The Tears of God
It rained so hard the brook behind our house began to thunder like the sea. I swear I felt our one and a half-story Cape swaying. The sky poured and grumbled for hours. It was the first real storm of summer, and its timing felt perfect. Steve was in another room making coffee and I was still in bed, contemplating the racket. We had started off the day making love.
Once, in another lifetime, when I ran off to Provincetown, a wild goat of a boy at sixteen, I lived in a house on stilts on the east end with a much older lover, Jason, who was thirty-six at the time. It makes me laugh these days when I read about gay celebrities getting chastised for bad behavior with young males. Bad behavior with boys has been part of the gay scene as long as I have been in it, since Socrates and Plato. But of course no one admits to that, never mind comes to the rescue.
Anyway, we, Jason and I, would sun ourselves, stretched out on the swaying deck and, when the tide got high, dive into the bay. It seemed inconceivable to me then floating on my back facing the vast expanse of sky, and when I looked to my side at the magnificent profile of the man I loved and our quaint domicile, that this kind of life could be lived at all.
At sixteen, I was already my full height, five feet eight, a veritable giant in my Jewish household of a mother and grandmother, who was divinely miniature, a Holocaust survivor with a caustic wit and unflagging memory for tragic details who dressed in black always. She was like the Encyclopedia Britannica of suffering. To top off her list, her son, my father, a medical doctor, was struck and killed instantly by a truck while crossing the street in Jersey, where we lived when I was four. A man of the future as well as the past, he thought automobiles a malignant invention as they pollute the air, and took the bus every day to work at St. Barnabas. Mother, an Irish gal who had been raised in an orphanage and met papa when they were in high school, taught sixth grade at a private school, and never once after he was gone, felt moved even to flirt with another man– “Why mess with perfection?”
I loved these two, my mother and grandmother, but knew early on that if manhood and a gay life were to be part of my future, I would have to escape, and so one year before graduation, I took off to claim my freedom. I would not see mother again for three years, until I returned for Bubbeh’s funeral, but she never held that against me, or at least pretended not to. Mother also accepted or appeared to accept my gay lifestyle, and I pretended to believe her. I mean, what choice did either of us have? She was polite with my then boyfriend Andrew, and he with her, and that was that.
Steve, the man I am with now, is nothing like the sort of man I would have imagined being with in my decadent twenties or even sober thirties. A mild-mannered accountant, blue-eyed behind his specs, you would think him dull, what with his reserved style and excessive politeness, every other comment being a “pardon me.” Mostly this is because he is southern. If there is one thing you cannot deny Southerners it’s their politeness. They will be polite even while stabbing you in the back. Politeness matters to them, is their gift to us, and something I will appreciate even when my spirit leaves my carcass and what’s left of me is stuffed into a bag. Personally, I want politeness even then, kindness in my memory.
But back to Steve who is anything but dull, at least where it counts, in bed. We were happily married, three years, hardly dwelling on the future or changes in our little domestic idyll when this storm, an actual one, happened. On and on it went until the electricity went out midday as I was perusing a so-so collection of short stories on our living room couch, literally upon the line, “God’s tears are rain.” Steve hailed me from the boudoir. “Roger, come to the window. You are not going to believe this.”
I obeyed, heading toward him eyes half-closed like a somnambulist. Steve was riveted on the sweeping murky tide back of our house in the woods. The so-called creek was frothing, so high it was starting to lick the hill below us. “There, do you see it?” I followed his index. In the middle of the roiling mess was a pup, eyes wide, squealing with terror.
“We have to do something,” he said, but I was already halfway down the stairs, laundry basket in tow.
Besides being a journalist of sorts as I write for a local rag, I am also a disaster volunteer, trained in the long list of what-to-do’s following hurricanes, fires and tornados, but I had never yet had the experience of helping an animal in distress in the midst of a storm, never mind in my own back yard. That was a first.
Close up, the turbid creek appeared even more ominous and I could not spy the pup from where I stood. I heard a window creak open and saw Steve indicate, “over there.” But what on an ordinary day would have meant a mere few uncomplicated maneuvers across select boulders over a shallow stream was today a far different matter.
The pup, perhaps a Dalmatian, with long floppy ears, clung fast to something, I could not tell what, his head wagging barely above water. I had no idea if I could reach the poor thing but began toward him, the plastic laundry container I intended to use as a net slung half way up my arm.
“It’s okay, okay,” I repeated as much for the pet in distress as for myself. It was still raining hard, pelting my head, obscuring my vision despite the sporadic umbrellas of leaves overhead.
It was neither heroism nor courage impelling me against that current. I know well my general hesitation to take risks–which is why I joined a rescue organization, in order to help people as part of a pack. It was fear, the sheer terror of failing another living thing, of not doing my damnedest to save it. “I’m coming, I’m coming, baby. Hang tight,” replaced my initial, “It’s OK, OK.” Then, just as I felt my confidence perk, one of my Dockers slipped on something mossy and I found myself sailing further away from my target.
“No way,” I thought. Just then, a belt loop on the waist of my khakis caught on something and I could not disengage it no matter what, even after pulling with all my might. In that panicked moment, a shard of memory pushed forward. I was four, standing alongside mother at the entrance of our house in Newark, watching papa, briefcase in hand, walk away, waving at his back, wanting desperately to run toward him, to keep him from leaving as was my way. But I had to have a BM. I knew well enough that running to him, then soiling my pants would serve no purpose other than to humiliate everyone. I had been late getting potty trained as it was. So I held myself in check, barely whispering “bye papa.” How could I have known it would be our last goodbye?
This reel over, I removed my pants and swam forward, one arm paddling while the other floated the basket, using every occasion I felt something solid underfoot to jettison myself toward the pup, which had ceased yelping, its jaw now barely visible above water. There was no way I was not going to reach it now, I told myself, even as I wondered what invisible force was keeping it in place.
“Look there, to your left,” called Steve. I traced the mostly submerged limbs, branches and leaves of a felled Ohio buckeye to the pup.
“Please don’t fight me, please.” Its small front paws appeared to beat a limb as if to gain hold. I reached my right hand around its rump and felt a mesh of branches, its trap and savior. My left foot settled on something stationary, and I propelled myself toward the pup, feeling something like snakes or weeds ensnare one ankle, as if trying to prevent me from freeing the creature even as I broke off twigs and branches while holding it by its scruff. As soon as I felt him released, I poured him into the basket.
My right arm through the basket mesh held fast the shivering thing dotted by dead leaves that clung to him as I did, and I began back, kicking tentatively with bare feet as I had long ago lost my Dockers. I struck something with my right big toe and felt excruciating pain up my ankle, but kept going. We were almost there, and I extended the Beagle like a prize to Steve waiting alongside the bare jetty running perpendicular to our back yard. The torrent had ceased, and he was soaked to the bone, so I could see his chest and arm muscles through his thin tee and the beauty of him through his shorts. He held up my pants with one hand, wearing a huge grin. I emerged naked, like a mother after her labor, holding up our newborn.
Arya F. Jenkins is a Colombian-American poet and writer whose fiction has been published in journals and zines such as About Place Journal, Across the Margins, American Writers Review, and Anti-Heroin Chic, among others. Her fiction has received several nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks and a short story collection, Blue Songs in an Open Key (Fomite, 2018). Visit her website to find out more about Arya.