there's thunder in the sky now / by laurel

A correspondance. Part A is he. Part B is me.

L-

today was saturday, and it was a lazy, droning day. it was apathetic, and made me feel as though every small feeling of apathy during the summer is really it's defining point. This made me lazier and feeling more apathetic. You know the feeling, and you just can't shake it. If anyone would get it, it'd be you.

I was in lazy long beach and had to go to work. As I drove on the 22, a strange thing caught my eye- there was a thunderhead directly ahead of me. A great gray mass was exploding white out it's top. The further i drove, the less the sun had any say. It was a midwest invasion of california; a storm ditching the plains for the ocean. I just got this feeling, a feeling i had right before summer- the feeling that something big was on the horizon, like things were about to hit hyperspeed. In my head i wanted to see the storm explode all over LA and her dirty innards. I wanted the storm to come and explode all over me- literal rain that i usually hope works dually as metaphor. I wanted it bad and it was strange and now after a damn long night of work, the genuine thoughts and feelings have mostly dissappeared, and i can no longer tell what i was right on the edge of, and i can't quite feel what i might have been on the edge of. I thought about that great sunset in oregon you told us about once, the one with the violent pink. i want that too.

-J

....

J-

I saw that storm, too. I saw the sky and felt that damn oppressive heat--112! The horror! I could see Orange County plastic melting right off Orange County's emotionless face. I saw the sky shifting, moaning, groaning under the weight of all that heat. I saw the mercury falling, creeping downward in an ominous--yet welcome--response to the looming cloud cover. I saw that searing pink sunset as we were driving away from it.

Why does it always seem like I'm driving away from something spectacular?

I wanted that thunder and lightning to be inside of myself. Obliterate my insides. Make way for something new, something different. All I really wanted this weekend was a hug, but instead I got a thunderstorm that refused to manifest its core in my belly; refused to wipe the slate clean.

Damn you, California. Damn you, hugless, emotionless, painless society. Damn you, thunderhead for withholding your fury. Damn anyone who has ever withheld anything for reasons they can't explain.

On Friday morning I was getting gas, almost pulled away from the pump with the nozzle still in my car, and my phone rang.  It was my mom.  I picked up and there was static, something in the air; it wasn't right. The mercury was falling.

"Are you on your way to work?"  Her voice sounded strained.  It wasn't right.  She was testing, testing to see where I was, what I was doing, who I was with.  The first thing I thought was that this was the equivalent of the dreaded, "Are you sitting down?"

Well yes.  I'm driving.  "Yeah...just left the gas station. What's up?"

"I have some bad news..."  I remember that tone in her voice.  That tone was there when my great grandmother died and cried spontaneously, though not out of grief.  That was the first person close to me who had died, but I remember the sound of her voice.  It recorded itself in my memory like an alarm ready to sound.  I only needed to hear it once to remember it forever.

And she had that tone today.

"What's wrong?" I ask, because that's what you ask.  You can't say to someone, "Stop right there.  Don't go any further! I don't want to know."  You ask because you do want to know, but everything in your body seizes simultaneously as if to say, "YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW."

You can't just say, "Abort."  You have to ask, "What?"  You have to know what comes next.  I didn't want to know what came next.

There was a deep breath.  My mom was gathering her strength.  "Al died this morning."

Sometimes I imagine how I might react the next time something tragic happens, the next time I hear that tone, and press the question, "What happened?" even though I don't want to know.  I imagine that it takes a while to sink in, that I sit down, that I hold my shit together and keep myself composed because I've got it so f*cking together.  

But I sucked for air and before I could even exhale the tears had traced a messy path down my face.  It was an instantaneous reaction both baffling and marvelous--how could I have felt so much, so quickly?  I'll never understand.  But I cried.  And my mom heard me choke and I could hear through miles and miles of telephone lines that her body reacts that way, too, and as we cried together on the phone, I realized we shared the same blood and I don't think I'll ever feel so close to someone, while so far away.  

We fought through the formalities while our faces contorted and our voices broke.  The cancer was worse than they thought.  He was doing so well, I said, the last I heard.  He went off the treatment and everything fell apart, she replied.  When's the funeral i don't know but Steven flew home last night and was going to visit him today and now it's too late are you okay? I don't know I don't know I don't know I don't know.  

My car crested the sloping curve of the 710 freeway.  But I was in the backyard in Oregon, the sun shining so brightly it bleached the light places white and stained the dark places black.  There were people everywhere, eating, laughing, talking.  I drifted inside to drop my purse off, and saw Al for the first time since the diagnosis.  My mom had that tone then, too, but there was hope in her voice and I stupidly held onto that hope, as though hoping keeps people alive forever.  

I didn't understand how cancer could eat away at someone, but I understood full well when I saw Al.  Frail.  Gaunt.  So thin, so little hair, his polo shirt--a size small, down from his previously robust XXL--blousing around his torso.  His skin sagged, created craters and rivets along his frame.  It was as if he were being eaten from the inside out by termites.  He recognized me and I pretended not to notice the physical shell that was betraying him right before my eyes.  I acted like everything was normal.  I acted like I didn't notice.  I acted happy to see him, but I was secretly terrified and shaken to the core.  

I said hello but what I wanted to say was, I love you. I love you. I love you.  You are part of what makes me who I am, part of what allows me to love. When I met you I was a child and you taught me how to grow up.  You told me, "God don't make no junk," and I believed you.  I believed you every time I thought maybe God had made a mistake or that perhaps there was an oversight.  I believed you when you said, every sunday, as we were bustling out the door of your classroom, "Hey!  I love you!"

No, I love you.

But I didn't say that.  I kept up with formalities, with picnic and backyard and cancer-free formalities.  I said my "hello's" and went in search of the Jell-O salad.  But I wanted to write to you and tell you how much you have meant to me over the years, and how I glowed from within every time you told me you were proud of me.

But I never did.
 

God, why didn't I?

You knew, right? I mean you knew I loved you back, and that you were important to me, and that you impacted my life far more than I had ever told you.  Please tell me you knew that...

And I thought to myself, the treatment is working.  He's been spared.  We've all been spared. 

But not everyone is spared.

Not Al.  Not me.  Not today.

I was not myself on Friday. I still thought of sarcastic comments, of jokes, of laughing and of life carrying on in a normal way, although a switch has flipped inside and I was painfully aware of my ability to compartmentalize emotion so easily. I could see myself, as if the day were continuing normally, as though I hadn't picked up my phone. Normalcy and Reality were at war with each other on friday.  I'm didn't pick sides, and I can't tell you who is winning now.  But sometimes today feels Normal.  And other times it is reality.  And every time it switches back and forth I feel as though I'm being smacked in the face.  

That rain never came. The lightning never erupted inside of me. The violent pink never materialized. I am listening to that Innocence Mission song, "Rowing on the Lakes of Canada," and I think I understand it now.


Look for me another time
Give me another day
I feel that I could change
Beneath the silver sky I need another day
I feel that I could change...
-Innocence Mission



-Laurel