Illustration by Popularium
Like an air raid siren, the Weather Service alarm booms out of the television speakers.
“A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for the following counties,” the monotone voice says, then begins a list of every county in the state.
Ignoring it, my father asks, “Are you interested in the Batman movie?”
Of course I’m interested in the Batman movie.
“Wanna go get some dinner and then see it?” Before I could answer, we hear the first clap of thunder. It echoes loudly and the polyrhythmic tapping of a downpour begins.
My father is an old-school guy. He’s worked in paper mills, graveyards, and nuclear power plants. He will only refer to the Navy as “the US Navy, the greatest Navy in the world.” When fishing with his friends, they use “Indian names,” like “He Who Has Short Rod,” “He Who Fears Eels,” or “He Whose Eyes Do Not Blink.” He’s seen every John Wayne movie and episode of The Lone Ranger. Not even the nastiest thunderstorm is going to alarm him.
I’m a kid. I’m working on three coloring books. I have a spelling test coming up.
I’m a kid. I’m working on three coloring books. I have a spelling test coming up. I’m much more worried about the storm. The rain is heavy. There’s hail in nearby counties. The thunder hurts my ears with its claps, then echoes a reminder of doom. Lightning comes down in clusters, creating electric trees in the sky. One… Two… Three… Four… All the way to ten. We’re still safe.
By the time we’re driving out of our small town, visibility is low and I count fewer and fewer seconds between thunder and lightning. With every clap, I squirm and move further down in my seat.
One… Two… Three… It’s getting closer.
Then, a few hundred feet behind us — a much different sound.
I imagine the sound of the wheels crushing his spine.
I whip my head around just in time to see the crash. A driver is thrown from his car, slides across the road like he’s on a slip-and-slide, and disappears under a halting semi. A Toyota must have T-boned him while he was attempting to switch lanes. And in the rain, the semi driver must have had no chance of reacting. I imagine the sound of the wheels crushing his spine.
I puke a little in my mouth and turn back around. My father breathes heavily and clenches the steering wheel harder. The highway traffic stops for a minute. No one knows what to do. Sirens blare in the distance.
We make it safely to the diner, relieved. We order our food and make small talk. The diner’s quiet; everyone in the room is on edge because of the storm, sitting in awe like farm animals sensing dangerous weather. Not sure what to do next. I can’t take my eyes off the window, watching the rain and the lightning dance through the fog, slack-jawed at the destructive force. Butterflies in my stomach dance to the thunder’s beat.
Sitting in silence, Dad and I order a few more caffeinated refills than we normally would — coffee for him, soda for me — becoming refugees of the storm. Eventually we decide to face it. With jackets over our heads, we run for the car. Dad starts it and backs up carefully. A few minutes later, we’re back on the road.
The downpour is torrential, everyone’s driving cautiously. Dad speaks like he’s asking for my input, when he’s really talking to himself, “Should we see if we can wait this out a little longer?”
Fear keeps me from speaking, but my mind says yes. At the first opportunity, we take a right into a long driveway. We can’t see anything through the fog.
The pitch-black silhouette of a tree forms. As it gets closer, lightning cracks. It reveals the scene. We’ve turned into a graveyard.
Another crack. Branches snap. The tree in front of us falls. I scream while Dad throws it in reverse. Limbs hit the hood of the car. The tires struggle to catch on the wet gravel. Blood vessels bulge in my father’s face. Then the car finally shoots backwards.
Thoroughly frightened, we get back on the road. Dad is now an over-cautious driver, but I don’t mind.
At 8 o’clock we get to the theater, grab our tickets, and are in our seats by 8:15.
When the movie starts, I forget all about the storm. The Caped Crusader’s first appearance is thrilling. Batman punches bad guys, fights dogs, and handcuffs impostors.
Someone in the back clicks a flashlight, and a huge Bat-Signal appears on the dark screen.
Then everything goes black. The sound of thunder fills the theater. We’ve become scared farm animals again. There’s an air of confusion, a questioning chatter. Someone in the back clicks a flashlight, and a huge Bat-Signal appears on the dark screen. A few others with the same toy follow suit, and the chatter turns to laughter. Soon the movie restarts.
When the movie ends, the storm has lessened. Dad and I talk now, discussing how The Dark Knight is our new favorite Batman movie.
“Wanna go get ice cream, buddy?”
Soon the movie restarts.
At 11 pm, we are perched on a picnic table with ice cream cones in our hands. Lightning flickers around faraway mountaintops, thunder plays a sweeter symphony with the rain’s percussive accompaniment. Nature’s music overwhelms me; the beauty in it has escaped me for my first decade of life.
I may be dreaming, but later that night I see a bat fly through my window and I embrace the fear. In the distance, lightning strikes behind a mountain range, breaking the darkness with light and a spiky silhouette, calling out for a fearless man. One who has witnessed death.
Things will never be the same.