DeJa Vu

Last semester began with broken toes, no internet, and a debilitating storm. I feel like i’m having deja vu. I broke my pinky toe. There was a big storm. There’s no internet. Here comes the mandatory orientation zoom call for the redemption semester in which everything was supposed to be different. Everyone keeps telling me that i will appreciate the roadblocks so much more once i’ve already climbed the hill. I’ll feel proud about having overcome them. I don’t understand this. I don’t ever feel pride in overcoming roadblocks; just a sudden relief that i’m done with that ridiculousness and a desire to prevent it from happening in the future. That is why when i realized i lived at one of the highest elevations in my town and lightening struck near the house during a storm causing a surge to travel to all the outlets in the structure, i had an electrician come out and install a surge protector on the utility pole outside. I didn’t think i’d be standing in those shoes again a year later.

The shift began just like any other. There was a chance of rain in the evening but when i arrived at work there was nothing on the radar. I remember just before sundown people began asking if they could go home and put the dogs up real quick so they wouldn’t be out in the lightening. Anyone who was given a chance to go home early due to overstaffing hurried to their car to “beat the approaching storm”. I had been working in the store all shift and hadn’t gone out to the parking lot. I asked, “what storm? Are we getting rain?” People looked at me as if i had asked what the statue of liberty was or whether kiwis had seeds. I went to the glass door and looked out on the parking lot. To the far side of the lot something dark and angry was brewing. It stretched out over the next 20 minutes and covered most of the sky. It was riddled with flashes of lightening and cast shadow on the far side of the parking lot. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the temperature began to drop. It went from 84 to 66 degrees within a span of twenty minutes. At this point i had been put on parking lot duty and i ran orders out to the cars under the increasing darkness of the looming storm. It began to drop little dollops of rain here and there. I tried to keep the smart phone and my glasses dry by placing them in the customers’ trunks briefly while loading the orders. They all wanted me to hurry so they could get out of there before the storm unleashed its wrath. It was the first time i had felt fear working at my job. I was assigned to the parking lot. I couldn’t leave. So, as the storm rolled in i had to continue running orders out to the cars. The lightening became closer and closer until it was all around us. The thunder was deafening, and the sky was completely overtaken with the view of the impressive storm structure. When the wind picked up and the temperature dropped i had a nagging feeling that i should get inside, but i couldn’t go. I had to stay there with the storm and do my job. Then in my absentmindedness i missed the handle of a bag i was retrieving from a slot and a can fell onto the floor. It ruptured and spun round and round in circles, spewing the contents in a high powered stream all over my shoes, my pants, my jacket, my arm, the floor, the carts, other bags, and the wall. I was immediately sorry for the mess that would have to be cleaned but my sorrow deepened when a coworker announced after taking a sniff, “is that wine?” Indeed, it was wine, not soda. What rotten luck. I avoided the wine tasting samples and cooking connection like the plague. As long as i didn’t smell it, there was no memory, no craving. If a wine bottled busted at checkout i walked all the way around. Wine and vodka had been a past time numbing agent for me. I had been sober over two years and had no desire to unravel everything i’d built. I immediately had a desire to change clothes. I knew i had to get the smell of wine off of me. However, i didn’t have a change of clothes in my car and nothing we sold in the store was appropriate to work in. I knew i had to stay until 8 pm and finish my shift out. I would have to do so stinking of canned wine. I willed my limbs to move and get back to my work but i guess i was nervous and fidgety because my team leader asked, “you okay?” The answer was yes. I got back to work. When the time came to break out the ponchos i refused mine. With every breath i took my mask filled with the scent of fermented liquid. I wanted it to cease. I thought maybe the rain would wash it off of me. I delivered the orders in my clothes while the others went into the rain rocking our banana yellow ponchos. Two orders later i was pulled from the parking lot and sent to the refrigerator to condense the cold carts. People were asking questions about why their curbie smelled of wine when delivering their order. I was grounded to indoor work for the rest of my shift, much to my dismay. At 8:03 i waited at the door while my team leader held an umbrella over my coworker’s head in the dark as he stood in the 70 mph winds and sideways rain, loading the groceries into someone’s trunk directly in front of our sliding door. When the lightening became too close and too prolific, they refused to have us in prolonged contact with the metal baskets, running them through the parking lot. Each customer was called when their order was in the basket and ready to go. They pulled the car up to the door and our team leader went out and held the umbrella over the curbie’s head while he loaded the groceries. They didn’t have to do that. It was up to each team leader how to treat the curbies. She was putting herself in danger with the metal umbrella so we didn’t get soaked or have to worry about electrocution ourselves. When she returned i waited eagerly for her to tell me i could go. I could see she wanted to ask me to stay late but she took another whiff of me and told me that if i wanted, i could dock my phone and go. I went.

