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Sunday, November 16, 2008

November Rain

Category: Issue 12

November Rain is the song, by Guns-N-Roses, that screamed through the speakers of my brothers car as I drove him – drunk and crying – back to the trailer we lived in with my husband, on top of a mountain. 

November was the month.  It was also my birthday.  It was also the day that November Rain – the song, the meaning, and the cold drops from the sky – solidified sadness, relief, resolution, and loss in my heart.

My brother and I stopped twice so he could vomit, each time he said he was sorry, over and over.  “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”  The mantra lasted, until, sitting on the bed he slept on at 4:00 in the morning, his head cradled in my lap, I finally understood.

He wasn’t just sorry about being drunk, or about vomiting out the window with stinky bits of curdled liquor and chicken pieces stuck to the corners of his mouth.  He wasn’t only apologizing for his obnoxious behavior or for his often violent imposition on my husband and I. 

He was sorry for November; because he was remembering too.  November rain fell in one of our many childhood homes, mixing with the red clay to make mud that we played in; sliding down hills, digging holes, making mud pies that stained our clothes and hair.  Chilled to the bone, we would eventually return home, where we would bathe in warm water and cleanse ourselves of our disobedience.

But that November, things happened that even November Rain couldn’t cleanse or destroy. I learned things that taint souls and tarnish hearts, things that alter a young girls vision of the world and the people in it.  My innocence disappeared, flowing as freely away as the red mud rivers down the bank.

It is a blessing that innocence and ignorance are not inseparable, for I remained ignorant, until many years later.  I held fast to my belief that all was normal, that what had happened was average.  I even attempted to use it to my advantage, discreetly divulging pieces of information about male anatomy that my friends openly wondered about when they were the appropriate age.  Fortunately, they shunned me when they learned that I was already experienced, at the tender age of 13, and my ignorance shattered.  I fully understood that I had been wronged, that other girls didn’t suffer at the hands of their older brothers, and my heart went limp in my chest.

I idolized my brother, he was my only ally in an unforgiving and confusing world of divorce and relocation.  With the exception of one very unfortunate and cold November day, he was my best friend.  He beat me up, he protected me, he taught me how to protect myself, and I loved him.  I got over the anger and buried the pain.  I had no idea how much that day effected my life.

Years later, celebrating my birthday, almost exactly ten years later, I learned how deeply that day cut us both. 

Yes, he was sorry about getting drunk, about being violent, and about intruding on my life.  But more than anything else, he was sorry for hurting me.  He carried that with him, and it cut him and hurt him and slowly destroyed him.  I had been hurt, but he carried the much stronger emotion from having hurt someone he loved dearly. 

I forgave him on that November day.  Shortly after, my marriage shattered and I ran to the warm and unchanging landscape of southern California – where November rains don’t visit.  I started over in a place where the seasons don’t change, where November means you might need a sweater and you have to travel for Christmas snow.

But life moves on, and I now celebrate this November with gray skies, yellow trees and sidewalks, and a definite chill in the air.  November feels again, and I weep and smile for all I’ve learned.

I have learned that I will not be angry at my ignorant and curious pubescent teenage brothers mistake.  I will not be hurt that my mother didn’t know, that my parents didn’t teach him better, or that they didn’t make themselves available for me to trust.  I will not hate myself for not knowing better, for not telling, for not being normal in the face of discord, or for not being strong enough to escape unscathed.

I have learned that I will speak to my son and daughters about appropriate behavior early and often, I will make conversations about sex as comfortable as conversations about a tummy ache, I will define for them their role in keeping themselves healthy and protecting their hearts, souls, and futures.

But most importantly, I have learned that we are not perfect – none of us.  We lie, cheat, steal, and hurt people we love; often not on purpose, but we do. Forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give each other, and I will hand it out freely and honestly.  I’m quite sure the only saint ever to have existed is the donkey that carried Mary to the manger; the rest of us make mistakes and deserve to be forgiven and offered the chance to learn from them.

Now, my birthday draws near, and I find myself hoping for rain.  I see now that November rains are not unleashed in an effort to force the earth to roll over and die; they drift from the sky to cleanse the earth, and us.  This November, I will stand in the rain and remember who I am, how I’ve grown, and all the people who helped me become.  And I will thank them all.  I will remember that everything I suffer through is a learning experience that can make me stronger, and that the pain in only temporary.

Nothing lasts forever, even Cold November Rain.