Drifting out of sleep, I was aware of voices but they seemed ghostly, blurred by white noise. I turned over, and it took time for feeble eyes to focus on the clock radio: 6:32 a.m. I was late, because even though the alarm had gone off, the radio station it was dialed to was barely audible.
Then I heard the rain, and a distant rumble of thunder and knew why. I stared at the clock, listening to the static where the radio station should have been. Off the air? I thought it might be. Or maybe the storm had whisked me somewhere away from its signal area. Like a twister did for Dorothy. Like a flood did for little Edmond. Sometimes I wish for it.
Arguing with myself, I slide out from under the covers but, thankfully, the floor and air were warm. No cold front had accompanied the rain rat-a-tat-tatting on the roof, the thunder trembling the joists and rafters of the house. After a shower I get coffee but leave the lights off, the television and computer off and open the front door to watch the rain. The cat forsakes my lap for once, because the open door and rain are more tempting, but the first boom of thunder sends her scurrying. I am thankful there is no lightning. Lightning hurts her in a way I can’t comprehend, but I know that she lets out the most pitiful, pained wail when lightning flashes.
I stand with my coffee at the door then, watching the trees sway with the music of the wind. Thunder growls…what? Promises? Threats? Omens? It’s hard to tell. There are thunderbirds up there, of course, beating their gargantuan wings to birth the thunder. Maybe they’re myth to you, but they’re quite real to me. Once I chased the front of a storm across the length of the parish, a great black wall of clouds churning and broiling just ahead of me. Once I chased thunderbirds across the landscape but like myths, they always escape me.
Sometimes I think it’s my blood, that it’s too diluted, but I remind myself of what my father always told me about fractions. Fractions are the concoctions of Westerners, of Americans.
"Nobody else in the whole U-S of A has to show what fraction they are and carry a card to prove it," my father said.
Our people did not think in fractions. The whole concept of half-breeds is completely the white man’s. In our world, you either were Human Beings or you were not. Being Chitimacha, Americans decided, is a matter of "blood" but that’s a silly notion we natives have unfortunately been forced into. Being a member of a tribe is a political division. Being Chitimacha, or Apache or Seminole is like being Louisianian, Montanan or Floridian, not some distinct bloodline. Tribes adopted members from other tribes all the time, and they became that tribe, not some fractional hybrid of the two as America wants to believe.
So sometimes when I look at rain and listen to thunderbird wings I have to keep the fractions from clouding my senses, blurring my vision. It’s not a matter of numerators and denominators, concoctions used to create rolls and make lists so the white man could order, categorize and enumerate the "new" world. Rain reminds me of dilution, that final solution of cultural elimination, after absorption fails. Once you get below some random combination of numerator and denominator, you cease to be, no matter where you were born, how you were raised, what your beliefs are and how you choose to live. The annihilation of indigenous people was not carried out by gun and sword, but by mathematics.
So that’s why when I look at rain I remind myself that the thunder comes from wings; when I see hail, I know the Creator of All Things is "seeding" the waters again with fish and clams and shellfish because we’ve taken too many of them out. When I watch clouds broil and churn over Bayou Teche I know that waterway was created by a giant snake thousands of years ago. Given the choice between believing in atmospheric extremes of hot and cold and thunderbird wings…freezing rain and seeding the waters of life again…hydro-geologic movements and giant snakes…well, the fractions don’t bother me at all.
It’s time to go. The truck sprays muddy water left behind by cane trucks with spinning wheels. Windshield wipers slap rain away to keep my vision clear, but I wonder. I just wonder if things might hold more clarity in the rain. If the rain accomplishes nothing else, it blurs and veils just a little of this damnable sensibility we’ve been burdened with in this day and age. If the whine of Patches when lightning strikes means anything more than just a fraidy-cat pet, it shows that living things are more sensitive and connected to the world around us than concrete and steel, sheetrock and fluorescent lights, can completely shield us from. Fractions fall apart under rain and lightning and thunder, their component numerators and denominators and the horizontal black line between them scatter to the wind and cease to exist.
And what would remain would be a world I’d like to live the rest of my days in.