I told myself, “you cannot have wine. There will be no drinking tonight”. However, something selfish and needy had awakened from its slumber in me and it would have to be appeased. I gathered a bag of chips, a package of popsicles, and a peanut butter bar. i said, “there. That’s plenty enough salt and sugar to keep you busy for a while. You cannot have wine. You can have snacks. Then we’re going to bed.” There was no place in my town that had a license to sell liquor. I knew, once i got to my town, as long as i didn’t drive back to the city, there would be no obtaining alcohol to drink. I was thankful for that. I was opening the store the following morning. I would need to wake up at half past midnight and start getting ready to come back. I needed to hurry up and get home so i could wash the wine off my clothes and put my shoes in the dryer. I knew they’d be soaked by the time i got to the employee parking lot. As i approached the doors to exit i was met with a crowd of people gathered, calling their husbands to come get them. They were basically willing to leave their cars in the parking lot overnight. The weather was so horrific they called home and told their spouses to pull up directly to the doors and come get them. Other women gave their husbands who were with them a shove and said, “go pull the car around. I’ll wait here.” I wondered what it felt like to view oneself as “fragile” and be protected by the spouse who will go out into the weather and procure a vehicle in which to carry precious cargo home.

I tucked my car key in my bra, zipped my phone, wallet, and house keys in my lunch box, secured my cap, and took off into the darkness. I heard some of the ladies gasp. One of the women exclaimed, “oh she’s really going to do it,”. Someone else said, “oh my gosh!” I was immediately drenched in ice cold rain. The wind was whipping it sideways at 70 mph. The lightening flashed often enough for me to see that the entire parking lot was sitting in ankle deep water. My shoes squished as i walked through it, water kicked up in front of me with every step. As i headed down the road to the employee parking lot i stepped over a tree branch and continued in the ankle deep water rushing downhill. A truck full of young men pulled up beside me and one yelled, “get in, we’ll give you a ride!” I surveyed the situation. There were 5 or 6 men crammed into the king ranch truck. Somebody who had enough money to purchase a king ranch truck might be used to getting their way. With 5 or 6 people in the truck, i would likely not have my own seat or personal space. I had ridden in a stranger’s car before but there were no other passengers at the time. Its hard to overpower somebody while also driving a car. In this situation there were plenty of them to my one and if things went south i would not have the upper hand. A gut feeling as well as an analytical assessment of the scene told me that my answer was “no”. I told the men that i was already soaked so they wouldn’t be saving me from anything at this point and that i didnt want to get their seats wet, that i was almost to my car, and i thanked them for the offer but told them i’d walk because my car was just in sight. The men began driving alongside me as i walked yelling, “C’mon girl, get in! Just get in! What’s wrong with you? Get in!” I refused and continued walking, a little closer to the curb now. The men were hanging out the window and slapping the truck with their hands. I found their body language aggressive and wasn’t sure what these young bucks might do. Fed up with my insistence the driver peeled off as one of the guys in the back shouted, “whatever, man!” I continued on towards the car. I made the right decision. It was clear that these men were a bit less refined than gentlemen and it didn’t take much to piss them off. Me disagreeing with their predetermined course of action for me wouldn’t have been the last thing i said or did to soggy their potato chips. We wouldn’t have become friends.

