Bring the Rain
by JoAnn Franklin
While facing age is hardly ever easy – even for those who are happy to accept this new path of their life freely – the transition into a later chapter in life can prove to be even more difficult for some. There are a number of facets that come with the territory of age : the deep, telltale wrinkles of a life lived full of laughter and joy; a slower gait in place of the hurried pace so typical of youth; hair slowly turning from an all-over raven to locks peppered with silver or snow.
Arguably, the most dreaded aspect of age comes with the trickiness of the mind. If one had to decide, would they rather lose the flexibility of their limbs or the precious memories of their children’s first steps? It’s a choice no one would ever want to be faced with. The intricacies of the countless hallways that make up the mind and those carefully tended rooms that house the memories of our past are typically the one part of us that we hold on to the tightest. So what do you do when you see the patterns coming … when you see the prospect of those rooms in your mind being flooded, and all of those moments you treasure … drowned and erased?
Dr. Dart Sommers values her mind in a way that some may find gratuitous or self-involved, but it’s her passion. As a lifelong student of behavior and consequences, Dart has found herself in a precarious situation in this later part of her life. She can no longer ignore the writing on the proverbial wall. Her carefully curated world is changing, her mind is slowly becoming something she cannot control, and it is infuriating.
Frontotemporal dementia (otherwise known as FTD). That is her suspicion. That is her self-diagnosis. She can see it in the way she lingers for hours, just sitting in a chair … memorized by the patterns in her favorite rug. She can see it in the unavoidable way she so desperately wants to count the stripes on her boss’s suit, or the way she can barely control herself when she gazes at the remarkable depth found in her colleague’s hair. In addition to the swirls and color, Dart can see the patterns of her decline. She can imagine how her episodes will become more frequent, and unfortunately, how they will become harder to disguise.
Even as a respected professor of psychology at a reputable college, there is hardly a person around Dart who knows the human mind better than she does. It is a steady study of restraint, wondering if the educators and scholars around her can notice the small ticks she is learning are a new part of her daily life. And in an ironic stroke of unlucky luck, the man in her life has dealt with this particular disease before. Ash lost his wife to FTD, and he struggled with it every step of the way. While Dart is now put in her own position of struggle, she finds that it’s not only in accepting her diagnosis but also in accepting the help from the man she is inexplicably drawn to. She cannot decide if Ash wants her for own qualities, or because he is set on being a caretaker and giving himself a second chance at finishing on a high.
Her baby and life’s work, The Raindrop Institute, is due to take a hit of its own as well. The need to bring the non-profit that is so centered on empowering women and using a grassroots effort to solve poverty and its subsequent problems, is acute and cannot be ignored any longer. It is time to take things to the next level, and she is feeling the pressure on a professional spectrum as well as a personal one. The integrity of the foundation is not only threatened by Dart’s impending dementia, but also by a colleague who’s set upon destroying whatever career Dart has left. It’s tricky to navigate around such bright minds when yours is beginning to dim, to say the least.
Hiding her tics and combating her struggles are proving to almost be more trouble than its worth, but Dart cannot allow herself to fully accept this next mile in her journey. FTD is leaving her feeling isolated and lonely, no matter the friends around her willing to help. When the battle within herself begins to come to a head, Dart will learn that sometimes relinquishing control and giving oneself up to powers less tangible may be the only way to truly live.
Bring the Rain is the newest fiction novel by former journalist and educator, JoAnn Franklin. While the subject matter is indeed heavy and full of cumbersome emotions, Franklin has a way of storytelling that makes the short novel appealing to a range of readers. The added complexity of Dart’s independence, the friendships that are constantly circling her, and her denial of the basic laws of trust are raw and honest.
I initially put this novel down and picked it back up again several times. I knew I was going to have trouble with it, but it also fascinated me in tandem. I have to start off by saying that I was very appreciative of the way the author allowed Dart to maintain her integrity and her strong spirit, despite that prospect of FTD looming like a raincloud in the distance. I have unfortunately spent quite a bit of time around dementia patients in the last two years, and I was worried about which path this novel would take. I am, personally, terrified of any slice of the disease, and am sad to say that I live a lot of my life in fear of succumbing. Maybe this why I so obsessively write. I take pictures. I make videos. I journal. I want to leave behind words.
