The thunder is what wakes her.
Nia sits bolt upright in bed, clutching the comforter, her half-voiced gasp still echoing in the darkness.
Next to her, a long warm shape stirs. “It’s the thunder,” Susan says, sleepily.
Together, they lie in the darkness, as the thunder cracks and the wind beats branches against the window. One of Nia’s feet has slipped out into the cold, and she pulls it back under the comforter, snuggling closer to Susan to steal some of her delicious warmth.
A minute passes, and Nia begins to relax, begins to nuzzle into the soft curve of Susan’s neck, begins to allow her eyes to drift shut...
The soft wail of a baby, quickly gathering strength, breaks the silence.
Susan sighs; at this distance, her breath caresses Nia’s cheek like an embrace, although her midnight breath smells less sweet than it usually does. “I’ll get her. You have work in the morning.”
“No,” Nia says, heroically. “It’s my turn.”
She pulls herself out of their nest of blankets with superhuman will, hurriedly pushing her cold feet into her fuzzy slippers and snatching a robe from the chair: whether it’s Susan’s or hers, she’s not quite sure, but she doesn’t have the time to check.
In the nursery next door, their daughter is crying in her crib, and Nia reaches down to pick her up. “Shhh,” she tells her, cuddling her close, “momma’s here, Chloe, momma’s here.”
Chloe keeps grizzling for a moment, but she’s already turning her face into her mother’s neck, slobbering a little.
“Shhh,” Nia says again, holding her close, “Shhh.”
The thunder crashes, and Chloe jerks, her cries redoubling.
Susan bought the rocking chair for nights like this. Nia sinks down in it now, pulling the blanket which hangs on the back of it around them both. She settles Chloe against her shoulder and tightens her arms, giving her the security she craves.
The gentle rocking of the chair calms Chloe, although she still shudders against her when the thunder crashes, or when the branches collide with the window in the howl of the wind.
Nia’s mother used to sing to her, long ago, back almost before her memory begins. Now she fumbles for that memory, calls it up to throw against the storm.
Her mother was a singer. Nia is not. But she can hum, and she can rock, and she can hold her child close to her heart: and this is what matters.
little child, be not afraid/though rain pounds harshly against the glass/like an unwanted stranger
Her mother threw her out when she was sixteen. She shouldn’t have brought her girlfriend home; she should have remembered that the lock on the door was broken; she should have realized that her mother, for all her maternal love, loved some things more.
She slept on the streets that first night.
the same rain that draws you near me/falls on rivers and land/on forests and sand
She wandered. From Atlanta, she wandered to New Orleans, where she learned that she couldn’t sing, despite her mother’s semi-professional skills; to Kansas City, where she waitressed for a year and found her first serious girlfriend; to Tulsa, where she met a charismatic young preacher and thought for three short months that perhaps she could exorcise these unholy desires; to Houston, after she found that she couldn’t; to Santa Fe, where she danced in a nightclub; to Boulder, where she became a hiking guide.
She wondered at first whether she would ever find happiness. She learned over time that you made your own.
little child, be not afraid/though storm clouds mask your beloved moon
It is not a coming-of-age story that she would wish on another person. Six years, from age sixteen to age twenty-two, she wandered, like the Israelites in the wilderness, across the face of the country. Those years should have been spent in school and in college, slowly learning how to be an adult, instead of being thrown in at the deep end and forced to swim.
No teenager should be forced to face abandonment, poverty, exploitation, prejudice, discrimination, hunger, or fear, as she had; no teenager should have the life she had.
And yet...without those years she would never have learned to fly.
little child, be not afraid/though wind makes creatures of our trees/and their branches to hands, they're not real, understand
Without those years, she would never have wandered to Seattle, where she looked up one morning and met the eyes of the woman who would become her Susan.
Without those years, she would never have had the knowledge, the will, or the determination to pursue Susan, to start a relationship, to learn to love.
Without those years, she would never have had the strength to uproot her life yet again, to move to San Francisco with Susan, to put all her savings into going back to school, while Susan worked to support them both.
Without those years, she would never have learned the resolve, the fight, and the sheer dogged bloody-mindedness that have pushed her to succeed.
Without those years, she wouldn’t be who she is today.
now I am grown/and these years have shown/that rain's a part of how life goes
She is no longer as young as she was. She is nearly forty, a respected professional; she has left behind the shy young waitress, the cheerful young nightclub dancer, the energetic young hiking guide. Her days of rootless wandering are over; she has a settled job, a home, a partner. The family she lost at the age of sixteen remains lost to her; her new family is asleep in her arms and in her bed.
And that is beautiful.
I'll hold you and wait/'til your frightened eyes do close
The thunder, the rain, and the wind batter on. In Nia’s arms, Chloe sleeps, curled up against her mother, knowing only the safety and love she gives.
Nia rocks on, lost in her thoughts, her soft crooning matching the rhythm of the chair.
Behind her, the door creaks, and then a gentle hand is descending on her shoulder.
“She’s asleep,” Susan whispers. “You should come to bed.”
Nia looks up at the love of her life, her child’s other mother, sleepy-faced and rumple-haired.
and I hope that you'll know...
Chloe looks like an angel, asleep in her crib.
Her mothers stand at its side, looking down at her perfect, precious self. Nia’s head rests on Susan’s shoulder; Susan’s arm curls about Nia’s waist.
The thunder outside crashes.
Chloe sleeps on, surrounded by warmth and love and wonder.
The thunder cannot touch her.
the rain'll be gone in the morning
but I'll still be here in the morning