Storm Warnings: Beware the Taste of Rain
In 1970 one drop of rain hitting the ground every ten inches constituted a ten-inch rain in Tempe, Arizona, home of Arizona State University and me, my freshman year in college. Wetback referred to a co-ed who made out on the arid soil after the sprinklers ran in the morning, not migrant workers. People spit on soldiers coming back from Viet Nam. The Women’s Movement quaked on the cusp of exploding. And me? Well, before Titanic, before Leonardo Di Caprio declared himself King of the World, I stood atop the footbridge over University Boulevard and surveyed the student-lemmings who marched along the sidewalk. They moved frenetically, a teeming hive of humanity. I felt indomitable, free to find out where the bridge, an education, and these people might take me.
I embraced college life with a gusto unrelated to beer and shots of tequila. No experience seemed too outrageous. I tasted and tested, nurtured by the absence of parental oversight. Culture shock came in a variety of disguises. My sister left home her senior year in high school. For four years I reigned as if I were an only child subject to parents who slipped into laissez-faire mode once my sister left. Learning the boundaries and nuances of other people my age challenged me more than any class. A novice at making careful choices, I said “no” to few things, sped ahead, full throttle, with the unstoppable power of a Hummer. Idealized notions of mystery and danger lured me to untenable situations.
I met Lorenzo Escobar because of rain. I joined a group of students who sprinted out of the library into a celebrated downpour so rare in Arizona. We danced and sang. The sun bleached my hair golden, not brassy. I wore my favorite India-print maxi dress. It gathered beneath my humble breasts. The neckline betrayed the absence of a bra. Once saturated, the damp fabric clung and outlined nipples, erect and confused, warmed by the sun and cooled by the rain. I spread my arms, tipped my head back, and let rain drops splash on my tongue before acid rain and fear of climactic apocalypse stifled that joy.
Without warning, muscled arms wrapped around me just above my waist. My feet lifted off the ground. My body began to spin.
“Whatcha doin’ guera?” The gravelly baritone voice fulfilled every fantasy of male sexuality. A nose nuzzled the curve of my neck. A puff of humid, minted breath wafted around my ear. The hair on the back of my neck jumped to attention. The subtle aroma of sweat overpowered deodorant and confirmed what I imagined manly would smell like.
Any other day I would have slugged a stranger who dared to cross my well-defined boundaries. But the voice, the daring move, and the opiate of unexpected rain stopped me. I swirled and laughed until I cried. The arms that belonged to the voice let my feet touch the ground. I turned around.
Perfect white teeth highlighted the smile that blazed across a face bronzed by the sun. A short, styled cut of blacker-than-black hair complemented thick brows and eyes as dark as the Apache tears found in the desert. An ivory shirt, tucked into pressed linen slacks draped in loose folds from brawny shoulders. Beefy arms ended in massive hands. I watched them hover for a moment before grabbing my shoulders. “I’m Lorenzo, guera. Call me Lonnie. Will you go out with me?”
“I’ve got to get to class.” A reasonable excuse although my classes were over for the day. I wanted time to think. Growing up in the Midwest, I never knew any colors but black and white. I pushed Lonnie’s hands away. I headed for the dorm, hoping he would follow, not daring to look back and revealing the audacious grin on my face. In Lonnie, I saw the man of any sentient woman’s dreams. He reminded me of Guy Williams, who played Zorro on television, the supreme object of my youthful affection when I first noticed the opposite sex. I’d fall asleep weaving fantasies about Zorro, riding horses, and sword fights. I heard Lonnie hustle to catch up. On the quad, he told me he was a wrestler and in school on scholarship. I laughed.
“What’s so funny about that?” He crinkled his face and tried to look hurt. He failed.
“I’m here on a swimming scholarship.” I picked up my pace.
Lonnie looked confused rather than impressed. He babbled on about his family in Spain, his wrestling accomplishments, and his degree in liberal arts. He easily kept up with me until we got to the footbridge.
“I’ve gotta go.” I posed on the steps leading up to the arc of the walkway.
“I thought you had a class.” His hand encircled my wrist, gently, as if he were taking my pulse.
“I just said that. I’ve really got to study.”
Lonnie let go of me. “Give me your number. Go out with me Friday. I’ll buy some beer and we can go to the drive-in.”
“You’ve got a car?” Which wasn’t the point. By this time every instinct surged into overdrive. A strange man. A foreigner. No one any of my friends knew. But the best-looking guy I’d ever been with and a bit mysterious to boot. His face, sculpted. Skin smooth and tight over prominent cheek-bones. A jaw line that challenged the acute angles of my grand-father’s face. Similar but different. Top of the line swarthy.
“A fine white Cadillac.”
“Call me from the front desk. I’ll be ready.”
The night I let Lonnie take me to the drive-in, yellow flags snapped and fluttered in my brain. Will Robinson’s robot flailed its arms and called “Danger. Danger.” Mom’s favorite, very unliberated question “Why buy the milk when the cow is free?” appeared in wavering letters when I closed my eyes. I ignored them all.
