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Here is what you know now that you didn’t know eight hours ago:
When you are on the beach, collecting shells with your kids in the rain, and thunder rolls, you should run.
When you are on the beach with your kids in the rain, and thunder rolls, and their hair (and yours) stands on end, you should not laugh and take photos.
Here’s what it means when your hair stands on end during a thunderstorm:
You are most likely about to be hit by lightning.
In the past two weeks, lightning has come up again and again in conversation. It’s your birthday dinner. Your nephew shows up unexpectedly. Rowing practice was cancelled due to threat of thunderstorms.
Why? The kids want to know. Why?
Because of lightning, he says. He explains how the lightning would seek him on the water, in his metal boat. Granddad explains about conduction.
The Bun worries. What if? What if? WHAT IF?
“It’s not going to happen,” you say. “It’s like winning the lottery. Your odds are so remote.”
Then the weather makes you a liar.
Every year, the middle weekend of June means a holiday. The same hotel and routine. Day one: checking in, swimming in the pool, a walk on the beach. The second is mini golf, bumper boats, the park. The third is the water park, building the island and waiting for the tide to come up. On the fourth: check-out, Smitty’s, the arcade, the other beach.
This year, everything went wrong.
The hotel pool was closed for health reasons. The hotel’s movie network was down.
The hotel elevator was out of service.
The Bun’s foot was sliced open on a broken shell. He fell and sprained his other ankle. The Birdy coughed and coughed.
The tides worked in reverse, coming in when you wanted them out, going out when you needed them to come in.
You ate ice cream. The crows ate the French fries in vinegar. You stayed up too late. You found sand dollars, shells and things that were funny.
The big beach is the last big adventure. You take donuts and frozen drinks. The sun skitters behind a black cloud. It starts to rain.
The thunder claps and The Birdy says, “We are brave, aren’t we, Mummy? We don’t care if we get WET.”
Yes, we are, my darling girl. We are the bravest. “Sure,” you say. “We’ll dry off in the car.”
When The Birdy’s hair started to rise, you all laughed. You took a picture. Her hair pulled free of her braid and reached up toward the thunderhead.
“Look at her HAIR!” The Bun said. “LOOK at it.”
They bent over, laughing. “Look at MUMMY!”
You could feel it waving over your head. Flowing up. You made a face. They howled with laughter.
Static, you thought, from the playground slide. But you weren’t on the playground slide.
Then something electrical snaked up your legs, a feeling, like dread approaching the wrong way. The hair on your arms prickled sharply.
“Get back to the car,” you said. You willed yourself to not throw up. What you felt like doing was screaming. What you knew you should do was …
Well, you had no idea.
“NOW,” you said. “MY CAMERA IS GETTING WET.”
Why didn’t you say “RUN”?
You will sit on the couch much later, asking yourself this. You knew it wasn’t right, what was happening. But you weren’t sure. Not 100 per cent.
All you knew was that your hair should not be doing this and neither should theirs.
“HURRY,” you said in your
mad voice. “RIGHT NOW OR SO HELP ME.”
“Right now?” they said, mid-laugh, their hands hovering in the cloud of hair above them.
“RIGHT NOW,” you said. “OR I’LL TAKE EVERYTHING AWAY.”
It took forever or 10 minutes.
You made it to the car. The thunder crashed so intensely, you could feel it in your jaw.
You texted your ex. “What does it mean,” you type, “when your hair stands up in a thunderstorm?”
“GET INSIDE,” he texted back. “NOW.”
You stepped on the gas like you were making a getaway. Which of course you were.
Several miles down the road, you call your mom. “Well, maybe you should buy a lottery ticket,” she says.
“I think I just used up all the luck,” you say, your heart hammering on your sternum like it’s a door that may open.
“Who was the goddess of lightning?” your mom asks.
“I don’t know,” you say. “I have no idea. Why?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “It just seemed important.”
When you get home, finally, hours later, you Google it. And now you are on the Internet, and even though you don’t really want to, you type: Hair standing up thunderstorm.
That’s when you find the picture of the two boys, laughing, their hair standing up, minutes before the lightning struck them and killed them.
Going through your own pictures, you find the one of The Birdy, laughing, hair everywhere. And you feel sick. Your knees are still buzzing strangely, from adrenalin or electricity.
The things you now know about lightning:
The goddess of lightning is Astrape.
If your hair stands on end, get inside. FAST.
If you can’t get inside, crouch down on the balls of your feet. Head down. Touching the ground as little as possible.
And sometimes – sometimes – lightning lets you get away.