She didn’t like going for walks when it looked like it was going to rain. The rain itself didn’t bother her—Alexis kind of liked the cool droplets pinging against her forehead; maybe because being out in the rain made her feel like a little kid, or like a straight-laced intellectual led to freedom by some mysterious, creative force. One minute reading at a desk in some dark, Victorian study, the next, running through the open air, letting the rain absorb into skin and hair and tongue.
Yes, the rain was fine; it was the pre-rain air that she found annoying. The murky heaviness, the taste of water in the air, the wind suddenly directionless and choppy like ocean waves.
Ahead, just above the yellow house at the end of the street, the pale outline of the sun shuddered through a purple cloud. Another cloud piled on top of it. Then there were three clouds, burying any transparentness and any evidence of sunlight. It was the kind of sky that would not stop moving. Each cloud sailed across small glimpses of blue. When Alexis looked up for long enough, it felt like the sky was steady and, instead, it was the earth that sailed. Of course that was true, tectonically, but not as part of the immediate human experience. The life world.
As Alexis turned down the bark-chip path through the park, she thought back to her philosophy thesis. Two-hundred pages on the history of phenomenology. Most of it focused on Husserl’s Lebenswelt—a theory validating the unique, fluid experiences of all conscious beings, claiming that one’s reality and truth were based entirely on their experiences in the world. She was initially drawn to it, back in her freshman year, because she liked the way it sounded. Life world. Like each person’s life was special enough to create a new world. To phenomenologists, it was the body, too, that counted, not just the mind. For most of human history the sun had risen and fallen. Sunrise, sunset, not Earth-turning-in-relation-to-the-static-sun. That was her favorite part of phenomenology. If the sun appeared to move, then that was your personal reality, your way of knowing the world, your sense of place as a body on the rotating Earth. And it was no worse or better than any other; just, simply, your own way.
She’d completely immersed herself in her thesis. At first Alexis had felt like her place there, in college, was tentative. In some vague way she’d worried she would be fired, like she was among those creaky brick and cement buildings for only a trial period, and at any moment Professor Simmons, her advisor, might send her a solemn e-mail asking her to meet during the last ten minutes of his office hours so he could terminate her. He had a kind-but-creased old man face that she could easily imagine grimacing at her like some cartoon demon.
Every time she actually did visit his office in those first few weeks of class, Alexis secretly worried that he would tell her she hadn’t done enough, hadn’t been enough, and that her scholarship had been revoked. Of course this didn’t happen. Her SAT scores were top notch, her high school GPA was 3.98, and she’d taken four AP classes her senior year. She’d deserved that scholarship. And she’d made good use of it. Four years later she had completed her thesis and earned a BA in Philosophy. She could always get her masters, but she was satisfied with her education. She was ready to get started on real life. Ready to get it over with.
But now Alexis was living with her parents, again. To save money. The scholarship had only covered part of her tuition. Her student loans were simple, easy, such a low amount that she would be independent again in six months, tops—if she could only find a job.
She paused at the thin, mossy tree with the weird hump on its side, and she turned around. That was one mile. Two miles round-trip would be good enough. Light exercise. Something to get her out of the house.
Even in spring, the forest still smelled like dead, fallen leaves. It held the warmth of buried things. She thought she could even smell smoke from winter fireplaces, absorbed long ago into satchels of leaves and peeled bark, as the porous breath of the woods drank in everything.
The pavement told her it was raining. She felt nothing on her face or arms, and the mist was invisible except for the spotted evidence on the road. This was just another form of pre-rain. What she wanted was a full-out rainstorm.
By the time she made it home, the mist had ceased its shimmering, and the sun danced hesitantly between clouds. There was her mother’s red van in the driveway. It had belonged, at certain points, to both Alexis and her older sister, Nina, before they left for college. Well, in hindsight, it had never really belonged to either one of the girls. They were just stewards; renters; borrowers. Back when Alexis drove it to school and volleyball practice, she’d ordained it with a cinnamon-scented clip-on air freshener and a fuzzy purple blanket lining the back seats. But they were gone now.
Recently she’d realized that nothing in her parent’s house was hers. Not really. Most things in her room were vestiges of childhood. Parent-bought, parent-stored. The few things she’d bought herself in college were all she had. A few posters. The rug that once lined her dorm room.
Alexis called hello from the entryway and followed her mother’s voice into the kitchen. Her mother leaned over the sink, washing out her tupperware from lunch.
“Oh, Alexis. This humidity is unforgivable.” She turned off the faucet.
“It’s not that bad.”
“I feel like I’m swimming through mud.”
“How many times have you actually done that?”
“When you girls were little.”
“The swamp doesn’t count.” Alexis laughed through her nose. “Wading through water is different from swimming.”
Check back next week for Part 2!