I was probably ten the first time I possessed the ability to doubt any or all common sense, or reason. The first time my thoughts were dipped into a strange and exciting bowl of ‘what ifness’. As a child, you’re not trained to think outside the box. No lessons learned of what could be outside this warm and fuzzy interior molded for you, and everyone you knew. Your life built on practicality, with the idea that everything must make sense; that there has to inevitably be a logical explanation for everything that happens, or that is. Time and experience change everyone in some way or another.
On a cool November morning at about 2:00am, change came to me like a new taste. Not overwhelming to the point of frantic, but more so with intrigue and excitement. As a child staring at the wonder of gifts before him on Christmas morning.
This was the wonder, and this was the intrigue I felt as I looked up at the clear, star crazed sky to see a light traveling from South to North. It traveled so straight, and so persistent, as if on a mission. Most anyone would have perceived it as a satellite or something of that nature, with its tiny, star-like presence.
Then, it did something to change everything. It stopped. And as if that wasn’t enough, it began its travel again... in another direction. All in all that morning, as I sat Indian style on the floor of my parent’s sunroom, I must have witnessed it stop and change directions at least a dozen times before leaving my sight. Can this be explained with logic and common sense? Maybe so. But as I said, I was merely a child. That was only my first taste. First blood, if you will.
That was then–-this is now.
A lot of time had passed since that morning in my parent’s sunroom—twenty six years to be exact. I was now married, with two children; my son Shane, who was 12, and my little peanut Alley, who had just recently turned 9.
And then there was my beautiful wife, Corey. Corey gave up a lot when she married me. At least that’s what her parents made clear to me on several occasions. Always pretending to be discreet, but never failing to prod my nerves and set my ears ablaze with their insidious comments. “I always thought Corey would have made an excellent Marine Biologist.” Or the ever popular, “You know, Corey’s Uncle Russ was a Marine Biologist, and she nearly got to be one herself. But, I guess some things just aren’t meant to be!”
Remarks such as these always seemed to make their way into conversation when introduced to new people in a group setting, as if they had to at least explain why their daughter hadn’t done more with her life.
Corey hadn’t felt that way though. She and I met on a boat excursion in Cancun Mexico when I was only two years out of high school. We instantly fell in love, and two years later, we were married. I don’t feel that her parents hate me or anything. In fact, we seem to get along very nicely. And, of course, they are absolutely mad over their grandchildren.
I do, however, feel there’s some buried resentment of how a modest car salesman was able to sweep their daughter off her feet and away from a promising career that had been so carefully planned for.
Corey and I came up with a plan of our own, right from the start. We would put her career on hold till the children had at least progressed into high school. Then, if she still felt inclined to do so, we would put her parents back on track to meet Flipper—and myself in more favored graces with the both of them.
We were very fortunate seven years ago, when Corey and I found our new house in Amore Estates, partly because of the location, with our backyard butted up to the neighborhood elementary school, and also because of the awesome people there, who were destined to become our very good friends. Also, a fun fact of extreme coincidence; as a child, I grew up only a mile or so from where I now lived with a family of my own. Life was good. Life is good. But then again, things are always good–-before the storm.
“There’s a huge storm moving this way!” announced Corey.
If it had been anyone else, I would have checked for myself to confirm. But everyone in the neighborhood knew her to be a weather freak. Always in control, always knowing what Mother Nature had in store for us. I always had this funny feeling that she saw herself replacing some local TV station meteorologist. It would be ever so common with bad weather approaching, to see her buzzing about the family TV, monitoring local Doppler as any other woman would the Home Shopping Network.
“Yup, should be coming through here in about a half hour or so,” she blurted. “Josh! Where are the kids?”
The clouds were already starting to roll into view; dark and ominous, like Medieval soldiers preparing for battle, masking the once-bright early evening sky with an atmospheric infection that set precedence for gloom, and in a matter of minutes, changed dusk to the darkest of night.
“The kids are in their rooms,” I said. “Honey, it’s just a little storm. No reason to get all crazy!” Even though I made this statement, I knew there was no changing her and how she felt when it came to storms. At times it was entertaining, watching her get all worked up over weather that didn’t really warrant the kind of attention she gave it. But maybe this time, maybe just this one time, she had every reason to feel the way she did. And as I glanced out the back window, I could see the wind had picked up, sending waves of rain across the schoolyard, pelting everything in its path. “Wow!—this all came a little sooner than you predicted,” I said with a smirk.
“Hey, I can only go by what that idiot weather guy said would happen! I told you he sucks!”
“Well, maybe he…”
“No—he sucks!” she interrupted.
Just then, a blinding flash, which seemed to sustain so long that the night had reverted back to day again, was almost immediately supported by an earsplitting crash that resonated through the house, and out my family’s screaming mouths. I glanced over my shoulder to see the three of them huddled together, eyes wide, waiting for the end of the world.
“Guys, guys—it’s just a storm!” I said, trying not to show my own concern and waiting for my goose bumps to subside. But the storm wasn’t about to subside; at least not any time in the near future.
