Tuesday nights are family dinner nights. We all convene at my grandmother’s house in Centennial, a good deal south of the city, for some conviviality and food that is, on occasion, edible. Because her house is so far outside the city center, there are no buses that run in that direction from our apartment, leaving us no choice but to drive. As my uncle constantly stocks a healthy supply of good Scotch, this leaves one of us playing DD while the other slides closer to the land of Warm Fuzzy Happiness.
It should be noted that my boyfriend loathes driving. Our relationship seems, at times, defined by gender roles–their reversal, that is. As I have frequently explained to hapless guests at Grandma’s dinners when asked why I don’t cook or bake, “We have a rule. Ethan’s not allowed to drive, and I’m not allowed to cook.” Neither of us derives any pleasure from the respective forbidden pastime, Ethan actually likes to cook, and I sometimes enjoy driving. At the very least, I curl into a whimpering fetal position if I have to watch Ethan behind the wheel.
But there are exceptions. I can make a mean jambalaya, and I’ll consent to let Ethan drive so I can imbibe Scotch. Every week, I drive to Grandma’s. Every other week, when I am pleasantly buzzed enough not to pay any mind to my boyfriend’s unintentional attempts to reduce my car to a pile of wreckage, he drives back.
This particular week came at an unusual time in Denver’s meteorology. Usually June and July are dirt dry. The monsoons hit in August. Clouds gather in the sky throughout the day, unleash their fury for about fifteen minutes at around 4 p.m., then disappear into the sunset. This July, however, meteorologists in Denver, usually driven to alcoholism in any event by the weather’s capriciousness, could only throw up their hands and predict that the monsoons had come early. Clouds gathered in the morning, subsided the city under sheets of water in the afternoon, then returned in the early evening to wreak further vengeance. By the second week in July, the Denver area had gotten triple the average rainfall for that month.
So when the sky started flashing with lightning and a steady downpour overtook us when we got on the highway after leaving Grandma’s that evening, this was nothing unexpected. Ethan hunched a little tighter over the wheel and drove with more caution than the situation warranted, but that was also not unexpected. I teased, “I know you New Mexicans have never heard of this whole water-falling-from-the-sky thing before.”
“Nope,” he replied through clenched teeth. “Water comes from the ground. This is just unnatural!”
The rain got a little harder by Yale Avenue, three miles from our exit. It was enough to turn the lights along the highway into an orange smear and give halos to brake lights, but it wasn’t unnavigable. Ethan stayed a respectable distance from the car in front of us, making sure to turn where he did. Only at one point did I gently have to say, “You’re in two lanes.”
It was only when we got to our exit that the road turned into a four-lane waterway. The rain came down so heavily that we couldn’t read the sign as we passed under it. The view outside the windshield was nothing more than a streak of orange from the lights. Ethan sped up to catch the guy in front of us–our only hope for figuring out how to get off the exit.
University Boulevard wasn’t any better. In fact, without the washed-out orange streetlights, there were no defining features to guide us home. Occasionally, the entire sky would rip apart with lightning, enabling us to somewhat distinguish the sky from the trees on either side of the road. But we had no way of making out lane lines, intersections, or even the curb–except when we passed too close and the right side of the car sank in a puddle halfway up its tires.
After getting five blocks in twenty minutes, I squinted through the dark until I was able to find a parking lot. “Turn here,” I instructed Ethan. He did, and only when it filled my window was I able to see the “One Way” sign pointed the opposite direction. I laughed and pointed it out to Ethan.
“Not like it matters,” he said. “Doesn’t seem to be anyone else here.”
“Not to mention, I can’t even see where the other way is from the lot,” I concurred.
Ethan pulled into what might have been a parking space and shut off the engine. The rain hammered down with such ferocity that I wondered if I would have a roof when all was said and done. I checked my phone. 9:20.
“Let’s give it ten minutes,” I said. “It should lose its intensity by then.” I chuckled. “Denver weather,” I began.
“If you don’t like it, wait five minutes…” Ethan continued.
“Or move five feet.”
