I found religion in the heart of Missouri in August at a college populated by girls too smart or dumb or scared or queer to go anywhere else on a campus bisected by a highway frequented by drivers more than happy to run us down.
I never knew it could get so hot. Summer clinging close like that girlfriend or boyfriend or friend in high school who followed you around between classes and wrote you poetry about slipping into and under your skin that you thought was romantic and maybe illicit in a thrilling way instead of making you think of Ed Gein.
Sweat in places I forgot I had and heat rash forever breaking out red and cruel across the soft expanse of my inner thighs. Unforgiving wet heat. No fleet of box fans could move that heavy air. Secretly we all worried our hair would start to mildew– it never seemed to dry between showers.
The thermometer climbed so high the cicadas couldn’t stop screaming their protests. I took shifts with my suitemates in voluntary ice baths to keep the hysteria of heat stroke at bay. We didn’t go outside. The brave fought for prime real estate on granite bathroom tile or the cool marble of the parlor foyer, bare skin sticking to, warming the stone in exchange for a few minutes of bliss.
On a black day the cicadas fell silent. At dusk the storm hit. Without preamble or wind there came the rain sweeping across hot, soft asphalt and we followed like creatures possessed. Shedding sandals before the ground could cool. Careless feet running across concrete for the grass island before the chapel driveway. Shedding shirts to soak the downpour into our skin. Shedding skirts to move easier through the air and water. Shedding something we didn’t realize we carried until we set it down. Wave after wave of dancing girls screaming to the beat of thunder and strobing lightning laughing wet skin in the dark. Raging frolicking riding the wind and gale until our bones caught chills so deep we thought even Missouri couldn’t make us warm again.
Then, the clouds parted. The moon shone on the still debris: heaped, sopping clothes and naked girls breathless, dazed. The halls gave off their yellow glow and like moths we floated home.