Inside Out

by Emily Arnold

 

        Rain is misting down, ever so slowly, like a large cloud settling into place and becoming a dense fog that hazily pervades the fields and the front yard and the patio where I am typing away. Gently protected by the awning overhead, I can see the wisteria creeping up the dark green door that we never use. If I turned my head, I would gaze through the large glass window straight into the warmth of the kitchen where the dishes are still cluttered next to the sink, and the lights still reflect off the white pine cabinets, giving the room a warm glow. It was something to this effect, the wonderfully domestic and home-y feeling, that made me feel like I was living in a doll-house last night, and struck with this feeling, I had the sudden urge to watch myself through the eyes of the giant to whom I belonged. It was after the sun had set, but her light still lingered, caught in the gray mist of the rain, that I departed the doll-house through an open window in my room. Cozy on the roof with a thick fleece blanket and backwards baseball cap, I could see into the livelihood of my own house through the white window panes, gazing through them into the inside like a little girl into her playhouse.

        I could see into the kitchen below me, where the cutting board was just as I had left it, the knife still lying sideways beside the gruyere. But I was not used to seeing it from this angle. It seemed to have lost its meaning and function as I gazed at it from this distance, the wrong distance. My mother was in her office upstairs, and I could see her working away at her computer, preparing for her final statistics exam the next day. She looked small and tired, ordinary even, and I did not like her from this distance, so I averted my eyes to the living room where my father was watching TV. He looked rather normal, as I could only see the back of his head peeping out from the lounge chair and the TV in front of him, but it was like I was him, for I was not watching the figures moving on the screen with him, but rather, as him. It was this strangeness that gave Knausgaard’s words new meaning when he says that to grow up is to establish the correct distance to things, and once we are adults all the distances are established and time moves more quickly because we are no longer filling life with meaning. He seems to think that every time we establish a distance to something, it is as though we have clicked a piece of the life puzzle into place, and that satisfying click is meaning and it slows life down. According to him I am grown up now, for being on that roof, I felt a dizziness with my life from this different perspective. I was looking in from the outside into somebody else’s life. Somebody else’s parents were studying and watching TV, and Emily Arnold was extinguished from the face of the earth. I kept vainly worrying that my mother would turn her head to look out of the light of the house and into the dark of the night and see me there, staring at her from the roof, but of course this did not happen. She has established her distance to a nighttime window, and it does not include her daughter peering creepily into her own house while freezing outside in the rain.

 

        My mood, as I sat on that rooftop, was as stormy and gray as the night. But it was not a bad thing, in fact, their syncopation put me at peace, at ease with my new distance from things. And so I sat there contemplating, and embraced the smell of wet earth and trees and rain that surrounded me. It transported me to another place that converged perfectly even under the rain, and from there to yet another. The smell first reminded me of the smell of wet forest in the Catskills. I would live there for a month every summer in a thin wooden cabin with screen windows, on a cheap bunk-bed, usually metal, but wood if I was lucky (the wood was sturdier and made less noise when I would sneak out in the middle of the night). I was reminded of one night—there was supposed to be a lunar eclipse at four in the morning—that we slept on the open slope of the south facing hill where we had our campfires every night. We put our sleeping bags on tarps and slept facing the open sky, free beneath the stars. At about three in the morning, the skies opened and it started to downpour. I slept heavily through it and had to be shaken awake by the others, at that point already soaked through by the rain. But I remember the sudden smell that arose from the earth; it was energized, having stored all of the day’s sunlight in the ground, and the immediate wave of water that hit it from above had reacted with this energy to produce the strong smell of life and growth and death and rebirth. And we headed back to our cabins, where we fell back asleep to the drumming of the rain on the roof and the smell of the outside.

        From there I followed the smell through the years to another grassy valley near the Catskills. I wandered, barefoot, through the once green festival grounds, now brown with mud. We had left the shelter of the contra dancing tent, and were now slowly meandering through the food stands and craft stalls, our hair matted against our heads from the force of the rain and our tie-dyed shirts running dye down our limbs, but we were powerful against those who cowered meekly beneath plastic tarps. Our feet hugged the earth, squishing delightfully in the mud, until we came across a group of twenty-somethings dancing to hippie music at the lemonade stand. One guy was juggling lemons, another girl with dreads was hippie-dancing, her arms swaying at her side and her face and smile turned upwards towards the rain. We joined the amorphous group, united by our tie-dye and wet hair, and danced in circles in the mud to the strange music at the lemonade stand.

        Then I was back on the roof, and the rain was the same rain that had soaked me in the Catskills and at the festival, and the smell was the same smell, and I felt happy in that moment for I carried with me the meaning of these events into the present, and would carry this moment with me as well. I felt then that I was surrounded by magic, and my whole body was tingling, though partly from the cold and the drops against my skin, it was the powerful and all encompassing sound of the rain drumming against the roof that surrounded me in this shroud of wonder.

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