I sat on the front stoop two nights ago watching lightening to the east. I was taking the garbage out when it caught my eye. Every fifteen seconds or so it would pulsate, momentarily making the leaves and branches of the canopy of maple trees light up then go dark again. Underneath this heavenly play, I could see the neighbor’s darkened living room occasionally go from black to gray to white again from a television I imagined playing in the otherwise quiet house of the woman who lives there alone. Eerily, this techno light echoed the movement in the sky.
I decided to sit and watch this show not just to take it in, but to call it forth. It has not rained here in recent memory. The gardens are drooping. Yards dead. Even the mosquitos have disappeared. Earlier that night, a big oak had fallen over on a power line and taken out the energy for a big patch of town, including our house. I’d sat all afternoon and into the evening in silence, the dog at my side. Slowly, I’d gone through a pile of papers I’d been meaning to sort. Before my phone went dead, I got texts from friends: “Do you have power?” “Do you want to come over here?” I fretted a little about the contents of my fridge, but otherwise I could tell that by getting quiet and slow I would be fine. The next day, a friend whose family lives in the Middle East where power outages are a daily fact chided me for being “such a white girl.” She is right, I know, and yet I also know that we need to recalibrate the way we live if we’re going to be ready for days and nights of hanging with the 104-degree humid blanket that’s spread itself over us this summer. We need, for starters, to connect to each other more.
When the power first went out, I’d walked down the street with my dog and found a little cache of neighbors on the sidewalk discussing the situation. It was the most people I’d seen on my street in ages, and it was nice to stand and talk – even if there were rivulets of sweat racing down my back. My only neighbors who were porch sitters and front yard talkers, who would stand and gab, have moved and I miss our lazy banter.
Watching the lightening, I thought of them and wondered if maybe they were getting actual rain over in the part of the state to which they’ve moved. I thought of my kids across town with their dad and wondered if they saw the light show, too, or were wrapped up in a movie unawares. I even wondered if my dad from his spec of the universe, wherever he is in his after-death space, might see it. My mind went also to the summer of ’88, when I lived with three guys from college and we worked as student advisers for university orientation. It was over a hundred degrees a dozen times that summer, and we would drag our mattresses into the living room to share the single window AC unit. We ate many dinners at Denny’s and then finished the evening at a downtown bar, nursing G & Ts to make the cool air last before biking home. Middle aged men, they now live in New York and Seattle – off in their own summers, under their own skies.
The lightening grew fainter and less frequent, a labor that would not bring forth a water baby – at least not here, not now. I went inside and opened the refrigerator to take out the cold water pitcher, thankful for and wary of this device that had stopped humming earlier in the day. Conscious of the much greater humming overhead.