Chelsea’s Review: Lightning strikes and Daryl saves! May we all be so lucky to have a Daryl looking out for us.
I glanced out the window as my dog refused to exit the back door. It was not just raining the usual polite offering here in the mountains of western North Carolina; it was bucketing down like a Texas deluge. Neither I nor my dog was happy. I eventually threw her out to do her thing. Cruelly and prudently, I stood and watched her from the warm, dry kitchen.
I would not be spared my own drenching adventure. I sighed as I took one final assessment before leaving the house to catch the bus. Rain pants, Gore-Tex jacket, water resistant hiking boots, warm hat, umbrella. Backpack and lunchbox. Thus encumbered, I walked to my bus stop.
The street where the bus runs is a long, long hill descending into downtown Asheville. Since the bus schedule change the previous week, I had to cross that very busy street, waiting on the traffic light pattern which allowed pedestrians barely enough time to scoot across five lanes. This morning, I had just missed the light. Standing there in the downpour, I estimated my chances of leaping successfully over the curbside river that was flowing past my feet. Clearly, I couldn’t jump far enough over the water at the intersection to keep my boots from taking on bilge. I wandered toward the cross street to survey the circumstances there, where I found the runoff was a bit narrower and a smidge shallower. This is where I would make my giant leap for mankind. Or at least woman kind. Or at very least me and my dry socks-kind.
As I positioned myself, ready for the light to change in my favor, a streak of lightning flashed through the sky and a rolling thunder shook the mountains. My first thought was, “I’m standing in a minor puddle and holding a majorly metal stick that is my umbrella.” My second thought was, “Oh shit.” My heart began to pound. This was not my first encounter with lightning.
When I was a younger adult, working during the day and going to community college in the evening, I got struck by lightning. No, this is not when I fell in love with my husband. This was when I parked in the lot beside the middle school where my classes were held, waiting for a squall to pass before I leaped from my car to run into class. In Texas, the storms are violent but brief. One needed only to wait it out.
When sunlight beamed through my windshield, I reasoned that although there was still some thunder in the area, I was safe in that welcoming brightness. I stepped from my car, lured by the blue color of sky to the west, locked it and proceeded to dash across the lot, careful of cars driven by other students held up by the storm. There was a scattering of puddles I delightfully dodged or leapt over. A flash of lightning caught my attention. My feet were surrounded by a pool of water in a saturated parking lot.
The lightning hit the ground near me and traveled through the water on the swamped pavement to collide with my foot. You know those comic books that use the word zap? That was the word I chose to describe this bolt of electricity that so rudely crashed my party. I felt it zap my foot. I distinctly heard the high-pitched shrill of an other-worldly screech, the squealing of which had emanated involuntarily from my own stunned body. I was amazed I was still standing. The hairs on my arms were also standing. I hesitated only for the moment it took me to assess the damage (none) and determine which was closer, my car or the building. I took off at a high sprint (I was a runner then) toward the building and relative safety.
I walked to my classroom wondering how this lightning strike would affect me in the long run. Would I begin to falter, or would I discover some new super power? In addition to my other super powers (face recognition, bread baking, super-human typing speed), would I soon be able to leap tall buildings, become invisible or talk to spiders? Would I now be part of a battalion of similarly assaulted, brain wave-connected, ritualistic Celtic folk dancers who wander about the world looking for each other in order to perform their true earth-saving mission? I certainly hoped so.
The memory of that assault by electricity came rushing back to me as I stood on my corner in the downpour. I was at the epicenter of this current storm, holding a lightning rod in my hand in the form of a cute umbrella with a duck head handle. I was emotionally attached to that umbrella. It belonged to my son and the duck’s name was Daryl. Should I toss it onto the nearby bank lawn and make a run for home? Indecision kills. I waited, trembling, for the light to change in my favor. After an eternity (a few more seconds) of nervous shaking, I was able to cross the intersection and arrive at my designated bus stop, still gripping the end of what could only be called “an open invitation to strike me dead.”
As I waited for the bus on the other side of the street, I realized I was standing next to the transit stop sign—a metal pole. Move away! I decided to decrease the odds of a nasty encounter with a lightning bolt by walking a few feet away into the driveway for the cleaners, figuring my chances of seeing a car coming were much better than anticipating and dodging an invisible foe. I laid Daryl on the ground, near the pole so that I could grab it up as I entered the bus. When it came.
Cold water trickled down my neck, a subtle breaching of my carefully planned defenses. I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head and battened down the hatches that were the zippery gaps of my outerwear. I stood in the least amount of pooling water I could find. Not since a backpacking trip on the Highland Trail in Arkansas had I felt this vulnerable to the elements. Then, I faced three days of massacre by rain, adding to the misery with my sobbing, waking up in a wet tent and calculating my chances for survival.
The math was with me that nasty morning, waiting for the bus. I stood for mere minutes, shivering and agitating as I willed a bus to appear. I eyed the gas station across the street with its warm, inviting lights when I realized I had not heard any thunder since I had crossed the street. As I looked up, encouraged by the reality of my odds for making it to the office unscathed, the bus trundled up beside me, opened its doors and pulled me into that comforting conveyance.
Surveying the collection of soaked citizens quietly dripping in their seats, I felt chagrined. My misery was temporary. Not so for many of my fellow passengers. Often, people living on the streets find shelter riding the bus, especially in the early morning hours before public places are open. I thought of giving Daryl away, but there was only one Daryl and more than a few of the damp in need, some with all their possessions in plastic garbage bags at their feet. As I made my way toward the back of the bus to find a seat, Daryl dripping on the toes of those already seated, I greeted my bus mates, apologizing for the umbrella’s added moisture. I joined the ranks of the dismally damp, grateful for their company and the welcome sanctuary of a city bus.
I counted my blessings as I disembarked at the bus station, Daryl, backpack and lunchbox in hand, to wade through the jumble of puddles to my office door. The storm had slackened. My mind drifted to the dollar store and plastic ponchos. Perhaps I could carry a few for my fellow bus riders on those mornings when a little impermeable coverage would go a long way. Unfortunately, my dog would not receive such weather-induced compassion from me. We did, however, compare stories of our own bravery when I got home that afternoon…after the jumping and yipping of happiness that conveyed that all was forgiven.
Yours in all weather,
Guest Editor Chelsea just came back from Thailand. I imagine she is very busy writing of her adventures there. She kindly took the time to edit my messy essay. The super powers idea was hers, though I doubt she had Celtic dancing in mind.