The sun came up an hour ago, and I went outside in the watery morning light to open up the chicken coop and let the chickens out. It looked and felt like rain; even the morning weather girl on WWMT News seemed decidedly un-chipper when she warned of big storms with “potentially damaging winds”.
It’s 7:30 a.m. and it’s as dark as it was at 5:30. Through a crack in the living room curtains, I can see the trees swaying as those “potentially damaging winds” get closer. The breeze coming through the window is surprisingly cool, and it brings with it a smell of wet grass, of dirt, of outside.
I just heard the first crack of thunder. Looking out the back door, I can see dark, swirling clouds in a sky that has taken on a greenish-yellow tinge.
It’s perfectly normal to be a little bit afraid of some of the powerful storms here in Michigan. I still crawled in bed with my mother during storms until I was in middle school. I have childhood memories of watching storms come in off the Lake that were so strong that rain was driven through the walls of our cottage, around the window frames and under the door. I was fourteen years old when an F4 tornado ripped through the downtown area, killing five people and leaving a trail of devastation that the town is still recovering from.
I will never forget the sight of the mannequins from Gilmore’s Department Store, strewn throughout the wreckage.
We thought they were bodies.
It’s perfectly normal to feel apprehensive when these storms move in. I have children sleeping upstairs, a husband on his way to work, loved ones out driving to and from work in this weather. I have a dog and three cats who are currently freaking out, trying to hide under my couch and cuddle with me while simultaneously trying to avoid each other. Any person would feel that little flicker of concern for their safety in threatening weather.
But what I am feeling is not normal.
It’s not fear or apprehension.
It’s stark, unreasoning terror. It is the certain knowledge that I will die in this storm. That these are the last moments of my life. My heart is pounding; I can’t catch my breath. I am ice-cold and boiling hot at the same time. Menopausal hot flashes are nothing compared to the heat radiating from my body at this moment, while icy waves of numbing chills keep washing over me. My eyes burn with tears that I am too scared to shed.
It is not a matter of wondering if the storm will turn deadly. I just know it will. Period.
Logic says otherwise. After all, I have survived hundreds –no, thousands– of thunderstorms in my lifetime. And really, what are the odds? They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice. By that reasoning, I should be the safest person on Earth. Think about it: how likely was it that one lonely tree on that stretch of road was going to fall over at the precise moment when I happened to be driving under it, at just the right speed, at just the right second? One or two seconds earlier or later, to the right or to the left, and it could have missed me completely.
Or it could have killed me instantly.
So many random factors, all adding up to that one unpredictable, unstoppable instant. That split second of “are you freaking kidding me?!” when I heard it and saw it and knew it was going to crush me. That infinitesimal moment that lasted forever but happened so fast that there was no time to do anything but watch.
Watch and know, beyond a doubt, that it was going to hit and it was going to hurt and that I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
It’s not what people think. When storms hit, I am not re-living the entrapment, the extrication, the pain. I’m not seeing what came after. No, I am back in my van, in that one second. Over and over. Seeing the tree, knowing I had nowhere to go, no way to escape. Smelling the rain, feeling the wind gusts rock my van, and not being able to do anything.
That’s the part I can’t move past.
That’s why I hate thunderstorms. It’s not the storms themselves. It’s that one tree, in that one second, that just won’t stop falling on me.