Three weeks in the midwest and it’s been all about managing expectations of weather. Early on I was telling a local gentleman that I heard bad Spring weather was coming our way and how I missed a good storm and couldn’t wait for it to get here already. He looked at me like I was nuts. He told me to be careful what I wished for. He turned away.
Since our move to the west coast — with our Midwestern family and friends opining on the dangers of earthquakes and joking about California falling into the ocean — I’ve missed hearing a good thunder crash, missed seeing the bold flashes of light across a daytime sky that can go dark at three in the afternoon and set you back with a scare. When I was little, my grandmother loved sitting out on the front porch swing and telling scary stories while we waited for the Missouri storms to come. Storms were the perfect background for what she liked to spin, stories full of vampires and werewolves and dark castles with coffins in locked chambers and lightening flashing outside too-tall windows. Candles would be blown out by unexpected winds (ghosts). Lights would flicker and go out (more ghosts). The men in Grandma’s stories were charming but hiding madness and evil secrets. But the women. The women in my grandmother’s stories were always young, always unusually beautiful, always desired and even craved by the devils (man and ghost) who came to call during the rage of a storm. The women would use the storm flashes and lack of light to hide, to show their smarts and cleverness, to trick, to buy themselves more time, to escape. To save themselves.
When my husband and I first got married, our house sat atop a hill. The bedroom was on the second floor, and when I knew a storm was coming I would run upstairs, like a kid, and call my mother and sit cross-legged in the middle of the bed and talk to her while I watched the sky turn darker and the treetops blow. Mom told me how Grandma, even when she was young, loved nothing better than to sit on the porch telling stories, waiting for a storm to blow in. Storms broke up the monotony of long, miserably hot, summer days. Storms cleared the air. Storms, in a strangely reliable way, brought the unexpected. Storms meant the whole family might have to run to the basement and huddle down, and being together like that meant not feeling so alone. Storms brought the chance to feel alive and, for a little while, escape a world controlled by my powerful grandfather — the charming madman with his secrets. A world that, to the beautiful women trapped in the house, often felt flat, and stuck, and dead. It’s only now, looking back, that I can see it was the women and the storms — never the vampires or the werewolves or the men — who held the all power.
I hate to admit it, but the local gentleman was right. These last few weeks have been exhausting, and even terrifying. In my last decade in California, I’ve experienced exactly one earthquake that lasted, maybe, 25 seconds. It was scary, yes, but one thing in 10 years feels like such a relief. I’m back in storm country and I’m tired of being awakened at 3 am (like last night) and running around the house with a flashlight checking for a flood. I’m tired of listening to the dog pant and pace because he knows to be scared. Storms have lost their pull on me. Now, when I hear the rumble of thunder rolling in, I worry and feel trapped. Now that I can’t call my mother from the second floor bedroom while I watch the sky go dark. Now that my grandmother is not longer here to tell me a story about a clever, beautiful young woman who knows exactly where to hide and how to escape. Now that I’m not the little girl, safe, or so my grandmother’s stories assured me, on the porch swing.