I managed to get the door open and slide myself into the seat of the car. I was absolutely soaked. My clothes had become heavy and were dumping loads of water on the floor. It was soaking into the seat as well. I could feel that even my underwear were wet. The smell of wine wasn’t so strong now. I pulled my jacket off and put it in a grocery bag on the floor. My mask was soaked and the make-up was bleeding from the interior to the exterior surface, turning it blotchy and beige. i set everything down and unzipped my lunch box to find my house keys. I was so wet that my fingers drenched the phone as i picked it up. I wiped it with a jacket i had in the car and placed it in the back seat. I then put the key in the car. The rain was pelting the car so hard it was consumed by a deafening roar. Water streamed down the windshield in a gel-like blur. The wind rocked the car when gusts hit the side of it. I felt i needed to get home and get showered, get the wine all the way off of me, and get the clothes and shoes i was going to wear the next morning in the dryer. I set out down the road. Firstly, the road was a stream and secondly, i could not see where the lanes were, both because they were under water and because the rain and darkness were so blinding i could see little more than the blur of stop lights at the intersection. I couldn’t see the lanes for the entirety of the journey home. Myself and every other car trying to make it drove 20 miles under the speed limit if not 30. All along the way i saw cars pulled over to the side of the road. I wasn’t sure whether that was smart or dumb as they could get caught in accumulating water and be swept away while they were waiting for driving conditions to improve. A couple of them seemed to decide this as they climbed up out of the draining runoff and joined us on the road. However, most of them stayed put as the water rose against their tires. We were driving blind. I often didn’t realize i was halfway into the lane of oncoming traffic until lightening illuminated the little reflectors under the water on the road and then i slowly corrected, veering back into the intended lane. Sometimes the lightening would flash and show me branches in the road. I would drive around those. It was a stressful drive. It was hard to see through the massive amount of rain that was being dumped from the sky. I ate the peanut butter bar and half the chips in the car on the way home in what was probably the definition of stress eating. I was cold but i couldnt turn on the heat because of the popsicles. Instead i left the air on. It was a long cold drive. When i made it to my town the lightening picked up so much i thought i was in a night club with a strobe light. There was no break in between strikes. The sky was alive with light and the noise of the thunder was deafening. There was almost no gap between lightening and thunder. The storm was right on top of me. This was the center of it. The main road was flooded and the water kicked up on either side of my tires as i drove through. As i approached the winding back roads i realized that i would have to go over two creeks to get to my property. I turned the high beams on as i approached each of them. The water was over the road but with each, by the time i realized it, i was in it. All of the roads were under water. It was hard to tell what was standing water and what was moving water in the dark. I kept my foot gently pressed down on the accelerator and coasted through to the other side. I was surprised the car made it as my suv sits unusually low to the ground and is very heavy. It’s not the ideal vehicle to take to the back country during a flood. Finally, i pulled up to the gate of my property. I parked the car on the road, as the driveway was pure slush. Lightening was everywhere. Flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash, flash. The thunder shook the car, over and over again. I wanted to stay in the car, but my timeline moved me to action. I had to get the laundry going. I had to wake up and go open the store in a few hours. I said, “this is a bad idea.” I turned the music up real loud, loud enough to drown out the sound of thunder. I put my game face on, and then i went for it. The name of the game was park the car without getting stuck in the mud. The lightening had let me know that the whole property was in standing water. I would need to keep grass under the tires if there would be any hope of maintaining control of the car. I jumped out and unchained the metal gate, lightening flashing all around me. I jumped back in and put the car in drive. I drove slow until i caught the grass underneath the tires on the left side of the car. I put them on the grassy median between the tire tracks in the driveway. The tires on the right side of the car had no traction and a blinking light on the dashboard told me this, as if i didn’t know. I drove further than usual, ducking underneath the laundry line with the nose of the car, catching the built up gravel of the septic tank drainage