Was awakened at about 4:30 this morning by the blast-shwoosh-bam of a thunderstorm. It rattled the shutters, shiiiisssshed and teased in eerie whispers while the sky shook to the blinding flash of Zeus’ wrath. Those veiny, scraggly arms of lightning, slapping the face of earth. I had covers up around my ears, eyes like ping-pong balls bouncing in that last little trill when you hold them against the table under your paddle. Skittish. A grown woman gone infantile. All thanks to thunder.
The Swiss version of a thunderstorm is meek compared to the rip-roaring variety in Singapore, the kind I miss, the kind that uprooted a 30 foot-tall palm tree right out of our yard and laid it, like your toothbrush falling out of its holder, right across our neighbor’s roof.
Neighbor woman no happy.
So to avoid a lawsuit, which she threatened, that very week we had eight trees (four of which were towering, elegant palms) pulled out of our garden. Had a team of sweat-shiny men come with their trucks and power saws and clear out nearly all the foliage around our home. Man, did it look stark afterwards, like those odd altered pictures of celebrities without eyebrows.
But we did keep up neighborly relations.
I missed my palms. And I still miss Singapore thunderstorms.
But I cannot experience one anywhere, and neither can Randall, without thinking immediately of the most heinous and life-splitting thunderstorm in our memory. Actually, it is in Randall’s memory, not mine, as he’s the one who lived it. I have only heard him tell the story.
At the moment of that storm he was fast asleep in Munich, Germany and I was in Provo, Utah, probably tucking our two youngest, Dalton and Luc, and their cousin, Wesley, into sleeping bags on my parent’s basement floor. It was Thursday, July 19th, and I’d arrived in Provo just that Sunday, eager to be with the children, who had gone ahead to camps and family in the American west, while I negotiated the move with Randall from Paris to Bavaria.
Claire was with her best friend, Caroline, at a youth camp called Especially For Youth on the campus of Brigham Young University. They were sleeping in a dorm room. Caroline’s cell phone, by a stroke of inexplicable fate-luck-blessing-divine intervention, she’d left on all night long next to her dorm bed. She would get a critical call on it in just an hour or so.
I had spent the day before, Wednesday the 18th, in Rexburg, Idaho, (first time there in my life), where I’d spent the afternoon with Parker just a week into a program at university called Freshman Academy. It was a scorchingly hot afternoon, but we hugged and laughed and walked around together meeting other students and joking with Dalton, who was trailing his big brother, whom he idolized, showing him his most recent comic sketches. Parker was the perfect older brother then, all complimentary and aglow.
We went to Wells Fargo Bank to open an account and dump some money in to get him through a week or so. The bank officer there, I can remember this scene in slo-mo, had turned his computer screen around to show us images of a “real cool place.”
“It’s the best place to just cool off. Not too far,” he’d told Parker. “Have to ask locals how to get there, though. Kinda middle of nowhere. But every one goes there, ‘know? Engagement pictures, Family Home Evening groups, the works. You been there yet, Parker? To Monkey Rock?”
He had. Once already. Which made me shake my head. Something about the place, those black lava rocks, the white froth of the 15 ft. water fall, the soupy lagoon, the canal. I’m not sure what, but it made my stomach turn.
Can I say it looked foreboding? Will you say this is retrospective sense-making, that I’m projecting my horror for that place on my memories? Will you stop believing me or anything I write altogether?
Still I insist: it did look foreboding.
In fact, Parker asked me while the man behind the desk went to get some forms for us to fill out, why I’d shaken my head at the man and had said, “That place. . .I don’t like it.”
“Mom, it’s their favorite place. Don’t want to diss it. It’s great for them, you know. Besides, I’ve been there. It is cool.”
Right then, Dad called for Parker on my cell phone. He was calling from Munich, knew we were together in Rexburg, was jealous and eager to chat. Parker stepped away, walked up the small carpeted ramp that feeds to the back entrance of the bank, and stood there in his jeans and royal blue T-shirt. (The one I still sleep with.) They talked for a minute or two, I watched Parker laughing and doing the quick run down with his Dad. I was the one who motioned he should get off. We had these important forms to sign.
That would be the last time Randall would hear his son’s voice. At least his human voice.
