When I’m at Dad’s the rain smells like freshly cut grass and wood smoke. First thing in the morning Dad checks the weather. “Supposed to rain later, better get out there and mow the lawns. I can see the flowers.” Robyn gets up and wraps her fluffy robe around her. “How about I light the fire?” I flip on the jug and make us all cups of tea. The fire’s roaring by the time Dad comes in smelling like grass and petrol. “Go have a shower Terry, you stink,” Robyn calls from the kitchen. The rain starts to fall. The sweetness of the decapitated daisies fills the house and as I open the door to the fire to place more wood on the flames, the smoke seeps out with the heat. I lie on the rug in front of the fire and sip my tea.
At Mum’s the rain smells like her mood. She rushes in from the car after being at work, going to the gym and stopping by a friend’s. She flicks on the heat pump immediately as high as it can go. I bring in a basket full of slightly damp logs and somehow Mum manages to get the fire in the lounge started before lighting the other fire in the dining room. “It’s so cold.” She shivers as she throws on a chunky jumper. She places a small dish of water and oil on top of the fire to humidify and scent the house. Some special blend of essential oils to perk her up or calm her down. She runs a bath and adds the oils to it as well. She soaks for an hour or so and I lean against the basin while we chat.
In the bush by the Mōhaka River the rain smells like dirt. As we wind through the trees and claw our way up cliffs I breathe it in. As we cross a stream I notice the water is running harder, faster. Even with the rain I’m tempted to swim. If it wasn’t for the phone in the pocket of Dad’s hunting coat I’m wearing, I’d lie down and let the water take me. Or at the very least fall in accidentally.
At Waipātiki, the waves crash down on the sand and the wind whips through the pine trees and as the rain falls and combines, the air becomes heavy. Along the dirt track that coils around the rocky coast the sea spray hits my lungs, the dirt becomes mud, making a precarious walk even more dubious. In some places the track falls off the cliff and as I side step along it I can see the white foamy sea encroaching on the rocks below.
Here, in Welly, the rain smells like concrete. The buildings loom above me, reaching up into the dark clouds overhead as I hurry along the streets. Once inside it smells like fresh linen tumbling in the dryer. It smells like scented wood-smoke candles and nights wrapped up on the couch with my fiancé, Jordan, in itchy wool blankets. It smells like hot cocoa being whisked fervently on the stove, it smells like wet wool coats hanging on the doorknob, it smells like home.
Whatever the scent I find it intoxicating, these small drops of water reacting with my surroundings. All these smells speak of the people and the places I love, that I belong to. They take me through time and space. From my gangly childhood, to my now, my tomorrow. These places have changed though, both physically and what they mean to me. But they still smell the same when it rains. Rain is supposed to be cleansing, supposed to represent fresh beginnings. But for me, when I am caught in the rain, I am covered in memory. Each drop a moment. Some I like to remember, some I’d rather forget. But they are mine. They seep into my skin until I am soaked. That’s if I step outside.
As I’m writing this, the rain is falling. I can hear it. A gentle, rhythmic pattering with concentrated gushes falling from the gutter to the wooden steps outside. Occasionally the wind picks up and the rain slaps against the windows before being tossed in another direction. These drops of water try to reach the land, try to nourish the earth, try to do their job. They combine to do something bigger than one drop is capable of. Like words coming together to create sentences, sentences paragraphs, paragraphs becoming a story, part of a voice, part of something more than its writer.
When I started writing this I thought it might enable me to have some kind of cultural epiphany, allow me to work towards an understanding of myself, of where I exist in this world. For a lot of my life I’ve never been completely at peace with my ethnic identity. It’s hard, weighing up an identity that has so much historical context. An identity that has been born from those in power and those without, each of those sides catching me in their current and pulling, pulling, pulling. I think that might be why I’ve become so adept at change, changing my mask to suit a situation, rolling with the punches.
That isn’t what this has become though, this is something wider. Experiences pooling together to become a story. It’s about my family. It’s about home. It’s about belonging. It’s about the things in life that follow you and that form you. I realised something along the way too. I realised there’s not necessarily a right way or a wrong way to be multicultural. I realised that all my hang-ups on not being enough, were mine. I realised I could stop dwelling on what I could have, should have, would have done to be better, and I let it go. By doing this I allowed myself to stop searching for this elusive self-acceptance and just soak in what was, what is.
Rivers are birthed and maintained by regular rain, and this story will grow, word-by-word. The rain is becoming a stream. The drops reach out to each other to combine, each drop rolling into the next, becoming bigger, becoming more. It’s moving constantly, gathering speed.
I wonder when the rain outside will stop. It seems to have been going on forever. I know not everyone likes the rain. Kiwis seem to like to complain about it all the time. But I love the rain. I love creating a space in which I can see, hear and smell the rain but it can’t physically touch me. It’s streaking against the window running into mini-rivers along the panes, but I am safe. Sometimes I’m tempted to run outside. Tempted to break out of my cocoon and let the rain run over me. I can see myself out there, standing with my face and palms upturned. The droplets beading on my skin, my hair plastered to my back, my clothes clinging to my body. Just the rain and me.
I stand on my doorstep looking out. The sheets of water waver in the wind, the sound surrounds me, building. I take a step out. Still sheltered I hesitate, like the spindly naked tree outside my door I shiver in the wind. I know if I keep going, it’ll get to me, it’ll take me back in time. I don’t know if I want to go there, to think about it, relive it, but I know that I need to.
So let it fall.