I’m washing dishes in the kitchen in July, and sweating. Brahms’ 3rd Symphony is in the speakers, and while a nice distraction, I pause to wipe the drop of sweat off my eyebrow with the back of my arm, and my mind isn’t on the music. My thick humid days roll on and over to close damp nights and the sun struggles to push up into the sky again in the morning, and it’s been a week now. The sky is hazy and flat and the white glare of the light outside the window dulls my eyes and my thoughts. I can feel the ice pick jab of a migraine taunting me in my left temple, the sharp ache behind my left eye reminding me that I am definitely not in charge here, and warning me more surely than the special weather bulletin that something’s coming. Just not soon enough.
I long for some big weather right now. No slow rains. No gentle breezes, or bright sunny days like saturated molten gold. I want ominous clouds gathering on the horizon. Huge nimbus ships, boiling and blowing and rolling in on themselves, towering higher, getting grayer, bluer, then blacker, then greener with the coming storm. I want the hair on my arms to stand straight up with the electricity in the air. I look back out the window and I wait. Another drop of sweat runs down the side of my face. My hair is damp and separated on my neck.
The air and the light begins to change. There is now brilliant sun dazzling the green leaves of the trees across the street. Shimmering shifting emeralds when the wind begins to blow. The sky is pale washed blue behind the trees, then slowly morphs to charcoal black, but the sun is still shining on those glorious leaves. The best light in the world. Fleeting. Then dimmed. Then gone. The wind picks up and a breath blows through the screen onto my face. The maple leaves turn their silver backs to the sky, inviting the rain that is now surely coming, and the wind makes them dance and twist on their stems. The deadest of the branches begin to fall down onto the grass, and that glorious sky goes darker still. The street lights flicker on in the middle of the afternoon. Now there’s a yellowish tinge to the light, giving the air a weird sepia tint. A sinister daguerreotype of a day with deep dark smudges at the horizon and the fabric of the sky cracking apart at the edges. The air is a cascade of booming and rumbling, rolling in in an incremental but surefooted scale. I plunge my hands through the hot soapy water and lay them on the bottom of the steel sink. I think I can feel it vibrating up my arms. It’s building.
I have to be outside on the porch for this, to feel the wind through my hot damp hair and on my neck, and hear the splintering of the dead branches snapping off and falling out of the old damaged trees around my house. I step outside, but the wind wants me in, and pushes the door back on me, and I have to muscle it open. I won’t miss this. On my street, people on bikes pedal by furiously, heads down, anxious to get home and safe from the storm before it lets loose. Using newspapers and book bags to cover their heads, some run by. And now the sky is heavy black and the wind is deep and wild. The rain begins, drops at a time, and the hot pavement smells metallic. Faster, gusting, soon it falls in sheets, driving into the gasping ground, and some of the spray blows on me, sheltered on the porch. The storm drains are overwhelmed and the hot street steams as walls of water wash over it. The air is thick with the smells of dark soil and ozone and earthworms caught by surprise, at once wet, evil, and fresh. And then, a ripping crack and a brilliant flash and an explosion louder than anything I’ve heard before. It shakes the windows and the storm door, aptly named, but a feeble joke against this. It shoves me backwards against the walls of the porch into a sudden violent blank separation from myself that seems to last for minutes, whether from the charge of the lightning or the visceral jerking shock of the sound.
Brahms and all sound is gone in a primordial silence. The lights are out. I gather my shaking self back in and back together. I look at the window that is incredibly still whole. And in the space of that keen infant quiet, the roaring congestion is purged, gone in a blazing moment, along with the huge old tulip tree that stood across the street. The shredded stump, 3 feet across, blown apart by a holy bomb, is all that is left. The grassy lawn is littered with missiles of wood, driven into the ground, hundreds of feet away from the center of the blast. The rain falls steadily, and as if the absolute destruction of this old tree was what it came to do, the storm now reluctantly retreats, the thunder grumbling and complaining into the distance, and finally away. The rain slows to a stop. Now people come out one at a time to see if it’s safe, to marvel at the destruction, to laugh with relief, control regained, and take pictures. They pose their children on the fallen giant like a sad pathetic conquest. They reclaim their fragile possession. Me, I am sorry that it’s over. And I send this sacrificial tree a prayer of thanks for that brief violent slap with all my senses on fire. And this peaceful denouement is a poor faded substitute for feeling so alive for those few exquisite moments.