A thunderstorm rolled through tonight, one of those early summer evening storms where the thick air that has been boiling all afternoon long finally bursts out, and the thunder came in with a proclamation. It was that in-between time in our house—the dinner dishes had been cleared, the table wiped clean, but the demands of bedtime, of brushing teeth and undoing the day, hadn’t pressed in yet. The thunder rolled, low and slow at first, and then the rains came.
The louder narrative that I heard as I folded laundry was the rushing words from Grant who was working through his understanding—and anxiety—of the storm with verbosity. After a bit, I wandered until I found Renee in my bed, with a few of her stuffed animals tucked with her under my covers. In contrast, she confided her quiet worry about the thunderstorm: “Mama, I do not like thunderstorms,” she declared with a whisper. And with wide worried eyes she told me how today, at camp, some kids told her that she could die if she looked at lightning. Oh, child. Let me tell you a story.
So I told her a story of when Mark and I were young. A story about hiking at Hawk Mountain, about those days before we calculated a hike by how many snacks to pack, or how long we could make it before we’d need to settle in to nurse a babe. This was a story of our younger selves, when car rides were called road trips and not carpool. In this particular story, we took that road west and set out to hike this ridge, step by step getting closer to the view. We were about a mile and half out and the clouds shrouded the sun. I don’t know if we were hopeful, or just naive (and, really, is there any other way to be at 18 or 20?) but I’m sure we ignored any warning we might have had, singularly focused on the adventure in front of us. I remember what happened next, clearly: we were next to a large boulder jutting out of the side of this forest wall when the loudest, sharpest thunderclap I’ve ever heard split open our Garden of Eden, invaded our sound space and brought with it a wall of water. In this story, I will even tell you, I screamed out in surprise. There was no warning of a flash before that thunder. I am certain that we were within a scary radius of that lightning.
I told her the story, now, of running. The story of how Mark grabbed my hand, and together we ran as fast as we could, minding the roots and the rocks, now slippery in rain. Of feeling alive—part thrilled, part scared, but mostly just feeling it all—the rain like cool needles at first, but then of being enveloped in this earth-water. The sound of my hard breath, the echo of the water against the rocks and the valley, the leaves being pushed apart by the force of the water and the wind, the thunder interrupting it all, calling out our attention. I told her of the musky smell of earth turned into mud with a hint of metallic tang, lightning threading now through our view.
(I don’t tell the story of getting back to the car, of the immodesty of rain-soaked clothes, of being young, and in love. Of kissing in the rain, water falling off his nose onto my lips. There will be time, later, for those stories).
After telling my story, I gathered Renee up in my arms and headed for the front porch. The rain was bouncing forcefully off the front steps tickling our bare legs, but under the cover of the porch we were dry. I waved to Mark to join us, and soon the whole family was gathered on that porch, five of us squeezed into two fold-out bag chairs. We listened to the rain, not so much a pitter-patter, but more one continuous rush of water. Renee roared with the thunder, echoing each blast, one trying to outdo the other. Griffin watched as the big kids put their hands to their ears, bracing against the surprise, until he learned to do the same, his mimicking motions comical in the timing and the size of his hands. Together we watched light gleaming with the water as it followed the electric wires from pole to pole. We were quiet together as the storm gave us her last show of fury and then moved on with the same abruptness that she started with. And I told one more story: another story of Mark and I and thunderstorms. Of how we used to watch these same summer storms roll in and out from my mother’s screened porch. Of the lullaby of these storms. And of that heavy peaceful air after the storm has passed.
Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons: James Jordan