The Night We Stayed Up, Counting Lightning

Another summer day, another golden chapter in the story of stinging sunburns, chlorine, and fresh watermelon, comes to an end. As the grapefruit sun juices itself atop the sharpest peak of the Rocky Mountains, the beggar sky rushes forward to drink. The blood-orange manna rolls down its chin and then its neck, staining its blue skin brilliant shades of orange, pink, and yellow. Following the feast, the sky lapses into a deep, deep slumber. Except instead of sweet dreams, its sweet supper induces bitter nightmares- blurry, dense, tumultuous nightmares. The sky rolls over in its heavenly bed. Then it starts to snore.

Twenty-seven…twenty-eight…twenty-nine… Steven and I perch ourselves on the windowsill in our shared bedroom and count the number of lighting bolts exploding from the sky and collecting in the earth. Together we will spend the next 2 hours watching the sky and earth communicate. But you see, their conversation is a scholarly and thoughtful one, and sometimes several minutes pass before vocalization occurs. It makes no difference to us. We scrutinize the sky like the most meticulous detectives trying to unveil secrets tucked up under the clouds. Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Our bedroom is on the upper level of the house. We live at 4304 Muirfield Drive. From our windowsill we can see for miles: the brown ocean of prairie; the Harley Davidson building at the edge of town (just this year it was blown over in a windstorm); and farther still, the silhouette of the rock giant, Pike’s Peak, named after Zebulon Pike, an American explorer of the late 18th century.

Our beds are both twin-size and have matching plaid comforters. Each bed has a hand-painted headboard with a tropical fish in the center. Similarly, the wall that the headboards rest upon is painted in shades of blue waves, with fish stickers glued to it. I used to lie on my bed and stare at the wall, finding faces in the shades of blue. They stared back at me, but it wasn’t creepy. It was home. Tonight, the faces sleep under the mask of the night, but the semi-frequent flashes of lightning startle them.

Thirty-five…thirty-six…

We had an aquarium once, with real fish. It was a freshwater. Fifteen gallon, high. Eight or nine fish. One frog. A couple of albino snails. It sat on a dresser against the wall opposite our beds, centered with the gap between them. I want to say that we loved it. But then I might be lying. Probably what happened is what usually happened with the “stuff” we had: it was novel and remarkable for a moment, but sooner or later lost its luster, and something else stole the spotlight of our fancies.

When we were younger and one of us had nightmares, instead of running to our mother and father, we would wake the other up, and slide our beds together to create a “super bed.” That way, we had the other nearby, as a sidekick, to battle the wretched dreams. Embarrassingly, I think I woke him up more often than he did me, even though I am the older by three years and three months. But that didn’t matter to us. There was never societal or hierarchal pressure for me to be a “big bad brother.” I didn’t have to appear tough when I was around Steven. When my girlfriend of two and a half years broke up with me last December, I cried into his arms for at least several minutes.

Forty-eight…forty-nine…

In the distance, the rain starts to fall; a grey, slanted smudge confirms this. It won’t be raining in Pueblo tonight. Storms often have this funny fear of Pueblo, and they circumvent the city as they tumble across the Midwest. When it does rain here, Steven and I race leaves in the little currents that develop alongside the curb. The first leaf to enter the gutter wins. When it does rain here, my siblings and I secretly pray for a hailstorm, while our parents pray for the cars and flowerbeds. When it hails, the four of us, Steven and I and our two older sisters, put bike helmets on our heads and run around outside in it. The sky loses its marbles and so do we.

Fifty-seven…fifty-eight…

Once during a hailstorm, I was parading around the yard with my helmet and swimsuit on, and a hailstone struck my big toe on my left foot and cracked the nail.

Fifty-nine…

Another flash illuminates the night. What terrible dreams plague the heavens tonight! In the distance, the prairie dogs are shaking with fear in their burrows: the jackrabbits, too. The birds departed as soon as the first drops splashed upon their wings. In their startled flight, did they shed any feathers?

Sixty-six…sixty-seven…

The feathers will be soaking wet by now.

Sixty-seven…

The frog died. All of the fish, save one, died, too. The albino snails lived, I think. Yes, they must have, but I cannot remember what we ended up doing with them after it was all over.

