We've been having frequent and severe thunderstorms. Every afternoon the clouds build in the heat and every evening the lightning flashes, the thunder echoes between the mountains and the rain pours down. A few years ago, when I was living in what had been my childhood home, the house was struck by lightning. It had been a windless, hot day. There were clouds in the distance but nothing to indicate the kind of lightning bolt that came out of the blue (literally) and struck the peak of the house.
Burned scar just to right of roof peak where the lightning struck
I was on the front porch putting a batch of just picked tomatoes through the separator. I had my hand on the metal handle when the bolt struck. There was a tremendous BANG! My daughter came screaming down the stairs yelling about gunshots and I felt a horrible pain shoot through my arm and straight down the middle of me. Every hair on my head and arms was standing straight. I could not let go of the separator handle - it was as though my fingers were glued to the metal. Once the lightning bolt funneled through me to the ground, my hand came away from the handle, my knees crumpled and I fell to the floor.
My then partner Bob had been sitting in a chair on the porch, reading bits of the newspaper to me as I worked with the tomatoes. I remember catching a glimpse of his face as the lightning coursed through me. He said afterwards that he, too, thought the bang had been a gunshot and that I'd been hit, though he had no idea why my hair was "doing that funny dance" on my head. He rushed to help me off the floor and then, with thunder crashing and lightning suddenly sizzling all around us, he saw the boards that had been blown off the house. They were still smoking.
Bits and pieces of burned wood and the blasted off fascia board
"Fire!" he yelled and we sped up the stairs to the attic. An old mattress that had been leaning against some boxes opposite the window had a large, smoking hole in it. We grabbed it and hustled it down two flights of stairs and out into the pouring rain. Then we ran back in the house to see what else was burning. Under the attic window we could see the scorched path the bolt had taken. In the bedroom directly below, the bolt had exited just beneath the window, sending plaster dust clear across the room and embedding several rubber coated curtain hooks into the oak floor. We had to get a screwdriver to pry them out. Bits and pieces of charred wood littered the side yard.
The hole in the mattress where the bolt struck as it separated.
Almost all the appliances in the house were damaged. The well pump had been hit, the answering machine and the television would not work, and the stereo that had been plugged in but not turned on had its insides melted. It hissed and crackled until all the lightning in it ran its course. An insurance adjuster came to assess the damage. He said the heat inside the attic had attracted the lightning and added that it was a good thing the huge main bolt had split on impact. After it blew the fascia board off the roof peak and hit the mattress, one fork ran down the wall and emerged in the room below. The weakest fork hit me. "Otherwise," he said, looking at me and wagging his head slowly, "you'd be pfffft."
I wasn't pfffft, just badly frightened. I did have two small burns, one on the sole of each foot and for weeks afterwards my feet ached. Oddly, I began to remember things like long forgotten book and movie titles and events that had happened in childhood. I saw objects and colors with a clarity that has long since faded.
When I hear thunder now, I cringe and look about for a safe place to hide. The soles of my feet tingle and the hair on my arms begins to rise. I turn off the appliances and huddle under the kitchen table or curl up on the sofa with my eyes scrunched shut. I used to love the wildness of storms. Now they just scare me to pfffft.