From my seventh-floor dorm room, I watched the sun laze its way down to the horizon. The phone rang. “I’m coming.” I didn’t have any idea what clothes I’d thrown together for this date. Cindi’s Big Adventure. I spot checked my minimalist make-up one last time.
Lonnie held the car door for me. He wore a wife-beater t-shirt and slacks. I slid onto a beige leather seat. A pearly white steering wheel dominated the driver’s half of the dash. In the back seat, I saw a twelve pack of Heineken half buried in an ice chest. Lonnie got in the car and we took off. Watching the familiar landmarks of campus pass by in a blur, I thought of the endless road driving into the fog of The Twilight Zone. I traced my fingers over the one dollar in change I brought along for emergencies, stuck in a pocket with my dorm key. Relax. Enjoy. Danger. Danger.
Lonnie parked toward the back. The car fell outside the soft circle of light offered by the concession stand. He rolled down the window and hung the speaker on his door. “If you can’t hear you’ll have to scoot closer.” The once alluring mouth morphed into a slimy smirk. “Hand me a beer please, guera.”
I insisted he turn on the dome light so I could see. It cast a soft glow. Beige coated the entire interior of the Caddy. I felt submerged in quicksand or a diving bell, either way, an airless trap. Although Lonnie hadn’t touched me once, a tired script unfolded. The movie hadn’t started running yet. I handed Lonnie a beer and got one for myself. Chisumfinally scrolled across the screen. I sipped my beer and watched John Wayne act like a good guy. Lonnie insinuated his arm around my shoulders, nothing serious, but I felt the weight of him, the strength, the same strength that lifted a one-hundred-and-thirty-five-pound girl as if she were a rag doll.
Half-way through my first beer, I concocted a plan. Lonnie opened beer number three. “Hey, this beer is running right through me. I’ve got to go to the restroom.” I laughed. I had no intention of “resting.” I slipped out of the car, emptied the rest of my beer on the ground, and reached back into the car to put the bottle on the floor. Lonnie snagged my wrist without the gentle touch of the day they met.
“Hurry back, guera.” He blew an acrid smell into my face.
Run and run fast, dumb shit. What have you gotten yourself into? A question I asked myself many times in my life. “I’ll be back in a sec. I saw the ladies’ room ‘round back of the concession stand.”
Lonnie’s head lolled back against the seat while a gunfight unfolded on a flat looking Old West movie set. John Wayne pontificated and oozed testosterone. I slipped into the evening shadows. Casting one last look at the Caddy, I sprinted out of the drive-in, past the ticket office, against the flow of traffic. A well-worn dirt road directed me away from the drive-in to the main road back to campus. I had no idea how many miles I’d have to walk.
I recognized a circle of light radiating over ASU’s stadium at one end of the campus. I set off in that direction. I crossed the street and followed block after block of vacant strip shopping centers hungering for development. I watched for approaching cars. If one neared, I scooted along a side wall and waited for it to pass. My mouth dried up and I couldn’t catch my breath when the white Caddy drove by and u-turned. I dropped to the ground and crab-walked to a garbage can, not a dumpster, but a lone aluminum trash can. I pressed myself between it and the wall and waited for the sound of tires scrabbling the pebbles in the parking lot. It never came. I felt like I was going to wet my pants, so I started walking again.
A phone booth, a lone sentinel among the sparse denizens of the desert, appeared out of nowhere. I despaired using a quarter for the call, but I hadn’t brought a dime. I dialed my friend, Sue, then opened the folding door so the light would go off. “Come on Sue. I know you don’t have a date. Answer.”
I never celebrated the shrill melody of Sue’s voice until that moment. “Thank God.”
Sue must have heard the fear, the relief, the self-loathing in my voice. “Are you all right? Where are you?”
“Do you have your car? I’m in a bit of a mess. I’ll explain when I see you. I’m in a phone booth. I’m walking home from a date.” While I talked to Sue, a big white car passed me. It slowed, then revved, before speeding away.
“I loaned my car to Beth. Sorry.”
“Look. Meet me at Shaky’s. Even walking you should beat me there. If I’m a ‘no show’ by ten, call the police. I’m on my way.” I scuttled close to any building along the way and never saw the white car again.
Sue and I shared a pizza, drank beer, and I customized the story of my stupidity.
By the end of my freshman year, I learned that “guera” was slang for “white one.” I learned some men chose blondes the way they chose donuts with sprinkles on top over cream filled. I learned some men liked to exercise their power over women. I suppose I suspected that when I decided to walk home. I didn’t allow myself to know it yet. I didn’t want to believe it. I still wanted to dance in the rain and enjoy the taste of it on my tongue.
- Cynthia Stock
Cynthia Stock is a 67 year-old retired Critical Care Nurse. Throughout her career, she pursued writing at SMU, UT Dallas, The Writer's Garret, and Writing Workshops of Dallas. Her novel, The Final Harvest of Judah Woodbine is available on Amazon. In 2018 her submission to Memoir Magazine's #MeToo contest was deemed a Notable Submission and was picked up by Shark Reef Magazine. Her story, Baptism, was accepted for the I Am Strength anthology published by Blind Faith books. Other works appeared in potatosoupjournal.com and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine. She prides herself on being "just a little old lady from Garland, Texas."