Because the next night there would be a water activity organized at Money Rock. And in Provo, Mom would be tucking in two little brothers after a day with their cousin at the public pool. And sister would be sleeping in a dorm room with her friend’s cell phone serendipitously turned on. And Dad would be sound asleep in Munich, dreaming, maybe, of his flight scheduled for a day and a half later, the trip that would make for our family’s surprise arrival, several days earlier than Parker expected. In Idaho.
What happened at this moment no one can explain, but Randall speaks of it in tones that change his color. He slept soundly in that dark apartment. The windows were ajar for fresh summer air. There were no city sounds to disturb. Soothing, slow-breathing sleep. Then instantly, the skies split with the light and sound of an air raid crashing across Munich. Bombs, firebombs, wall-shaking eruptions literally shocked Randall’s heart, throwing him to full sitting-up attention.
Thunderstorm. Unlike anything he had ever known in his life. It pounded and howled, going right to his bones.
Alone and shaking, he flew out of bed, running through the rooms closing and checking windows, the huge explosions of light electrifying his movements, perforating the darkness, stabbing the eyes. His heart raced. The reverberations grabbed the old building and yanked it, it seemed, by the shoulders, like a furious bully manhandles a thin victim. The rain flew sideways, debris flying with it, and hit the windows with metal-whip sounds, whipping, whipping. And shriek-yowling.
It was 4:37 a.m. The din lasted less than an hour. Then it drained away, leaving dripping sounds and big branches and soggy trash plastered all over Munich. When the sun would rise, the town would look like it had been in one of those little plastic snow domes you shook as a child. Only this dome was full of leaves, newspapers and your random sweatshirt wrapped around a plank of corrugated roofing. Roughed up.
But Randall would never take notice of the branches or trash at sunrise. Because after he would fall back asleep — big day ahead at the office, you know, regional meetings, he’d have to pack for the weekend flight, lock up the apartment, change some Euros to dollars, probably — after he would fall back asleep for a couple of hours, he would get a phone call from his wife.
“Honey? You awake? Something’s happened.”
Randall’s voice, in spite of sleep lost to the storm, would be crisp and alert.
“What is it?”
“No idea, but it’s serious. . .”
Minutes later, a follow-up call and the serious news became more detailed, much much more serious, and from that second and for many hours on end until he landed in the middle of the night on the Pocatello, Idaho airstrip, Randall would only run and run. Weep and weep. Pray and pray. The wife and the husband would meet each other in an ICU at the regional medical center. There, they would become, in the space of time it takes for one shaft of lightning to travel to earth, in the space of time for the clap of one thunderbolt to burst an eardrum, different people forever. Struck, burnt through, electrocuted.
They learn that at exactly 4:30 a.m. Munich time (which would have been 8:30 p.m., Rexburg time), there was another kind of electrical release, a transfer of energy, we’ll say, taking place in the cross-cut canals feeding over the falls and into the lagoon of a common water hole called Monkey Rock.
4:37 a.m., Munich
8:37 p.m., Monkey Rock
“. . .The sound that follows a flash of lightning and is caused by sudden expansion of the air in the path of the electrical discharge. . .”
At that exact hour, galactic detonation.
First, the splatting, cracking, then the sky above,
like the water below,
churning, foisting up,
whirling, dragging particulate matter into a current
surging, slitting with stiff slivers, splewing and spitting out,
Discharging at its will.
He who sleeps, sits up straight.
His heart hammers like the
rains that bludgeon in silvercold diagonal planks.
Rain, like those metal sheets rattled to make theater thunder,
wails and splutters, like a river
splatters as it hits stone.
Where you are.
Where he is
through the core of the earth to the paired side.
In this splitting instant
creation is alarmed.
God’s dome claps an acoustic ka-boom
congealing in this sky-and-earth-quake
this subatomic shockwave,
(On earth as it is in heaven)
which fires currents through the sphere, shaking nature,
Something big is being done.
Something big is being undone.
He who is awakened, sitting up, will lie back down.
He who is standing, grabbing hands, will lie down.
With thunderous voice buried under thunder—
a silent, glorious roar—
he will be sent to sleep.
And all at once, things are distilled.
A sudden expansion of thunderbolt voltage bursts the threshold and
shoots into that pellucid vastness—
sends soaring above this banal torrent—
a flash of reversed lightning.
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.