field. Once i had that bit of traction under the front tires i threw it in reverse and gunned it through the slush behind me. The car was sliding. I used the momentum from my push off and turned the wheel sharply, angling the rear of the car straight for a tree. I knew the mulch was higher right around the base of the trees. Sure enough, the back right tire caught the mulch and i straightened out the car before it hit the tree. I pressed the gas one more time and the car slid into place under the oaks. The flood waters washed away more and more of the mulch each time and it was no longer a pile. I turned the wheels to the left, providing resistance against the current of water leaving down the driveway for the intersection and turned the car off. I gathered my things and ran through ankle deep water in the lightening illuminated yard until i got to the house. I turned to see that my wind chimes were suspended horizontally in the air due to high winds. It was an eerie sight. I realized i had left the house keys in the car, cursed my stupidity, and ran back through ankle deep water to the car. I retrieved the house keys, ran back to the house, and tried to open the door. As i struggled to see which key was which in the dark the wind picked up and began whipping my wet clothes against my back. I felt pressed against the door and i began to fear a tornado. Why had the wind suddenly picked up so much?! I hadn’t heard anything about tornados. As far as i was concerned we were only supposed to get quarter sized hail. I had seen some lying on the ground as i drove past the gas station coming into town but in all the rain and chaos it was hard to tell if i was looking at ice or rocks. It appeared to be floating so i guessed ice. I flung open the door and made it inside. The dogs eyed me from their crates, whimpering in the light beam of my lantern. I thought i heard the air conditioner running but it turned out to be the noise of my aussie’s nails clicking against the crate bottom as she shook uncontrollably. I pieced this together when i flipped the light switch and nothing happened. The power was out. The ac unit couldnt be running. What motor was on? I shined the light in the dog crate and found the aussie shaking uncontrollably. The crate was wet. I asked, “Did you pee?” My question was answered when i found 8 links of dog turd strewn in small piles about her crate. My first thought was, “well, at least she didn’t eat them. That’s progress.” I opened the door briefly to retrieve the turds before she changed her mind. I kept both dogs in the crate while i tried to sort things out in the darkness. Without electricity there would be no power to the well pump. Without the well pump there would be no water for a shower, tooth brushing, laundry… without electricity i couldn’t run the machines, get the wine smell off of me, do hair or make-up. Without electricity i couldn’t open the refrigerator or cook. Supper consisted of the remaining potato chips and a whole bag of popsicles i couldn’t open the freezer to store. I stood at the sink and hurried to eat them before they all melted. The electric company recording said 302 structures in my area were without power. That was basically the whole town. The gas station had lights but that was about it. For 6.5 hours the power remained off. Every hour i reset the clock to wake up and see if it was back on. Every hour it wasn’t. When i finally decided to call in because i couldnt leave the dogs in the house without a/c and i couldn’t leave the windows open for a cross breeze because it was supposed to storm something fierce again the following morning, the power kicked on at 5 past 2 am. I said, “whelp, we’re going to work!” I ran to the shed and got a towel for the car seat. I grabbed an old jacket and dug out an old pair of dry tennis shoes with the tread worn off the bottom. I grabbed a clean pair of pants, a work shirt, and hopped in the shower. Then i fiddled with the breaker panel until all the outlets had power. I brought the washing machines back online. I threw the wine smelling laundry in and washed it after running to the shed to get laundry soap. It was still raining but no longer storming. I couldn’t believe it but i had a full bucket of rain water to dump in my collection toy box, so i did. I put the lid on and ran back to the house to do my hair and makeup. I was surprised to find that my jaw was locked when i tried to remove my night retainers. Stressed out, i had clenched all night and now my tmj was working overtime. I knew what had to be done. I poked my fingers between my teeth before i could let the fear get the best of me and yanked in opposite directions with both hands. In the mirror i watched as my bottom jaw popped to the side and then down. It released but popped two more times as i worked my jaw up and down to open and close my teeth. That hurt. I was not able to open my mouth very wide at first but an hour later it was back to normal. I left the house just in time to make it to work by 5 am. As i was