Anticipation by
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(135 Stories)

Prompted By Rainy Days

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These days I see rain primarily as a nuisance. A good thing after a late-season snowfall, but an annoyance when the dog needs a walk, a complication when driving or a frustration when wet, muddy trails preclude riding my mountain bike. But there was a time in my life when rain brought terror; existential dread and heart-pounding fear.

Summer nights brought the thunderstorms.

Summer nights brought thunderstorms.

As a kid I was preoccupied, obsessed, with nuclear annihilation. I am sure that my steady diet of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction played a part in this. By the time I was ten, I knew how fission and fusion worked, the half-lives of the major isotopes in fallout, and the gruesome symptoms of radiation poisoning. I knew what had happened to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; they did not become mutants with superpowers, not at all. I also knew all too well that my house was exactly ten miles from the Empire State Building.

Back then we could afford only one air conditioner, so my dad mounted it through the wall in the living room. My parents’ bedroom was off the living room, so my brother and I would drag our mattresses in front of the TV, they’d open the connecting door and we could all sleep in the cool.

In Chicago the big storms seem to hit in the afternoon and evening, but in Jersey they tended to arrive late at night or early in the morning. It usually started with me opening my eyes for no apparent reason.

I’d lay there in the now almost cold room, staring, listening, wondering why I was awake. Around the window shades, through the sheers, the streetlight directly across the street splashed geometric patterns on the walls and floors and us. I could hear my brother breathing, my Dad snoring, the familiar hum of the air conditioner. If I was lucky, the first hint I would have would be the rumble of distant thunder as the storm front approached. I knew that bombs don’t politely clear their throats to get your attention. More problematic was the sudden CRACK of a very close bolt, with its simultaneous flash of lightning. But again, I knew in a second that if I was still alive, not vaporized or charcoaled, not sliced, bludgeoned and eviscerated by shards of glass and tile and concrete,  it had to be just a storm.

The worst was when the sky and street lit up with silent, brilliant bluish-white light, throwing the TV and coffee table into stark relief with the glare that came around the shades. I’d start counting, oneonethousand, twoonethousand… I knew that if New York got hit, the shock wave would arrive about ten seconds after the flash. If it were handy, I’d quickly grab my little Sears transistor radio and click it on. If Musicradio WABC was still Playing The Hits and not the horrid CONELRAD tone, we’d be OK. Once night the song I heard was “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. To this day that tune makes me slightly uneasy.

Eventually the flashes and noise would fade. My pulse would slow. Lulled by the gentle, reassuring sound of the rain drumming against the sidewalk, I’d fall back into sleep.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.


Tags: rain, storms, thunder, lightning, dread
Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Dave for another of your wonderfully well written stories, full of descriptions and evoked memories that pull us right into your Jersey childhood with all its joys and fears.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Thanks, Dana! I can always find something to obsess over, for good or ill. I just realized that I misstated the delay between flash and sound; it’s about five seconds per mile.
      Of course, I didn’t realize then that my own hometown was a major target, so 2-3 seconds was probably what I’d have had….

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    In these days of incipient climate annihilation, it is easy to forget the terror we felt over nuclear war. Come to think of it, we should still have that terror, but it seems to fold into the larger existential threat anymore. You describe your childhood experience so vividly, with the mundane details that make it ever more real. I can only imagine being a child today.

  3. Jim Willis says:

    Well-told tale of your growing-up adventures with storms, Dave. It brought to mind some images from my own childhood days, growing up in the predictably fearsome spring and summer tornado seasons of Oklahoma. One scene you mentioned, however, was a carbon copy of my own experiences in summer: We had only one AC unit, too, and Oklahoma nights were sweltering. So we also dragged our mattresses into the front room, opened and front and back doors, and let whatever breeze there was, blow through. It seemed to work!

  4. Such finely detailed descriptions of two fears. I could feel both and remember both from my childhood.
    I only missed one potentiality.: your dog’s reaction. Barking, shaking, hiding under the bed, unconsolably frightened? Or scratching at the door for a good soaking?

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I shared your fear of nuclear annihilation as a child. My bedroom was in the front of our house, separated from my parents and brothers in the back. I wished I could join my family but instead I hunkered down in my tiny bedroom, alone with my nighttime fears.

  6. pattyv says:

    I read this the other night when we had a monster storm. As I sat in my room reading it, my two pups were shaking, barking, totally frightened. I actually had to stop and try to calm them down. The details you so expertly jot down on your terror of total annihilation made the actual storm secondary. Made me remember my fear of planes flying over me, would stand still, scrunch my eyes, pray, and prepare to be bombed. Sick, what a sick thing we lived through. And yet to realize how many innocents have truly lived and died under the reality of war makes my heart break.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Remembering the sound of the CONELRAD tone brought back childhood memories in stark relief, Dave. We, too, had violent thunderstorms and tornadoes in Detroit. We’d hide in a little storage room in the basement under the stairs, waiting for them to pass. Your fears of annihilation were well-founded, after seeing what the nuclear bomb could do (as we are so vividly reminded this summer by “Oppenheimer”). Your wonderful details make this story vivid for all of us.

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