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Every porch step ‘round here is the same, warped in the middle and bowed like a cupped seat facing the lamp-lighted street. That porch step is full from dawn to dusk with big bottoms covered by floral dresses and hands, from the calloused to the baby-soft, worrying the wood down to a smooth blend of paint and lumber. That step has taken more than its fair share of coffee spills, tobacco flecks, nightly gin, dripped dog saliva, lemonade, sweat, and secrets whispered for the fireflies to hear. And the noise in that spot is like a whole other thing itself: clang-bang of a screen door, the TV through open windows, and the squawking of mothers and aunties and uncles and fathers. That’s how it goes on that porch step ‘round the entire neighborhood, the entire tulip-lined street.
But those things are for adults, and at twelve years old, even a gangly and tall twelve like me, I’m called a child still. That’s not the kind of adult I wanna be, sitting on the step into late evening and staring at your neighbor across the way. So, I wait. I wait for the coming of the dead darkness that rolls in on the tips of inky clouds and blankets the stars and makes the air hang heavy. That’s when Terrence rushes over two houses and stands underneath my window, calling up, “Anita! Anita! It’s coming!”
And I rush as quiet as I can, careful to not let Mama see that I’m heading out into the shadow-hung street, the lamps’ glows muted by the impending fog. Terrence and I creep to the end of the street, the porch steps emptying as people retreat into their houses. The screen doors bang with finality and windows slam shut, boxing us into solitude. We stand at the end of the street, rubbing our ankles against mosquito bites on our legs as the air thickens and the pregnant clouds swell.
Now Terrance, he’s my equal: he’s a tall thirteen with grasshopper legs and dark hair as wild and curly as my own. There’s something sharp about us both, maybe in my cheekbones or in his knees or in my steely eyes. Sometimes when I say this, people think we look like siblings. But I always say no, that’s not how it is. I never say out loud that we’re more like a matched pair, our irregular edges and angles complimentary, like we’re fitted to each other. It’s always been like this, since we were born and raised on this street. I know it can’t always be like this, simple and easy. But all that melts away when the drums begin.
It starts with a sizzle, a light static in the background. The first little droplets, a sharp and defined mist, hit the sidewalk and hiss into evaporation. I can hear the buzzing of the telephone wires overhead as the first, soft rain drifts down, the world hushing into silence. Terrence and I tense up, our legs like coiled springs and our faces drawn tight as we squint down the street. Then, the sky starts to spit fat droplets that ping the tops of trash cans in a tinny staccato beat that makes my fingers twitch. The rain becomes harder and more compact, bombs of water that explode upon impact. I suck in my thin stomach and glance quickly at Terrence, his long-lashed eyes meeting mine for a bare second.
The CRASH BOOM of thunder splitting sound-waves is our gunshot and we release ourselves into the street. My feet pound furiously on the tar, trying in vain to obey the erratic rhythm of the hammering rain that runs in rivers behind us, splashing down gutters. The world strips to gray, covered by a thin film that obscures everything but this street. The hauntingly hollow sound of water emptying into street drains blows behind us like pipes. The grass of the lawns whips like storm-tossed waves and dead leaves swirl underneath us, skittering over the asphalt. The gray-black sky blends with the gray-black horizon and the gray-black street until we’re not running on anything; we’re running on sky and air. We’re flying, shaken from the ground by crackling thunder.
We’re the harbingers of the Apocalypse, the world disintegrating behind us and the remains of human society swirling around us in candy wrappers and tree branches. The stretched window-eyes of the houses, dilapidated in this half-light, reflect sadly into the puddles beneath them. We run on, not stopping for the doomed people in the houses and their sagging porches; we pay no mind to the thin spikes of lightning that lick the earth behind us. There’s only us and our world, devoid of life and completely our own.
What does stop us is the end of the street.
We both lightly skip to a halt, feeling our feet hid solid ground after what seems like a long while. Our muscles clench with the sudden impact and breath explodes out of our chests. I taste something sweet in my mouth as I swipe the droplets away from my thick eyelashes and lean forward onto my knees. We look out at the intersection that ends our street, unable to even put a toe across the white stop line. The pure freedom of moments before trickles away in the rivulets that spread down my arms and legs, prickling my skin with the water’s coldness. The world’s colors start to come back and the drumbeats on the trashcans and pavement fades into regular background noise as the red STOP sign glares at us, daring us to go farther.
But we don’t.
I can’t say why we don’t just keep running, sprinting into oblivion with the danger of a storm at our heels. The answer is probably why Terrence is my matched equal, and why he takes my hand at this moment as we just look at the world stretched out before us, sky and horizon melded. It’s also probably why I think, Maybe this’ll be the day Terrence finally kisses me, and why he still doesn’t but instead lets go. As we walk back to our street, the rain tempers to a fine mist that obscures the sign behind us.
But I have hope yet, because every time we approach that STOP sign, we don’t slow down quite so fast. We creep closer and closer, flying towards the line until the very last second. It’s not going to be enough, soon, the jolt of thunder and adrenaline and the feeling of flying over the street. Someday, we’ll blast right through that line and just keep on running.
For now, though, we’re just rain runners. And someday, we’ll be running past the rain.