leaving, another big storm was rolling in. I was upset it would hit the homestead while i was away again. The house would lose power briefly one more time and the second storm would drop 2.5 inches of rain for the collection box. However, i wouldn’t fully understand just how accurate the words “deja vu” had been until that evening when the internet wouldn’t turn on. Upon picking up the lifeless router i realized that it rattled. The innards had been destroyed. That was a sure fire sign it was unrevivable. I couldn’t understand why the surge protector on the utility pole outside hadn’t protected it. All the outlets still worked. The router was thoroughly dead and because of the holiday the telephone company would not be able to restore it before my mandatory orientation zoom call for my online summer course. I began calling friends to see who would let me use their internet for an hour at 5 pm amidst their holiday get-togethers. It was truly deja vu to last semester. I couldnt figure out why the surge protector had not worked when i discovered a strange black box sitting on the floor across the room. It ended up being the outer shell of the power supply cord for the interior part of the electric dog fence that was mounted on the wall. It had apparently been blown across the room. The indentation in the back of the cardboard box that served as a table to hold my pasta maker and lawn mower batteries told me it had been blown into the back of the box, left a dent, been catapulted back into the wall, left a gray mark on the cream paint, then skidded across the room where it came to rest on the floor. As i examined the part of the power supply cord that remained plugged into the additional surge protector i had plugged into that outlet, i realized it had exploded. The screws were melted. The electricity had torn through the length of the plastic ribbon horizontally and left it with burned jagged edges. The wires were torn in half. 3 white plastic rectangles remained white but one was singed dark gray. All of the plastic bits were singed and mangled. The ends of the rubber coated wires that used to be red were now black. I wondered if it had popped and that was it or if it had been in flames. I couldn’t be sure. I was grateful nothing caught fire. Now i understood why the dog had pooped and peed herself and stood shaking in the dark. I also understood why the surge protector didn’t work. It did work. It protected the appliances. The electricity didn’t come through the wire. It came through the ground. Something was struck by lightening; either a tree, the ground, the water…something transferred electricity to the ground, and the two devices that had contact with the ground outside of the house absorbed the electricity. The dog fence wire was buried in the ground. The wire for the internet at some point before entering the house also made contact with the ground. Lightening had struck near the house and killed my devices that absorbed the shock from the ground. I would need a new router. I would also spend over 200 bucks replacing the dog fence, again. But it could have been much worse! The place could have burned to the ground. I am glad it didn’t. If you asked me which i was more afraid of, lightening or tornados, the answer would be lightening. Because of our elevation, we get it more often than twisters and it leaves a memorable mark of its power.

I think i just found the tree that took the lightening. behind the house were a couple of young oaks growing underneath the power lines. Now there is one living and one dead. The live one is a regular gray color and has leaves. The dead one is singed black with all its parasitic moss also black. There are no leaves on it and it stands a bare skeleton, a black silhouette against its healthier luckier sister. I probably have the hours of torrential rain to thank for putting out the fire before it could harm any of the touching trees. Poor unlucky juvenile oak. I will have to cut it down at some point in the near future to prevent the carpenter ants from nesting so near to the house. It now makes sense why i had to flip the breaker switches for the back part of the house to restore power to the laundry and the bathroom whereas the front of the house was fine. The lightening strike was in closer proximity to the back of the house. I got lucky. If it hadn’t been raining so hard, my place may well have burned to the ground. My hope is that one day extended family will live on the land with me and they can tell me if i need to rush home and handle a disaster. For now i must rely on luck and prayer. Thank you God for not letting my dogs burn.

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  1. That picture of the “wall wart” power supply is pretty impressive (in a bad way).

    Your thoughts on the lightening being carried in via “other wires” are correct.

    My wild guess is that the dog fence wire is going to be a long term problem for you when it comes to lightening.

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