they will surely come. They will rescue me.
There is no window in this room, so I cannot see the rain falling anymore. I cannot hear its insistent clamor either, except in my vivid memory. The doctor who visits me says the days have been sunny and bright, that we are blanketed by a serene baby blue sky. He says that two months straight of 24 hour days of rain defies meteorological logic. Why does he, as did others before him, persist in denying the truth? What does it benefit them to ignore the rain, pretend it does not fall, try to convince me that it exists only in my head? I know better than to passively accept their blatant lies. This rain is pure torture, I hate it as I have never hated anything before, but I will not delude myself into thinking it can be wished away. I know that the sky has not been emptied yet. I can feel the deluge in a place far more perceptive than my physical senses. A less patient man would be greatly disheartened. Not me though. I have the perfect wife and the perfect son, and one day the world will right itself and we will be together again. My role until then is a simple one that I will dutifully perform.
All I have to do is wait for the rain to stop falling.