We sat back and watched the spectacular light display outside. The rain rocked the car back and forth. As soon as light burst across the sky, thunder roared down, vibrating the car. I looked at Ethan out of the corner of my eye.
“Wanna make out?”
He smiled and leaned over the cup holder. As the lightning struck so near that I was vaguely worried about the car getting hit, our lips met. We closed our eyes and gently exchanged kisses.
Ethan pulled back. “I kind of have to pee.”
I checked my phone. 9:24 and the storm didn’t seem to be letting up in the slightest. “You could just go outside.”
“I might as well just go in my pants.”
“Don’t you piss in my car!”
We sat and gawked at the storm. I soon realized that the vibrations weren’t so much from the lightning as Ethan doing a modified pee-pee dance for the car.
Lightning struck a nearby telephone pole, so close I could see sparks. I nervously checked my phone.
“It’s 9:28. Maybe we should wait another few minutes? I mean, this doesn’t seem like it’s easing up any, and I’m still too drunk to take over.”
Ethan put the keys in the ignition. “Screw it. Let’s just go.”
We pulled out of the parking lot and back onto University. The visibility was just as bad as before, but to complicate matters, Denver’s roads were not designed with inch-an-hour rainstorms in mind. A few inches of standing water had accumulated on the road. Ethan tried to stick close to someone ahead of us. Our two cars inched along, flashers on as a warning to any crazy types who might try and push past.
Sure enough, someone who was likely from Texas jetted by. They pushed aside a huge wave in their wake, a virtual tsunami that crashed over the left half of the car and rocked us slightly to the side. Ethan had pulled as far to the right as he could when the other car passed. Our own passenger side wheels kicked up a wall of water that reached halfway up my window.
We finally reached a major intersection at University and Exposition. The light, we could just barely tell, was green. The car ahead of us, already crawling along at under five miles an hour, flashed surprised brake lights as it went into the middle of the intersection. Indeed, the car appeared to be plunging into a small lake almost up to its wheel wells.
Ethan slowed down as well, but with a look of determination on his face, he pushed the car through the intersection. The water that splashed up on both sides of the car rivaled it in height, and I could have sworn some of the puddle reached my door.
Newly bathed, we soldiered on. We went through Cherry Creek, strangely haunted without boob- and dye-jobbed sorority sisters stumbling home after a night of trying to pick up sugar daddies in the steak houses and martini bars.
After 6th, we began to climb a hill. I foggily noted the river that appeared to stream down on either side of the car. The water would come to a drainage and get violently rejected–too much already in there.
The intersections were far worse. With each one, what used to be Josephine Street and was now the Josephine River would meet another washed-out stretch of asphalt, and the car would plunge into a puddle that threatened to engulf its tires. Each time, Ethan would audibly grind his teeth but lightly tap the accelerator, nudging the car forward as its tires overcompensated for being mired in a lake.
“Don’t swamp my engine,” I groaned.
“Car’s still running,” Ethan grimaced.
Finally, miraculously, we reached our abode at 14th. I remembered that this intersection had a nasty habit of collecting water even during mild rainstorms.
“You thought you were fording rivers before,” I told Ethan.
“Yeah, playing ferry boat captain isn’t exactly in my job description!”
The light changed before I had a chance to finish my warning. Ethan took the turn slowly, however, and while the crests of water on all sides of the car called to mind Moses parting the Red Sea, and even if I swore I could feel a little water trickling in beneath the door and kissing my shoes, and even if the car’s movements did give a whole new literalism to the term “fishtailing,” somehow, we made it through and pulled into the parking lot behind our apartment building.
I got out so Ethan could nestle the car up against the wall enough to get out of the other drivers’ way. I left the outer door open for him and ran upstairs to unlock the door to our apartment. When he came up, I rubbed his shoulder.
“You just won the Three Testicle Award tonight,” I told him.
“Thanks. Mind if I go pee?”
And he rushed inside, occupying the bathroom for what seemed like an eternity. I sat down to read a book.
Fifteen minutes later, the storm was nothing more than a drizzle.