The thunder says, I’m here for you. I’m here with you. You are not alone. Don’t be afraid.
I was wakeboarding last summer. When I say I was wakeboarding what I really mean is I was pulling myself upright once or twice, but mainly crashing gloriously into the lake. It was a fool-making experience, especially for someone who has spent her life making grace out of gesture. My early days were spent training to become a ballet dancer, perfecting the position of each finger, each pointed foot, the tilt of my head. A total devotion and dedication to creating a version of beauty I could control. On land, I was all poetry in motion. On the water, I was unmoored. My knees were unsteady, my legs pushed down hard against the board to find my footing; I would locate my balance for a split-second, then bite it moments later. The lake turned my adult body into a teenager’s, awkward and flailing.
The thunder says, you are not in charge here. Take cover. I’ll take it from here. Get inside. Pull over to the side of the road.
My husband, my sister, my brother-in-law: all of them were able to stand up with ease. My daughters and I watched them surf the manufactured waves being propelled from the back of the motorboat designed specifically for that purpose. They made it look easy. I secretly hoped my turn would be cut short.
As a kid, I went to ballet class every day. I practiced the way most children play. Dancing was my natural state; in stillness, I found no joy. When I ask my parents why they put me into class, they don’t even have the right words to describe it. They say, “It was so obvious.” I think what they mean is that my tiny body was already a force of its own.
“We’ll head back in a minute.” The captain of our boat panned the sky with his gaze, eyes squinted, assessing the incoming weather. “Wanna take one more turn, honey?” My gut said no; my pride nodded yes. I wiped the water from my face, tried to look game, and as the boat took a wide turn, lining up the trajectory for my last try, the sky downshifted into darkness, the particular color of purple-yellow sky that’s reserved for bad omens. Another attempt, another spectacular splash into the lake. I reached for the edge of the boat, missing it by an inch in my exhausted state.
The thunder says, get out of the water, now.
Thickness settled in the air. Then, a crackly sound, like paper being crumpled up in hands or a cassette tape played in fast-forward, followed quickly by an enormous bolt of lightning and a sonic boom to match. My ears rang.
When I was 19 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to quit ballet. I felt so tired. I’d trained at the best schools, auditioned for my favorite companies, but I had no job offers and very little desire to keep training for something that felt unattainable. I was told year after year in a variety of ways, just wasn’t the right shape, the right size. There were some things I couldn’t control.
The thunder says, get out.
A sharp intake of breath. Electricity ripped through the water, simultaneously punching my middle from all sides. A guttural cry shot from my body as my hands struggled to hang onto the edge of the boat. I heard voices shouting “Get her in!” My body lifted into the boat, dripping, still vibrating. The captain took a hard right, turning the boat on itself, moving fast toward the dock. My legs wobbled as my husband hurried up the hill toward the house, his hand on my back, steadying me. Another boom, this one louder than before. I could hear one of my daughters crying.
The lightning before the thunder is a spoiler alert, is a warning sign, a flash in the pan, the sharp diagonal light before the sound, a promise.
I asked him if my hair had turned white; I wondered if that joke was funny.
As we walked into the house, the children were shaking, their bodies reverberating from the thunder. Under my breath I whispered, “I got struck by lightning.” Someone cracked open a cold can of Miller Lite and passed it to me in a koozie. I drank fast, still dripping in my suit, towel wrapped tight around my shivering body. I made the joke about my hair changing color again. My internal organs vibrated, seemingly rearranged. The exterior of my body radiated with power. I tipped back my beer and drank the last of it.
I was never a great jumper; grande jetés were never my forte. Adagio was my specialty, each limb slowly unfurling into the air and held there indefinitely, floating. I could locate a center place inside that made me grow two inches taller with a single breath.
The lightning is a spark, ignited. The water is my body, a conductor of electricity.
When I replay these stories, which I sometimes do, I see the lightning cut through the sky in a flash, the thunder throwing its sound through the air and water, traveling at light-speed through the water and penetrating from all sides, my body its conduit. I see myself, one foot connected to the ground, the rest of me extending upwards past the ballet studio and into the clouds. I see my body suspended in air, perfect in its symmetry and beauty. With a single strike, I had been charged with something extraordinary. Now, it seemed possible that I could pass a hand over the surface of the lake and turn it to ice, spin water into sugar, touch an object and make it gold.
The thunder says, I am in control, but it’s me who is in charge.
Lauren Sharpe is a theater-maker and educator. She lives with her family in Brooklyn. More of her work is available at laurensharpe.com