It was a Sunday. We had just gotten back home from a family trip. Don’t ask me where we were; I cannot recall. The tank desperately needed cleaning. Steven, my mother and I transferred the fish and the frog and the albino snails into a bucket of water and proceeded to clean the tank. But the obligation of Catholic mass interrupted the cleaning process. We left the fish and the frog and the albino snails in the bucket and went to mass. When we got back, all of the fish had jumped out of the bucket and onto the carpet. Later, we discovered the dead frog and began to ponder the unsolved mystery of its death. It was still in the bucket but for some unknown reason was floating, unresponsive. The bodies of the fish had gone limp and grey. We frantically scooped their slimy grey bodies up with our bare hands and put them back into the tank, where they promptly sank to the bottom, like silver coins in a wishing well. The irony was that these “coins” were both the means to the end and the desired end of our most pressing wish: live, live.

After half an hour, one had regained its color. It swam amongst the corpses of its former “tankmates” like nothing unusual had happened. Like it hadn’t just eclipsed the face of death and made it out alive. We buried the dead fish in the flowerbeds. Good fertilizer, my father said.

Seventy-one…seventy-two…

We left 4304 Muirfield Drive to a new home down the street when I was fourteen. I had spent the past eleven years of my life at 4304 Muirfield Drive. I had shared a room with Steven for that long, too. Our new house was three times larger than our old home. My new bedroom was more than twice the size of my old one, and I had it all to myself. But for the first few weeks after the move-in, Steven and I shared my queen-size bed. Our twin beds had been sold and our matching fish headboards were in storage. Steven didn’t have his own bed yet.

I remember one night Steven woke me up and claimed that something had bitten him. I rolled over in the darkness and turned on the lamp. Sure enough, red, inflamed abrasions stuck out of his shoulder. As if struck by a lightning bolt, we leapt from the bed and yanked off the sheets. A smashed scorpion lay in the exact spot I had been sleeping. Apparently, after stinging Steven, it had crawled across the bedspread toward me, but was smashed by me rolling onto my back in my sleep. Amazingly, there weren’t any marks on me. We awoke our parents, who treated the stings with some ointment, and sent us back to bed. Surely not to go back to sleep? I thought. And we sure as hell didn’t. For months afterward, both Steven and I checked, no, scrutinized our beds before sliding into them. I think he might still do that to this day.

It wasn’t home. It still isn’t. It is too big to feel homey. It is too new. I still have dreams of 4304 Muirfield Drive. I dream that I still live there. I dream that we still have Joey, our sugar glider, who after escaping his cage and defecating all over the house, was given to a neighbor whose cat ate him one night. But in my dreams he is alive and well and defecating healthily. I dream of the thirteen steps that lead into the basement and I dream of the wooden porch that gave me more than one nasty splinter. But mostly I dream of the bedroom I shared with Steven.

No, it will never be home. But now that I am away at college, I have learned something else, something more important. The location of home is irrelevant compared to the people of home. I lay in my twin-sized bed at night, with my roommate laying in his, and I imagine that it is not he, but Steven who shares the room with me.

Eighty-four…eighty-five…

We have a Play Station. We have a Game Cube. We have bikes and board games and action figures and toy cars. We have plenty of “stuff” to do tonight, but this evening calls for a change in pace. It calls for an acknowledgement and appreciation of the elements of the planet, and here we are, responding to the call. The lightning flashes. Ninety-seven… Our room progressively darkens and welcomes the shadows of the night, but neither of us dares to reach for the light switch, even though both of us are still a little bit afraid of the dark. Flash. Ninety-eight… At our young and tender age, we have already developed an appreciation for ambiance, and nothing is going to spoil this moment. This is home.

Ninety-nine…One-Hundred.

 

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5 thoughts on “The Night We Stayed Up, Counting Lightning

  1. This is a beautifully written piece. Very descriptive and full of imagery. “The location of home is irrelevant” that is an apt description, those around you are who make a home what is is. Great post!

    Like

  2. I just love this post, so much that I want to quote every bit of
    But I won’t. I’m going to pick one and it’s this:

    “I lay in my twin-sized bed at night, with my roommate laying in his, and I imagine that it is not he, but Steven who shares the room with me.”

    It’s my first year in college, but certainly not my first Sunday morning in my twin sized bunk bed in the dorms.
    I am half awake, I can feel this thin slice of sun shining on my face behind our cheap roll up curtain, and I hear people talking in the next room – our shared kitchen.
    And it’s almost like the sound of my mom and dad chatting in my home’s kitchen while preparing breakfast for me and my brother, with all its soft laughter and the clinks of the dishes. The sound I would hear every other Sunday morning, that music to my ears.
    Don’t get me wrong, these people weren’t even speaking the same language as my parents, but the haze of the morning combined with my very well suppressed homesickness downright tricked me – and I reveled.
    I don’t remember how long I layed in my bed with my eyes closed, probably not longer then five minutes, but I could swear I was home.

    Like

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