It was a hot and humid summer day. A typical summer day in July in Western New York. I was oblivious to the scorching heat of the sun and the oppressive thickness that filled the air. Although both surrounded me, I could not feel them. I was in my happy place. As I hoisted myself out of the pool onto our wooden deck, I shook some water out of my ear. I took a deep breath and jumped into the cool, clear water once again. I felt my body hit the surface as a splash went up around me. My back touched the bottom of the pool–my cue to unfold my legs to propel myself to the surface. Holding my breath, I placed my feet firmly against the bottom of the pool and pushed with all the strength my nine year old body had within it. Like a slow moving jet, I was propelled up through the four feet of water into the open air. I breathed deeply, my lungs thankful to know they could work once again. I started to go through the entire scenario all over again, as I had been doing for probably an hour. This time, as my feet landed on the deck, I heard my name being called through the kitchen window screen.
I turned my head toward the window, my mom’s signal to continue what she wanted to yell to me.
“Get out of the pool and dry off. There’s a storm coming and I don’t want you coming in the house all wet.”
I looked over the pool, across our neighbor’s yard, over the fields behind our neighborhood, and into the western sky. Sure enough, there were big, dark thunderheads forming. Their contrasting dark gray color against the bright blueness of the sky told me we were in for a good summer thunderstorm.
Storm clouds. They are an indication that whatever weather one may be enjoying, it would soon be changing. You know how it goes. The stillness of the hot and humid summer air is interrupted by an increase in the breeze. The leaves on the trees begin to whisper, warning that a change is about to take place. The whisper turns into a voice which in turn grows into a yell as the branches of the tree are pushed every which way by the incoming storm. As the wind increases its warning, the sun is swallowed by the fast moving dark clouds as they swirl and overtake the blue sky. In the distance one can hear rumbles of thunder. Raindrops hit here and there. It doesn’t take long for those dark clouds to release the moisture that has weighed them down. Like a bucket being turned upside down, those raindrops that were few and far between suddenly multiply. There is nowhere to escape them save for a structure with a covering. If no such structure is available, those raindrops will soak anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in them. Depending on the fierceness of the storm, one could find themselves in a quite precarious situation. Lightning bolts threaten life. Hail hurts as it pelts the human body. High winds can send debris flying through the air. Tornadoes can be spawned from the dark clouds overhead.
Few storms come without warning. My mom only needed to look to the western sky to see that there was potential for danger. Television and radio (and now the internet and smart phones) serve as warning platforms to keep people safe. Some days, one just knows the potential for storms are there. High heat and humidity and/or the right wind direction certainly set up conditions ripe for a summer thunderstorm in Western New York. Occasionally a storm will bubble up unexpectedly and any not housed in the safety of shelter are caught in its wrath.
As a young child, few things scared me as much as thunderstorms. I didn’t like them during the daylight hours. The storms that came in the darkness of night, though, when I was safely in bed and already asleep, did more than scare me. They terrified me, driving me into the sanctuary of my parents’ room. When I got old enough to “know better”, I would ride out those nighttime storms with all the blankets I could find covering my head to block the flashes of lightning from my vision. My hands were pressed hard against my ears to hopefully silence the crackling and booming of the thunder. My dog, as scared as I was of the storms, would take refuge with me. Only when I was absolutely certain that the storm had passed would I come out from under the stifling blanket tent. My lungs, in a similar fashion to how they felt as I went from underwater to fresh air, would breathe deeply again.
I have weathered many thunderstorms in my years on earth. They no longer terrify me as they once did. I am not as much of a fan of them when my husband is out of town for work, but even then I am not the shaking mess I was as a child during a storm. Now, though, there are other kinds of storms to endure. It is in a fierce storm that I find myself now, and what I hope to write about over the next several days. I have titled it “The Perfect Storm” for I believe that all the conditions came together in just the perfect way to send me into a mode of struggling to breathe and even survive. I write in the midst of the storm, for it is not passed yet. Just the opposite–it is raging as strong as I have seen it rage. The clouds are still black, there is no blue sky in sight, the battering from the hail hurts, the thunder is deafening and the lightning blinding. The rain has overtaken my world and on several occasions I have been certain I would drown–often I wish I would. To escape the relentless pounding of the storm is all I can think about. My days in the pool taught me how to hold my breath until there was air to breathe. I hope that skill carries over to my current storm. How long can I hold my breath before succumbing to the depths of the waves? Perhaps, I try to reason, by writing about it, the storm will have less power. I fully realize that just the opposite could happen. The storm, fueled by my own thoughts and words, could intensify to the point where I am overtaken by it. At this point, though, I feel I have nothing to lose. If I die in the storm then it must have been meant to be. But, if by writing about it, the storm loses some of its force, then maybe, just maybe, blue sky will show its face once again. It’s a risk–a gamble–but I’m going to roll the dice and see how it all ends.