There are no monsters in the world, but there are definitely things that can hurt and maybe even kill you. Worse than a bee sting, or even that dog that got hit by a car.
Like tornadoes. Tornadoes aren’t really monsters, but they can kill you. They can throw cars around like toys and drive a piece of straw through a pig’s head so fast it won’t even notice. The pig is still walking around the farm like nothing happened or, at least, that’s what they said on TV.
And lightning. Lightning can kill you on the spot, but it is sneaky. Tornadoes scream and howl and shake the ground when they come for you, but not lightning. It doesn’t make a sound until you are already struck. And it’s not like that time you grabbed the plug on the TV and your hand buzzed hot and loud until you dropped it. Lightning doesn’t let go until it’s done with you and when it is done with you, you will be emptied out like a soda bottle. The lightning will spill you out and move itself in.
You hide from tornadoes in low places because they are clouds spinning down to earth and clouds can’t see things underground. Dark basement corners with the spiders and the sump pump that someone said could overflow and drown you in a bad storm while your parents are upstairs listening to the car radio because all the power is out. If you are outside away from houses and buildings you should find a ditch and hang on tight.
Hiding from lightning is trickier because it is so fast and silent and it will move in a heartbeat through windows and water and pipes to get to you. But there is one thing: lightning likes trees and trees are green. So don’t ever wear green.
You’ll probably think it’s a coincidence that I was wearing green when the lightning finally found me and lit the world up. I was older and thought I knew better about everything than my little girl self. My mother had found years ago the cache of everyone’s green clothes squirreled away in the garage where the lightning could strike without hurting us. She listened with a proud and perplexed half smile as I laid out my theory. There was one of those too-long, adult silences before she explained it all in scientific terms, like she always did about things that were hard to understand. It’s the height, you see, and the roots underground that makes lightning love trees. Not the green. Trees are closer to the sky, but they stretch down deep underground like a power line made of wood and leaves. And water. That’s the important part. That and the tallness that reaches close to clouds.
She told me about the signs and what to do: If you are walking and your hair stands up in a halo around your head don’t run. That means it already has you and it is much quicker than you will ever be. It is the speed of light and there is nothing faster in the universe so don’t even try. Drop to the ground and become as small as you can. You are the path the lightning takes to reach the earth, the switch between earth and sky, so you should try to make the place that is you as tiny as possible.
So I knew better about lightning, but I still followed the stories of other strikes looking for proof. There was the cheerleader who was struck while raking leaves in the front yard. The lightning burned holes in the bottom of her feet where it had torn its way through. The last thing her mother said to her was, “Get your lazy fucking ass up off the couch right now!” My mother said, “Her poor mother,” and shook her head. But there was nothing about the color of her shirt or the clips in her hair.
There were golfers clutching melted metal sticks, a soccer player killed under a cloudless sky, the woman killed running a bath safe inside her own house, but nothing about trees or even green. There were people who lived, too. Burned or paralyzed or haunted by strange sicknesses. Hair falling out in clumps, skin burning with electric heat for years, but none of them see green the way I do or maybe they’re smart enough not to talk about it. A soft firefly halo around everything, but only sometimes. And that’s the other thing. If you do get hit, don’t tell anyone. They won’t understand and they’ll always think you could be hit again while they’re standing right next to you. Or they’ll think you have superpowers and you don’t.
I was chasing lightning bugs in the front yard while my mother watched from a lawn chair when it finally reached out for us and time stretched and snapped. The night was hot and still and the air was so thick the only thing that could break it was a thunderstorm. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. It rolled toward us in the sticky dark and we counted the seconds between flashes and the low grumble of the storm to make sure it was still far enough away. One one thousand, two one thousand.
You know the story, “Mother, Daughter Struck by Lightning in Own Front Yard.” And you’re probably thinking, “How stupid,”‘ and “They should have known better,” even though I told you already that it is sneaky. So you know the story, but you probably don’t know this:
Before it strikes you feel the fluttery touch of clouds as they run their airy fingers over you looking for that spot where your feet unlock the dirt to the sky. It’s not hot, like you think. When it reaches for you it is cool and liquid like ice. But my hands were full of the glow of bugs and I didn’t understand what the air was telling me, if it was telling me anything at all. It’s hard to remember, but I do know that no one’s hair stood up, the dogs didn’t bark.
I understand now why the signs weren’t there: because they always had been. It had us all along. All those times my hair stuck out for no reason, those sudden chills on a hot day, the burning touch without stove or sun. The sky reached down years ago and wrapped itself around us and in that long breathless moment in the yard, the lightning just felt for the path between, the path that had always belonged to it, and arced to make it true.