Something wakes me up at five AM; I throw on comfy old pants and the dog, Greta, follows me downstairs. She runs outside, and then she hurries back in. I set up shop at the dining room table, my battered old binder in front of me, and I pull out sheets of looseleaf to do my morning pages. Greta sits under the table, almost on top of my feet. In the quiet dawning, I scratch my thoughts onto the paper.
The sky lightens through the bay window, and I see that the wind has picked up. The little tree is smacking its limbs against the carport roof. The tall bushes that line the curving drive are doing a crazy, improv dance–each going its own way, shaking and swaying discordantly.
The dog begins to pant; she nudges my foot until I reach down to scratch her head. I feel her whole body vibrating, tightly strung, in tune with the coming weather.
I grab my phone and press the weather app. Sure enough: thunderstorms are on their way. Greta didn’t need me to check the weather; she felt the onset in her very bones.
The rain sweeps in, battering and pounding, and deep rumbles roll overhead. The dog jumps up; her whole body quivers, and she rests her chin on my knee. I croon to her soothingly. She shakes. Bright flashes scald the bay window, and Greta whimpers.
A chunky black garbage can lid bumps down the slickened street in front of the house. I reach out to pick my pen up, capture a thought, but the dog rears up with a paw and bats my wrist. She needs my hand on her silky head, needs touch and connection. It’s how she gets through the storm.
I stare out the window. The sky blackens and lightning crackles and sense memories surface.
I am ten and wrapped in a quilt, huddled in a corner of my bedroom. Angry voices spit through the furnace grate as thunder roils above me. My stomach aches with worry.
Would she really take us and leave?
Would he really let her go?
Rain pelts and thunder crashes, but this is a flash storm, and it quickly passes.
I am nineteen and he has a fully cracked, wide open smile, an extra helmet, room on the seat. I strap the helmet on, slide on behind him, slip my arms around his lean leather-clad waist. We race away down the main street of the little college town, and I hear the sound, but can’t discern the meaning, of the words my friends shout behind me. He leans around the curve and I lean with him and we charge out into the hills.
The storm begins just as the Harley peaks a rise; rain echoes crazily on my helmet; flashes illuminate wild landscapes. He’s very sure. The rain settles into a pleasant patter; we dip and surface, dip and surface, over the gently rolling hills. When we crest I see jagged shards of brightness splicing the night sky. Its glow picks up wild shining eyes at the road’s edge.
There is no other traffic. We blaze through the storm, tires spitting water, and then he takes me, finally, back to where my friends are huddled in the dark nether regions of a bar. We walk in together; I shake my long hair free from the helmet and laugh over at him.
My tightly-strung, mother-hen friend grabs my arm. “Are you CRAZY?” she asks me. “Are you just plain freaking NUTS?”
I see that she was really worried, and later I will apologize, reassure her. But in that moment, propelled by that triumph, I cannot care. I grin wildly back at her. Me–always such a good girl, riding through a thunderstorm with that fast boy on his Harley. My blood sings.
This was nothing, I assure her, but a gentle summer storm.
I am 36 and Jim has just turned two and we have four visiting children–a little home-grown day care–in the house. The sky is bruised and purpled, a weirder, darker color than the night-time brings, and the children are uneasy. We gather on the couch and we start to read Patricia Pollaco’s Thunder Cake, and then we troupe tightly to the kitchen and begin pulling out pans and bowls and ingredients. In the small, close space, children bump and giggle. They studiously grease pans, crack eggs, put plump hands on the top of the blender that churns up that odd main addition: ripe tomatoes. They laugh at the vibrations.
We take turns holding the hand mixer. We pour the rich, chocolatey batter into the pans and the kids step back as I slide the pans into the hot oven. We do the dishes and cook up some fudge frosting.
While we wait for the cakes to bake, we finish the book. Just as it promises, when the baking process is complete, the storm is done, but Megan, big-eyed Megan, refuses to leave my side. When the cake is cooled and iced and ready, she eats her slice firmly ensconced on my lap. Right now, she does not trust the calm.
I am 48 and we have transformed a little house trailer into a cozy home for the law school interval. It sits on a corner lot; it backs onto an endless cornfield. It is 8:30 PM, and there is a funny feel to the atmosphere; James and I sit on the little porch to escape the still and stifling air inside. The Dad is at the library.
And then we see the storm coming, advancing through the corn, a dark blue wall of rain, marching quickly, sweeping toward us. Relentless. Jim rustles uneasily, and then a siren begins to blare. He turns a shocked face toward me, and I hustle him to the car, throw in a couple of his favorite books, and we speed down to the law school campus, race inside, find a comfortable corner near the admissions office, and page through the books as a prairie storm rages.
When it is over, we drive back, a little fearful. We find, despite torn leaves from battered corn stalks and an errant branch or two in the yard, the sturdy little house trailer is fine.
I sit with the dog for twenty minutes while rain batters the house, and then I leave her, quaking, while I shower and change. I dig through cupboards, making sure there are flashlights on the counter just in case the power flickers off, and I drain my coffee cup and pack up to go. The dog looks at me imploringly; I caress her silky head. She follows me to the door; she pleads silently, but work is a relentless obligation and I leave her trembling there; she will snuggle in the corner of the couch; she’ll tap restlessly around the living room. I tarp my raincoat over my head and dash to the carport, my purse chucked under my chin, travel mug in one head, book bag in the other.
Rain sluices down. My wipers whip madly. But by the time I arrive at work, the torrent has subsided to a gentle shower.
The sun is shining when I go home for lunch. The dog waits at the door for me. I clip the leash onto her collar and tug her firmly outside, where she blinks warily. Gently, I persuade her to walk with me; we head down the driveway and veer to the right, off to the Helen Purcell Home on the corner. By the time we reach the sweeping drive, Greta has perked up; she excitedly explores the leaves and sticks and residue the storm has spread onto the sidewalks. She sniffs the air. It is fresh and cool, and she begins to trot.
I trot along beside her, enjoying, remembering. I am invigorated. This is what the storm always brings–this is the aftermath, the pay-off. The reward. This is the rain-scoured world, the wind-beaten cleanliness, the opportunity to sally forth and begin again. This is–remember this?–this is what follows the storm.