I grew up extremely close with my paternal grandmother. My parents were never interested in raising children, and it’s a wonder that my brother and I were even born as my father in particular made a point to remind us that we weren’t wanted. From the time we arrived in this world, we were shuffled back and forth between our grandparents and their country homes. I was raised on the back porch of my Mamaw’s Louisiana house, shelling beans and drinking sweet tea out of a sweating glass while locusts sang a symphony in the background. My Mamaw taught me how to sew a button, how to do remove laundry stains, how to make meatballs, and how to properly use furniture polish. Not to mention those handy life lessons that grandmothers tend to dole out when you’re not even realizing it … you know the ones I mean.
Being from the South, you know she was religious. A stalwart Southern Baptist who spent more time in the church than out of it. Pearls, diamonds, Estée Lauder lipstick in a proper nude color, and all. I grew up accompanying her many a Sunday, not like it was a choice. I Vacation-Bible-Schooled. I learned plenty of Bible verses. I wore flouncy dresses no matter that humidity. And when I divorced my first husband, I properly felt the shame and embarrassment that typically comes hand in hand with all those Christian values. How dare I fail, right?
When, months later, I quite literally stumbled into the love of my life in a bookstore … I was just as shocked as everyone else. When you draw up the man you hope to find, he always looks a certain way in your head. Mine looked a bit like a cross between Jude Law and Rick Springfield. My (now) husband was the exact opposite of those looks, but anyone who knows him can tell you … he’s better.
I didn’t plan on falling head over heels in love with a Pakistani Muslim. I didn’t plan on him becoming so deeply rooted in the very chambers of my heart. I never planned on him threading the shredded strings of my soul back together and creating a quilt of acceptance, unconditional love, plenty of laughter, and copious amounts of coffee shared over quiet mornings spent in bed.
But, you know … you can’t plan life and all.
My grandmother couldn’t have been more disappointed in my choice in men. Where I saw his achingly tender kindness and his generous spirit, all she could see was his brown skin and religious affiliation. Now, I don’t share this with any malice in my heart and I implore you to not hold any either. Remember – she came from the Deep South. She came from a different era. She came from a different life entirely. I couldn’t hold her beliefs against her, but I couldn’t turn my back on them either.
We unfortunately fell into a state of silence. I danced at my wedding with practically none of my blood family watching. I welcomed a son a few years later, and my grandmother didn’t even know his name.
But … she didn’t know his name not because of our falling out, but because she was developing dementia.
My grandfather called me when she finally got so bad that he had to put her in a facility. The very thought of taking her from her home broke his heart, but it also broke the walls down between us. He wanted me there, and he knew that I should have been allowed there all along. It was a bittersweet moment, to walk in to the facility with my son and my husband and know that it didn’t matter any more that he was brown or that he was Muslim, because she didn’t know the difference anyway. She didn’t know me. She could not recognize my face or remember raising me. It no longer mattered. All that mattered was that I be there for her, and hold her hand, and help her with her socks or her rub her feet.
And hey, she got so much joy out of watching my toddler run and around and ham it up, even if she didn’t have a clue that he was her blood.
So, as you can imagine, this book was a challenge for me. The deterioration of Dart’s health reminded me so painfully of moments my grandfather brought up over the years and brushed off as just a wrinkle in time … how once we drove up to the house and she got scared because she didn’t recognize us at once. How she forgot how to get herself home from the grocery store on more than one occasion, no matter that she’d made the trip thousands of times. How she would not only lose her train of thought, but completely shut down at odd periods of time and then rejoin the conversation half an hour later as if she’d never left it. Were those signs? Was she scared? And more important, did she know?
I can’t believe she did. I can’t ever believe that she would know her memories were being stolen right out from under her, and she wouldn’t attempt to make amends with me, her only granddaughter.
But I guess I’ll never know.
Bring the Rain stirred a lot of emotions in me, and really made me consider facts I had never thought of before. I was inspired by Dart’s strength and her insistence that she remain in control as long as possible. I greatly admired her independence and her drive. I was then humbled by her acceptance and her allowing of love in to her life, no matter the strings she may perceive to be attached. It is the most difficult thing, to give ourselves to someone else and put our hearts in their safekeeping … we can never be sure that things will work out. But I guess that’s where faith and hope come in, and that’s where we shine the most … when we take chances. The people we allow in to our lives carry our memories for us when we can’t any longer, and I will forever carry the most precious of moments of my grandmother inside of me. I will pass them down, and I will continue traditions she started. It is my duty, as the one left behind.
I give Bring the Rain 3.5 stars.