May 1, 2016
It Was a Bright and Stormy Night
It was a bright and stormy night. I sat in the car white knuckling the steering wheel as lightning struck every few seconds. It hadn't been this bad when I'd pulled out of the parking lot a minute ago. Somehow in sixty seconds it had gone from a normal thunderstorm to Apocalypse Now. The world existed in fiery flashes --- one moment literally as bright as the noon day sun, the next moment the world disappeared, plunged into utter blackness. Or so it seemed. I was on a main road; I knew there were lighted business signs, parking lot lights and headlights that would have provided plenty of illumination under normal circumstances. But these weren't normal circumstances. I was flash blinded by the lightning, my eyes unable to adjust to the brief moments of lower illumination between the strikes of lightning. More than anything it reminded me of a strobe light at a dance --- seeing the world only in frozen glimpses, the people around you moving in stilted jerks, the alternating light and darkness confusing your sense of kinesthesia.
Except instead of the only danger being a harmless bump into someone on the dance floor, this time I was behind the wheel of a car driving on a rain slicked road trying to get home after a dinner with work colleagues. My neighborhood was maybe a mile and a half straight down the road from the restaurant.............normally a quick and easy drive, but not tonight.
If there was a time gap between the lightning and the thunder it wasn't discernible to human senses. You'd have needed equipment capable of measuring microseconds. The thunder reverberated like I was inside a god's kettledrum and this god was pounding away like a two year old having a temper tantrum. The rain coming down was steady, but not too hard. I'd seen far worse rain. But I'd never seen worse lightning. And living along the Gulf Coast, I'd had plenty of experience with lightning.
But not like this.
The lightning was all around the car. Noon. Midnight. Noon. Midnight. Noon. Midnight.
Along with the fear, I felt a sense of awe. Never had I known that lightning could be this bright, that it could turn the world into daylight indistinguishable from the brightest sun.
If I'd had to drive further than just down the road, I wouldn't have driven. But there's something about being so close to home when you're in a dangerous situation that you want to be at home. At least that's the only reasoning I can now come up with for why I didn't pull the car into another parking lot and wait it out.
I don't know how long it took to drive home. It felt like forever. Time lost all meaning as the only thing I concentrated on was memorizing the road in the bright flashes so I could drive in the pitch black moments.
It was with profound relief that I pulled into my garage that night and closed the garage door behind me.
The next day I found out it was a tornado.
The motel next to the restaurant had been hit along with cars in the parking lot. I think the roof of the motel ended up on the cars. I hadn't heard the tornado; peal after peal of thunder had drowned out the freight train roaring of the tornado. I hadn't seen the tornado as I kept my eyes fixed to the road in front of me, not looking in my rear view mirror.
But tornado it was. Which explained a lot about one bright and stormy night.
I have always felt a sense of sympathy for Edward Bulwer-Lytton who's taken such heat for writing what's commonly thought of as the worst opening line in literature, "It was a dark and stormy night." What a thing for a writer to be known for. I've never read Paul Clifford, the book it came from. But I have seen dark and stormy nights. I have also seen bright and stormy nights. If you've been in enough storms, you know "dark and stormy night" is legitimate description. I've been in a storm so dark, where the skies have opened up so that even in daylight it was impossible to see through the walls of gray water that had been unleashed. And I've been in storms where it's been bright because the violence of the storm is from the lightning, not the rain. Or even storms where only part of the sky is covered so you have the moonlight or the sunlight diffusing in from the clear section.
Hence, I have always wanted to write something that began with "It was a bright and stormy night." So decided to tell this anecdote of one very bright and stormy night.
For more about stormy weather, there's "Storm Over Pensacola Beach," "Let the Hurricane Roar -- 'Cause What Can I Do about It Anyway?" and "Stormy Weather Cats - Fear and Learning in Cats."
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