Obviously I’ve never been directly struck by lightning because, Jesus, I’d be dead if that were the case. But I have encountered lightning in proximity on three different occasions and the first time it ever happened I was eight-years-old. So, here is the story of the first time I was struck by lightning.
As with most of my adventures, I was in Mexico at the time. It just so happened to be the year my parents sent us off to live with my mom’s family for a year in order to get in touch without our heritage and learn Spanish because we were below proficient in that area having been born and raised in the United States. To get a better understanding of where I was, my mom’s family lives in Michoacan, which is famous, or rather, infamous, for its drug crops. And why do so many people have their drug crops in that state? The soil is to die for basically. It’s amazing soil. Everything they grow is succulent and ripe and beautiful and that is mainly due to the immense amount of rain they get, especially during the summer.
So, we’re in this small town with a population of about sixteen thousand people, which isn’t a lot when you grow up in a city with a population of one million. There are several points in town where the road keeps going, but the houses don’t. At these edges of town, meadows and hills and the common cerros, or forrested mountains, are abundant. My aunt Mary lives on one of these edges and is actually the last house on the street before it continues up towards the mountain the town is named for.
In my mom’s family, back in 2003, there were about fifteen or so cousins under the age of 20. We all hung out and got together during our stay there pretty much every day, so we were incredibly close. The older girl cousins, meaning Cynthia, my sister, who was thirteen, and my cousin Delia, who was fourteen, wanted to go to the Cerro de la Tortuga, (literally the Mountain of the Turtle named because it looks like a turtle), on a picnic with just those twenty or so cousins. Being underage with no income, we gathered up our allowances to buy soy meat, tostadas, some vegetables, and some large sodas. There are baskets galore in our homes (because they use them to get the groceries every single morning) and so we stole a blanket from our aunt, took our food and basket, and hiked up to the Turtle Mountain on a Saturday morning. It’s a ten minute walk from my aunt Mary’s house, so we had to check in with her before we left. I remember this conversation so clearly.
“Maybe you shouldn’t go,” she said, looking at the sky. We all kind of shifted around to look up, too, sharing confused glances when we saw how sunny it was. The sky was covered in white, fluffy clouds, the cumulus kind. If you know anything about clouds, you’ll know why we were stupid to think those clouds meant sunshine.
“If it starts to rain, we’ll come right back,” Delia assured her.
“I just don’t want you to be struck by lightning,” my aunt Mary said, turning to look at all of us, “As soon as you feel the first drop, you run back here, okay?” Then all of us nodded and she let us leave.
After that, none of us really worried about the rain or lightning. We found a spot on the mountain, setting up underneath a tree* with our blanket and our basket (*quick fact: trees are more likely to be struck by lightning than anything else ever). Almost immediately, Delia and Cynthia started cutting up the vegetables to put into the soy meat and the rest of us ran out playing. We made flower crowns and played at la quincenera, which is the Latino version of a Sweet Sixteen. We messed around in a small ravine close by and played at the things all kids play like tag and hide-and-go-seek and another Mexican game called Los Colores where we have to act out a certain object for a witch and she’ll test each of us to see which one she likes, then the person she chooses has to run away from her and if they can get back into their spot without her (or I guess him) grabbing them, the witch loses. That sounds like a weird game.
Let me interrupt myself for a moment to explain. Say the witch is looking for a mirror, then the person playing the “vendor” calls out that the witch is looking for a mirror. Everyone else playing has to act like a mirror when the witch stands in front of them. So, if I were the witch, I’d stand in front of Beverly and stick my tongue out. She then has to mimic my expression. Usually I’d say something about how the object is wrong like, “Ew, this mirror is dirty.” and then everyone would laugh because I’m really talking about Beverly or the person I’m standing in front of. Anyway, once I’ve gone through all the “mirrors” then the vendor will ask which one I want. And then I say, “I like this one.” point at one of them, and then that person has to stand up and run from me. If I catch them, I get to “take them home” with me, but the object of the game is not to let me catch them. Whoever I chose has to run away and try to get back into their place, after which the vendor says “Sorry, I cannot sell you that mirror. If there anything else you would like?” Then the game starts over again when I say, “Then do you have any toilets?” And they have to act like toilets. If I do catch them, they then become the next witch and I have to take their place in the lineup. Okay, now that that’s over, I can continue my story.
So after we played for a while, Delia and Cynthia called us back to eat. I was sitting with my age group, my twin cousins Karina and Anahi, and two other cousins Sarahi and Ingrid, until we had finished eating. The oldest cousin, Hector, who was sixteen, had brought a lona, or a tarp to put over us. He, my brother Julio, and my other cousin, Delia’s twin brother Beto, were putting it up when they realized that it might rain soon. Delia and Hector kept saying that there was nothing to worry about because it was just going to be a light drizzle and then, if it rained too hard, we’d go back to my aunt Mary’s house. The tarp was hung between two trees (oh my god I’m laughing so hard right now because I can’t help thinking about how stupid we were to think we could just escape the rain) and then Delia said that my age group, being the youngest, should sit underneath the tree because then we would be better covered from the rain.
Not long after they set up the tarp, it started to rain. It was light rain, though, so we weren’t too worried. But then it started to get windy and it generally doesn’t get windy there unless it’s raining hard. So, my cousins and I were holding each other, sitting on the blanket just ten or fifteen feet from the stupid tree. The tarp fell apart and the older male cousins were trying to put it back when lightning struck a tree not that far from us. My entire age group, me, Karina, Anahi, Sarahi, and Ingrid, all screamed. Cynthia and Delia then shouted, “Don’t worry! It won’t hit you!” As luck would have it, it started raining harder, the drops of precipitation pounding into us. Cynthia, Delia, Hector, Beto, and Julio were all arguing about whether or not we should just head home. Half of them were insisting that the rain would let up and that there was nothing to worry about, the other half was angry about the tarp and wanted to go home.
And then a bolt of lightning struck the tree I was sitting under.
Immediately, we felt the shock that was absorbed through the ground. It was a strong tingling sensation, sort of like when you put your tongue on the end of those square batteries, except this was a whole body experience. It also tasted like copper almost as if we were sucking on pennies. The crack of the lightning momentarily deafened us as well. Up until then, the loudest noise I’d ever heard was the sound of a glass shattering as it fell or something was thrown through a glass window. After the initial shock, which only lasted a second or two, all of us were screaming and crying, holding onto each other desperately. Since we were the only ones on the ground, everyone else was freaking out as they ran towards us, gathering us up and asking us if we were hurt.
The argument between the older cousins was evidently over because Hector, Beto, and Julio were gathering up the tarp and Cynthia, Delia, and Beverly were putting together the basket and the blanket. Still crying, we ran down the hill towards the road, a rag tag group of twelve kids carrying items in our hands. Thinking about it now, I feel like we must have looked like a bunch of delinquents barely escaping being caught after stealing a picnic basket, a blanket, and a tarp during a lightning storm. Once we hit the road, we ran down the steep slope towards my aunt Mary’s house, who was standing outside with an umbrella, one hand holding the handle and the other on her hip. Her expression changed from furious when she saw us to extremely concerned when she saw the ones of us with tears in our eyes.
“We were hit by lightning!” one of the twins shouted, much to Delia’s dismay. Needless to say, my aunt Mary’s expression reached a level of fury I have never seen again.
Unfortunately, that was not the last time I encountered lightning. There are two other times, once that same year when I foolishly decided to take a shower, and another that happened just this past year in the summer. But those stories are for a later time.