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It always rained in Brighton. Winter, spring, summer, fall -- it rained. When I was five, it was time for me to start walking to school by myself. So on my birthday, I unwrapped a cherry red umbrella, and a pair of matching rain boots. I loved those boots. When I came home, I always stuck them in the tub and used my yellow pale to pour water on them, washing the mud and wet leaves away. On the rare days that it didn’t rain, I would put my boots on top of my toy chest, whispering to them before I left for school, “Tomorrow”, I’d say.
I got older and replaced my boots as I grew. Same shoe store, same cherry red, just a bigger pair of boots.
Some people in Brighton don’t like the rain, but nonetheless, they’ve gotten used to it. I learned how to climb trees, play soccer, and keep a Homecoming dress spotless -- all in the rain.
My father left in the rain. I was fourteen. He didn’t pack a single thing, just grabbed his keys and $40 from the ashtray on the coffee table in the living room. The front door slammed and he left in silence, climbing into his grey Ford F-150 and taking off down the road, splashing mud against his wheels as he went.
I wasn’t sad about it, my father was a drunk. He got angry often, and I think he liked being that way. When my mother came home from her 12-hour shift at the hospital, she asked me where my father was. I said “gone”, and she nodded. I heard her on the phone that night, and I could tell she was talking to my father by the nervous tone in her voice. She cried for hours when they hung up, and I found her the next morning at the kitchen table, exactly where she’d been the night before, sound asleep.
Brighton was such a strange name for my town. The sky was always covered in clouds here. I only got to see the sun in early March or mid-June. Mrs. Huddleston, our very nosy, very old neighbor from across the street, said that it had always been rainy in Brighton. “I haven’t seen a sunny day since I was thirteen”, she told me once. But Mrs. Huddleston’s dramatic tendencies were known to me. So I figured that decades of sunless days were just another one of her exaggerations.
My mother stopped her 12-hour rounds a year and a half ago. But even with her status as Director of Nursing at Brighton Memorial, she still found a way to stay in her office past midnight and drown herself in liters of black coffee. After my father left, she began trading in her scrubs for suits. Her drug store lip balm became expensive lipsticks from the high-end makeup boutiques on Main Street. I used to find catalogs and cigarettes on her bedroom dresser. She traded them in for self-help books and watches that track your heart rate and how many steps you’ve taken that day. I knew she wanted to make my father disappear; rule my birth as a miraculous conception, and making him disappear meant that who she used to be had to go as well.
When my father left, I didn’t change a thing. I was still the girl in the cherry red rain boots: always quiet, always reading, always watching. I knew people that didn’t know me. Like Uriah, captain of the cheerleading squad. I knew that she skipped geography every second and fourth Tuesday of every month so she could leave campus and go hook up with her boyfriend. I knew that Olivia, our class president, hated her best friend Kelly, because she couldn’t keep a secret, and Kelly hated Olivia because she was dating her older brother. I knew that our American history teacher liked her coffee with three sugars and no cream. I knew that I had lived up to my name without actually attempting to do so.
Serenity Jane Hope McCarthy, peaceful and promising. I never raised my voice and I always kept my word. My mom couldn’t relate to the ladies she invited over for wine on Fridays. At least, not when they talked about their difficult daughters. My drunken father was enough stress for my mother, and so I avoided every possible thing that could make me another problem she had to solve. I wasn’t given a curfew because I didn’t need one. I never came home drugged or pregnant. My grades were never lower than a B, and even that was pushing it.
I loved the rain, and so did my father, which explains why he spent every day that it didn’t rain replacing most of our exterior walls with windows, just so he and I could sit and watch it together. He put a skylight in my room before he and my mother brought me home from the hospital. And I’ve fallen asleep to the rain ever since. Brighton and its storms may not have been the best place for most people, but it was the perfect place for me.