With the next flash of light, Corey let out a cry resembling the antics of an Army drill Sergeant. “That’s it, everyone in the basement—now!”
Corey and Alley rushed the stairs so fast their feet seemed to become a separate entity apart from the rest of their bodies, while Shane, trying not to succumb to the fear, wanted to remain with his Dad and ride this wild ride out. “Shane! Now!” barked the sergeant from below.
“You better go, Bud”, I said, as I looked at him with a consoling grin. “You know how your Mother gets!”
“Whatever!” Shane scoffed, as he proceeded slowly down the stairs.
“Sorry Bud!” I yelled.
A few seconds later, I could hear Corey ask, “Sorry about what?” “Nothing, Mom.” “No really—what?” “Nothing!” Shane reported angrily for the second time.
“Honey, Are you coming down?” yelled the sergeant.
“No, I’m going to watch the weather. I’ll keep you guys posted!” Alone, I could now enjoy the excitement of the storm, which didn’t seem to be letting up. In fact, the clouds had become massive and congestive, while the wind was now making the trees bow with its tremendous force.
For whatever reason, I began to envision a person caught out in the storm. A man fighting the good fight, sheltering his face from the needle piercing drops of rain that hammered his body with one arm, while clinging to a small tree, or maybe a fence with the other, screaming obscenities for putting himself in such a predicament.
Then, with the next flash of light, I saw something across the field, at the northwest corner of the school. Was it…? I couldn’t be sure, maybe with the next flash. It was too dark. I needed light again. Just another flash and—there it is again! It was a man. Come on storm, give me another! I paused then quickly ran to my bedroom, and went through the closet looking for binoculars.
When I returned to my post at the rear window, the flashes seemed to be happening in closer intervals. I looked out into the blackness, and across the field towards the school where I had seen the man. I raised the binoculars to my eyes and waited. As if the storm kept me in limbo, I continued to wait.
Then, a long sustained flash and he was there. Hands at his side, and face pointed down. Only he didn’t seem to fight the wind, didn’t seem to be affected by it, or the rain, at least not in a negative way. It’s as if he welcomed it, almost nourished by its effects on him. Then came darkness again.
I felt a bead of sweat run down my left temple as I turned to look at the digital clock display illuminating from the cable box. The lights! The school’s exterior security lights were on a timer. They came on every night at exactly eight o’clock, and to my amazement, it was three minutes till.
I raised the binoculars again, and waited for a flash. He was still there! Who was he, and what was he doing? Then darkness. Two more minutes! I was now beginning to sweat at both temples, and the nape of my neck. I was shaking.
The sarg called up to me. “What’s going on now, honey?”
One more minute! Please, another flash! One more before the lights! But, only darkness. Just when I heard the rain begin to slow its rage, the school lights popped on—and there he still remained. I raised the binoculars, just as he began to slowly raise his arms from his sides, as if he were nailed to an imaginary cross. He looked to be bald, with a tattered black shirt and pants. And as I made an attempt to adjust the focus, he did something I wished he hadn’t. He slowly raised his head in my direction, tilted it ever so slightly to his left, and with one more flash of lightning, revealed a smile on his wet, dripping face. Through the lens, his eyes looked straight into mine.
A hand touched my right shoulder, sending me into the window screaming out, “What the fuck!” as I stepped back. Then I began pacing backwards towards the kitchen, but still repeating “What the fuck!” Partly because of being caught off guard, but mostly because of what I had just seen. What had I just seen? Dear God in Heaven! What had I just seen?
“Good thing the kids are still downstairs. Nice mouth babe! What’s the matter with you, are you okay?”
“I don’t know!” was all I could muster. One thing I did know was I didn’t want to go back to that window! I was shaking so bad that I had for the moment, forgotten all about the storm.
“Honey, you’re starting to really scare me! What the hell’s going on with you?”
Avoiding all questions, and regaining my composure, I slowly made my way back to my post. Still shaking and hesitant, but feeling an urgency I couldn’t explain, I looked again out the window, and across the field. No one was there. Not now, maybe not ever. Did I have some crazy dream? But I was awake! “Wasn’t I?”
“Weren’t you what?” snapped Corey. Realizing that I had said my last thought out loud, I consciously replied, “Damn lightning—scared the hell out of me!”
“You? Mister Tough Guy? Mister I Love Storms?”
“Whatever!” I replied.
“Yeah, whatever, tough guy!” she said with a grin, as she turned and made her way across the kitchen and down the basement stairs. I then heard Corey mumble something to the children, which was followed by a group chant: “Daddy’s-a-scaredy-cat!”
And as I looked back to the binoculars on the floor, and slowly lifted my gaze to the dark window, I whispered quietly to myself, “You have no idea.”
I had every reason to believe that I would never sleep that night. Lying in bed, staring up past my ceiling and out into the vastness of everything I didn’t know, and possibly could never understand without answers. Trying so desperately to process, and yet, wanting so badly to forget, my brain soon became numb with the battle as it shut down, leaving my senses to slumber.