Put Your Head in This Barrel

We were sitting below them. They were up on the rocky outcropping that stuck out over our heads. The outcropping would have provided shade at some other point in the day. The sun was on its way down now, so we were like, “we don’t need any shade.” We didn’t say that, but it was true. Sometimes it’s good to tell nature what you do or don’t need from it. Nature can get a little cocky.

The spot drew sunset viewers to it. You had to walk a hundred yards from a nothing little turnout on the highway, and then hike a slight grade. It wasn’t a major investment or anything, but you had to do it. Nature invited us all to come check it out. Way off we saw a lightning strike. Nature was making a big deal about nature.

This is the kind of thing Lacey likes to do. Stop the car, stop forward progress, and experience nature. It’s also the kind of thing that I hate to do. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like to do things that Lacey likes to do. I like to do things that Lacey likes to do, even if I don’t like to do them. That’s the core of a relationship, deciding to let their complex of concerns influence and dictate yours.

From several hundred yards down the highway we could see the mesa or whatever it was. Lacey said, “Oh. We should pull in there and watch the sunset.”

“I’m going to pull in there for you,” I said, “if you really want to.”

Lacey looked directly at me. Her face wanted to let me know that she wasn’t annoyed but could be annoyed.

“I really want to,” she said.

“I’m just thinking about rattlesnakes,” I said.

Then this silver volvo zipped past us and pulled into the turnout before we got there and walked up the grade and got to the rocky outcropping first. We pulled in. I watched them hike up, holding hands, and I could tell that they both wanted to watch the sunset and avoid rattlesnakes, together.

Still way off in the distance I saw a couple lightning strikes and could hear just a slight rumble.

It made me want to not hold Lacey’s hand, because that suddenly felt dishonest. The couple in the Volvo was the image of a couple in harmony. Or not even harmony. They were like the same note at an octave. They got to be that picture and Lacey and I would have to be a different picture. So I decided not to hold Lacey’s hand, even though I love Lacey.

Several other cars stopped too. This mesa was a magnet for humans. It wanted us there.

The Volvo people ascended rocky outcropping, using these authentic looking mountain climbing moves, and sat up there. There was only room for two. We just hiked up and stood there. The sunset looked beautiful. I don’t have to describe it. That sounds like I’m being flippant about the transcendent experience of viewing a sunset. I’m not. They’re incredible. But I’m not going to waste your time not describing it in moving terms, not getting it right. That’s why they’re transcendent.

Other people accumulated on the shelf with us. A family with three kids. Several guys in Chacos. I put my arm around Lacey.

Lightning struck quarter mile away. I worried that it would bring the rattlesnakes out, but I didn’t tell Lacey.

And then lightning struck the rocky outcropping over our heads. Like the sunset it feels stupid to describe this. It was like I put my head inside an oil barrel, and then someone shot the oil barrel with a cannon at point-blank range. Rock debris scattered, and I felt a sting in the back of my neck. I put my hand back there and then looked at my fingers. Even a small amount of blood can be a surprising amount of blood. I was surprised.

Everyone had either ducked low, or been knocked down a bit. I stood up first and wheeled around. The couple on the rock outcropping were just dead.

The lightning stopped after that.

It wasn’t graphic, but it wasn’t a question. I boosted one of the Chaco guys up there. He knew CPR. But they were gone. They were holding hands, which is a sickly sweet detail to add, but a true one.

We waited until the first responders got there, and gave statements. When we were answering questions, that was when I thought about whether any of us had any thought about the situation being dangerous. Obviously not enough to act on. I didn’t feel like we should have done anything different, except for the fact that apparently we should have.

Then Lacey and I got in our car and drove away. We had turned off the highway, been present at the death of two people by lightning strike, and then driven away. What else were we supposed to do? Nature was being a real bastard.

I felt very in love with Lacey and I told her that, after we’d been driving for fifteen minutes.

Put Your Head in This Barrel

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