There are two places on earth (so far) where I’ve seen thunderstorms in which the raindrops were so big and the storm so fierce that I thought my belongings would be broken by the force of the rain: the countryside in New York State, and on the Thai islands.
The year I turned seventeen, my pediatrician moved her office into the countryside of upstate New York and thus our visits to her took an hour longer. One of my last visits with her was when I was eighteen, and of course I had my driver’s license so my mother gave me directions and told me to go by myself. The skies had been grey and rumbly, but it wasn’t something I paid attention to. Before this, I’ve driven to high school in the worst weather, which in upstate New York consists of huge snow storms, ice, and slush. It wasn’t until I was twenty minutes into the country when the skies opened up and the first fat drops thudded into the windshield.
Five minutes later, it got worse. Then it got worse than that. I thought after it was over, I’d see stipples punched into the windshield because the drops were falling so hard. It got so that the windshield looked as if someone had poured a bucket of water over the car, continuously, despite cranking the windshield wipers to full speed. I pulled over, hoping to wait out the storm because from experience I knew these types of storms lasted about 10 minutes. Muffled thunder reminded me that the storm was still in full swing. I was in farm country, on some lonely road, and no one was out there.
Out of stubbornness, I had refused to buy a cell phone or a beeper until age 22, so in this instance, I was all by myself in the middle of East Bumblefuck, in a crazy thunderstorm, with no communication (unless I got out of the car and walked a mile to the nearest house)… and then the engine light turned on and glowed a malevolent red. I had no idea what the engine light meant, at age eighteen. My stomach clenched nonetheless, as I discovered that I could not turn the car on. Cue shivers of fright and a large lump of “Oh, fuck me” dread. I thought: well, if it’s stuck here, at least I can walk in the rain a mile. At least I’m not in the Sahara. At least I know roughly where I am.
It took me about ten tries and some amount of panic before I was able to pull onto the road and make my 5 mph way to the office, another 30 minutes away. I watched the evilly glowing engine the whole way, body clenched in fear that the car would just stop and never turn on again. I’ll have to thank my parents’ good habit of buying quality cars because I do make it, safe and dry. Of course, the storm was over by the time my appointment was over, and I did tell my mom about that engine light. To this day I have to idea why the engine light turned on. And I thought that was the worst time I’ve ever been in a thunderstorm.
Until fast forward eleven years, where I got caught in a thunderstorm while on a long-tailed boat going from one beach to another, in Thailand. Carrying and holding all my relevant belongings with me, including my boyfriend. At night. With stitches in my leg from three days before.
Of course we didn’t mean to travel that way on purpose, as we were on Railay Beach trying to find accommodations for the next week. Since the beach had turned into Resort Central and we were looking for humble little cheap bungalows, a friend of my boyfriend’s told us of another beach nearby called Ao Tonsai, which had bungalows for lower prices, some climbing spots, and wasn’t full of yuppies who were afraid of nighttime. It was a 10 minute boat ride, so after dinner we decided to take our backpacks and go shelter-hunting.
Two minutes onto the boat while the motor is chugging away, the thunderstorm descends. Fat drops hit the ocean as the shore recedes; the storm deepens, the atmosphere becomes misty, and my skin moistens as everything turns to water. My boyfriend and I cram all our belongings into the center of the boat, throw an old, used mat over them, and the boat drivers throw a tarp over us. They stood on the boat, in the storm, and steered the boat out into the ocean.
My mind was running with this one story someone I knew told me once: that a long-tailed boat had capsized during a boat ride like this, and how two people died because they didn’t know how to swim. The boat had capsized in the middle of the day, with no storm. I knew that I should have taken comfort in the fact that I knew how to swim and that I’ve had years of experience swimming in the ocean, but panic is hard to repress completely. I knew I was okay, but I also knew that I shouldn’t be too confident because you never do know. And this panic made certain things stand out in memory.
I remember looking at my man and thinking that I would never forget this particular boat ride, ever; it is one of the most joyous memories I now have, despite its craziness. His rain splattered smiling face against the black roiling night is engraved in my mind, written with alarm and delight. Drops of water dot his glasses, strands of his hair are plastered to his face. The storm raged; I distinctly remember the sound of raindrops on plastic tarp and the misty, wet, boiling look of the ocean.
What was amazing about this little boat ride above all the other boat rides I’ve ever had was not that we arrived safely. We did arrive safely, laughing and buzzed from adrenaline rush. It was simply that the storm ended abruptly two minutes after our feet touched the ground at our destination. To this day, I think that particular thunderstorm was timed.