I live where surf, sand, trees, and air collide. The rain is constant and falls from the steel-coloured sky day after day, hitting people, animals, and inanimate objects like a cudgel — but no one breaks; we are strong, somewhat. A person learns at a young age that water isn’t easily defeated.
So we adapt.
Some people walk around in giant raindrops, figuring that they can’t get any wetter so why bother with protection.
Other people are far more delicate and use rain ponchos or umbrellas to protect themselves but it is futile. The wind conspires with the rain and the downpour falls sideways, so umbrellas never really provide adequate protection.
Still other people develop webbed hands and feet; sometimes they even develop gills. It makes getting from point A to point B easier.
Whatever the choice, we’re all aware of the rain. We’re famous for it. Tourists come from all over to see the rain. They splash around and giggle. Funny t-shirts are sold to tourists in malls and kiosks that read “Vancouver: Where the People Don’t Age, They Rust” or “Vancouver Rain Festival: Jan. 1 — Dec. 31”. The tourists love it. They point and laugh and pull out foreign and domestic dollar bills which they hand over to the clerks. The cashiers roll their eyes as they sell another shirt. They are jaded and local. The rains ceased being funny a long time ago and the cashiers no longer see the humour of the shirts.
From the moment I was born until now, I’ve lived in this one geographical spot. The pithy phrase about people turning to rust? It’s true. I swear it is. We really do rust away into nothingness but we just don’t discuss it. It’s a bit unseemly and unbiblical to just rust away, or so I’m told. Christians are supposed to turn to dust, not rust.
My grandmother was the first person in my family that I recall rusting away. When I was a child, I remember going to see her every Sunday. Grandma lived on the coast of an inlet and the beach was covered with large rocks. The sea would wash over them, moving them slightly and I could hear the rocks hit each other. The rocks sounded like marbles in a velvet bag. It was a very comforting sound. I loved keeping the window open at night and listening to the sound of the waves and the marbles in the velvet bag whispering to me to go to sleep.
My grandma had pale skin and silver hair. She always wore bright pink lipstick, which contrasted with and looked beautiful against the grey landscape, a splash of colour in a monochromatic world. She also made the best peanut butter cookies. As I got older, I’d taste bits of rust in them. I figured the rust chipped off while she was baking and fell into the batter. I never brought it to her attention. Didn’t want to embarrass her. Instead, I called them “granny flakes.”
With each smile, more rust would fall from my grandmother’s face. With each movement of her arms, rust would fall like snow and land upon the shag carpeting. There was nothing we could really do except watch her fade away. One Sunday, we went to her house and only found a pile of bones with a blanket of rust underneath. We placed the bones in a hope chest and mother vacuumed up the rust. She emptied the bag into the ocean and each wave carried my grandmother a little bit further out to sea. The marbles in the velvet bag moved beneath our feet as we walked back to the house. Neither one of us said anything.
Despite my mother’s inability to discuss grandmother’s death, I knew she was scared. I could feel it. Fear settled in our home and refused to leave. It liked our house. It fed off of my mother’s fright and got fatter each day. Fright is very fattening. My mother was terrified she’d face the same fate as her mom and she would stand in front of the many mirrors in her room for hours, scanning her body and looking for any rust patches.
She noticed a few spots when I was 19. I know this because she walked out of her bedroom, as white as marble, and walked over to me and she gave me a kiss. “I love you, sweetie. Take care of yourself. Protect yourself from the elements.”
She left the house and walked into the woods and I never saw her again, or at least I think I didn’t see her again. She could have floated through on the wind during a storm. She could have been that bit of dirt that blew into my eye and scratched my cornea. I’m not sure. I like to think she found a nice spot under a large pine tree and slowly rusted away in the forests she loved so much. Perched at the base of a tree, rusting away and being absorbed by the elements.
I’m 35 now. I’m still young but I noticed a dark spot on my left calf a week ago, flaky little red bits scattered like pepper. I think I’m aging a bit too prematurely. I haven’t even had a child yet. I’m going to try to rust-proof myself. I bought some WD-40 to eat away the unwanted psoriasis. It works for now but I know I can’t keep this up forever. My right shoulder blade feels a bit crusty and sore but I’m too afraid to look in the mirror. I might put some WD-40 on a loofah and scrub when I take my next shower. It’s a losing battle, though. Between the showers and the rain, I’m bound to rust away. I just hope I don’t end up like my neighbour’s car, which has rusted out and sits on the front lawn on cinder blocks. That’s such an undignified way to end one’s life.
Natasha Cabot is a Vancouver-based Canadian writer. She has a BA in English Literature and loves to read. She also likes owls and shiny things.