I heard the first distant rumblings of thunder and put down my glue stick. I looked around to gauge the reaction of the other students. Did they hear the thunder? Were they as nervous as I was? They kept cutting and gluing, either oblivious to or apathetic about the approaching storm.
It was the middle of a weekday afternoon in the summer of 1994. I was covering a brown paper bag with tinfoil to make an ‘astronaut helmet’. Some kids from my kindergarten class, from which we had just ‘graduated,’ milled about working on various summer school projects.
I looked out the window at the darkening sky and watched a small tree in the courtyard of Lewis Elementary sway in the breeze. A few moments passed and I thought, desperately wished, that maybe the storm was blowing in a different direction. I had even resumed gluing when I heard the second round of thunder, closer this time. Louder. I took an uneven breath. Lightning flashed, thunder clapped, and I began to panic. Noticing my classmates were fine, I not only grew more scared of the storm, but also increasingly embarrassed by my fear. A teacher noticed my distress and ushered me into a work-room in the middle of the pod which, importantly, had a phone and lacked windows. I called my mom and she tried to comfort me.
“You’re fine, hon. The storm will be over soon and you’re safe inside the building with your teacher,” I’m sure she said.
I returned to the classroom where giant raindrops blew sideways and splashed into the window, making an intimidating popping sound. Could water crack glass? Was I really safe inside?
I eventually calmed down, and the storm eventually passed, but it would not be the last day of summer school that I found myself in that cocoon of room talking to my mom about lightning and flooding under the fluorescent lights while other kids played games and did crafts.
It took me many years to befriend thunderstorms.
It was only when I moved away from the sunshine state that I realized something was missing if the sky darkened and the clouds emptied, but it wasn’t accompanied by rolling and grumbling, punctuated by flashes of light on the horizon. As author Eila Carrico writes in The Other Side of the River, “Without a good afternoon tantrum to break the tension, the place just doesn’t feel authentic.” Indeed, I can finally appreciate how the rumbling of thunder feels like a comforting release- a welcome break in the monotony of the otherwise vast and quiet sky above Florida’s flat landscape.
Now, I really miss those summer, post-storm dusks. The sky an enlightened grey. The air heavy and wet. The last bits of sunshine a glow of golden, plummy light. All convincing me that what needs to happen happens. The storms are alluring and demanding, dynamic impositions of the divine power of nature.
And then they are gone.
Can there really be a sunshine state without storms?