Here’s how it went down:
I was on my computer when the thunderstorm began, and like any smart girl would do, I shut the thing down because I didn’t want it to get fried in the event of a lightning strike.
We lived out in the woods, and often lost power during these storms, and I remembered that I had wet clothes in the wash that I needed to get into the dryer quickly, just in case this storm did knock out the power.
I went down to the basement as the thunder rumbled and transferred the wet clothes into the dryer.
Like I had done hundreds of times before, I reached out and pushed the start button — and that’s when it happened.
I remember a bright blue flash of light, a searing pain in my legs, and the image of a lightbulb winking out above my head, and then everything was black.
I am not sure how long I was unconscious, but when I sat up in the dark basement, legs throbbing, I was about five feet away from the dryer I had just been standing against.
I didn’t know it then, but the force of the flash of lightning lifted me up off the ground and threw me back. I had landed on my butt and then fell back and hit the back of my head, which knocked me out.
I was scared, in pain, and alone in the house.
I remember a long, slow scoot up the stairs on my butt, because both of my legs below the knee were on fire with pain, and I couldn’t feel my feet.
Just as I reached the top of the stairs and fell back into the hallway, my mom arrived home from work and asked me what was wrong.
“I think I got electrocuted,” I told her.
It was one week after my nineteenth birthday.
I explained what had happened to me as I was hooked up to monitors, an EKG, an IV, the whole works.
Just below the knees, both of my legs were beet red. I felt like my shins had been smashed by a car.
The emergency room doctors explained that what happened to me was called a side flash, or indirect lightning strike. It’s when lightning hits an object and that current moves through the object, comes out, and hits something else.
Aren’t I lucky it wasn’t a direct hit? they asked me as my legs throbbed and I wondered whether I would ever feel my feet again.
I was lucky.
I was lucky that it hadn’t been a direct hit, which could have killed me. I’m lucky that I didn’t get burned, only blasted by the energy of the lightning.
I stayed for hours in the emergency room as they waited for my heart rhythm to return to normal and to make sure my pee wasn’t turning brown, and that’s when I learned how lightning strikes can affect heart beats, cause seizures, and kidney damage among other terrible things.
I had just gotten hit in the legs with some energy. I would be bruised and numb, but I would walk out of there with no lasting effects.
That’s what they promised me when they sent me away with a clean bill of health.
No lasting effects, my ass.
I always come back to that moment.
That one, single second of my life in the midst of a million other seconds that had already and would later come to pass.
How is it possible that it just happened to be that at the exact moment I put my finger on that button, lightning struck the house?
It could have happened three seconds before, or three minutes later, and I would have been fine, but it didn’t.
That one second, that one touch of a button, and my life was changed.
Now I think a lot about odds.
What are the odds that a person will get struck by lightning in their lifetime? According to National Geographic, it’s about 1 in 12,000.
Okay, so I am not that unique, I think to myself.
There are thousands of other people who have been struck by lightning. I even knew one — a girl named Amy who had gotten struck while on a boat in Long Island Sound when she was just a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing, when she would tell that story. Now I wonder what happened to her as she got older.
I wonder if she goes back to that moment every day and wonders why — and how — the stars aligned for lightning to strike at that one particular moment it had the chance to do her harm.
My brain didn’t.
Now, I am afraid of everything.
Years ago I was diagnosed with a long list of disorders — depression, anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD.
I wonder, did the lightning break my brain, or was it only the fact of the lightning striking me that broke it?
I ask myself all the time whether I would have all of these mental health issues if had I not been struck, and the act of asking makes me angrier every time.
Why did this happen to me?
And if this happened to me, what other horrible things can possibly happen to me?
Well, all of them, of course.
I am the jumpiest bitch you know.
A car honking has the ability to give me a panic attack, the sudden assault to my ears stopping my heart and then making it race like it’s trying to beat right out of my chest.
When I hear a plane flying overhead, I expect it will crash into the house.
Why shouldn’t it?
It happens all the time.
Whenever I’m driving down a two lane road, I am always expecting a car to come crashing head on into me, because why not?
I live my life afraid because shit happens, and I am living proof that sometimes the worst, scariest shit happens.
It’s a wonder I still like swimming in the ocean, because of course I’m going to get attacked by a shark.
I certainly won’t be doing any laundry on overcast days.
This is no way to live, scared all the time.
According to friends and family, I have one of the “coolest stories” they’ve ever heard.
But it’s not just a story, it’s my life.
I can’t say that fifteen years has done anything to make the lightning strike have less of an impact on my life either — it actually seems like it’s gotten worse as the years have gone on.
I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the next horrible thing to happen.
I wish, as ever, that the scars on my brain will fade like the bruises on my legs, but after all this time I am losing hope that I ever will have a day go by that I don’t think of that one solitary, stupid moment, and what it did to me forever.