He waits in the summer-thunder, in the tremble and quake, the ecstatic eruption of rain, in the wetting and staining of dirt and roads. He waits in the wind, the night-wind that rattles the loose pane of glass in the window above the kitchen sink, the window that looks out into the backyard with its long narrow garden, too-tall tomato plants bowed over and lashed of their too-ripe fruit in the storm. He waits in the yard where, barefoot in the grass, pajamas soaked through, head angled toward the sky, my father stands, listening.
My father is a prophet. Every peal of thunder to him is a Word, every storm a sacred text. My father is like Isaiah, who warned the people of Judah that the Lord of Hosts would visit them with thunder and lightning and great noise. He is like Ezekiel, who saw in the blood-red clouds the four-winged four-faced living chariots of God, and heard a voice in the firmament say to him, “Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak with you.” My father is like Elijah, who stood on the mountain of the Lord and heard, in the great roaring fire, a still, small voice.
God speaks in the thunder, but only my father can hear him. The thunder wakes him at midnight, as it wakes me, and I hear his heavy tread on the floorboards, the hard clack of the deadbolt at the back door. The rain pelts my bedroom window as though gravel is being tossed against the glass. A quick fluorescent burst of lightning. I count one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, five—the metallic crack of thunder.
I know exactly where to step, lightly, along the hall floor so as not to make it creak. The kitchen linoleum is a shock of cold against my bare feet as I walk toward the sink, where the loose pane rattles insistently in its frame. A white seam of lightning spreads across the sky. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four—God speaks.
My mother rushes out of the bedroom, through the house and out the back door. She doesn’t see me, small and still, in the dark kitchen. She steps out into the yard, pulls my father back inside by the arm, dripping rainwater onto the carpet. She guides him, dazed, to the bathroom, and I step carefully back down the hall, following the dark wet footprints, and into my bed.
Like Elijah, my father was caught by a whirlwind and carried up into heaven. He was gone for many days. My mother didn’t tell me where he’d gone.
When my father returned, he could no longer hear the voice of God.
Prophets who refuse to listen to God are punished. God cursed my father. Brief, uncontrollable spasms took over his body. At the dinner table, in front of the TV, brushing his teeth, suddenly his lips would press together in a grimace, his hands would bunch into fists, one one thousand, two one thousand, three—and it’s over. They were unpredictable, storms that broke without warning out of a cloudless sky.
Witnessing the assumption of Elijah into heaven, Elisha, the prophet’s disciple, cried after him, “My father, my father!” As he was translated into the clouds, Elijah’s mantle fell from his shoulders, and Elisha took it up. When the people of Jericho saw Elisha wearing Elijah’s mantle, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.”
The symptoms listed on the intake form in front of me are not consistent with the symptoms of prophecy. Mood swings, anger, anxiety, euphoria, risky behavior, hyperactivity, unwanted thoughts, self-harm, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, weight loss. Not offered: blindness, asceticism, glossolalia, establishing covenants, wandering the desert, holy wrath.
The clinician inquires into my family medical history. I tell her about my father. She explains that it’s very common for the disorder to be passed on from parent to child, for it to lie dormant for many years. She asks about the side effects of my father’s medications. I tell her about the spasms and tics. She tells me that they’ll avoid prescribing antipsychotics, start with a mild mood stabilizer.
She asks what made me decide to come in. I could tell her that I cannot sleep because the angels of the Lord knock incessantly at my door, which I keep shut and locked against them, throughout the night. Instead, looking her directly in the eyes, I lie.