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When Lightning Strikes Twice

My father was hit by lightning when he was young.  Then he got on with his life.  He married his high school sweetheart, went to college, got a business degree, raised two kids, became a vice-president of a regionally recognized human resources firm, and retired.  I don’t know how common it is for someone to get hit by lightning without being hurt – I’ve never looked it up.  I don’t know if they keep statistics on things like that 

The trouble is, over the past few years, since his wife died, he’s been out there in that damn field, waiting for it to happen again. 

Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s.  Maybe it’s a kind of dementia they don’t have a name for.  Maybe he needs medication.  But he doesn’t have a cell phone, so if anyone wants to talk to my father, they have to drive outside of town, park on a dirt road, crawl through barbed wire, and walk into the middle of a sheep pasture. 

What the hell was he doing there as a kid? 

“It was a dare,” he tells me.  “There were a lot more sheep here, back then.  I was dared to shear one at night.  They said I wouldn’t do it.” 

He did.  He crawled into the field, with a group of his friends – I picture them all wearing varsity jackets even though I’ve never seen one in his old pictures – and got hit by lightning.  Then he got back up and sheared the sheep.  They left the wool on the ground and ran away to stand outside a liquor store, asking customers to buy them beer. 

My father was not a crazy man when I was growing up.  He was the kind of man who saved his money instead of buying a car that his kids could be proud of.  His house was too small for us all then:  now that we’ve moved out, it’s just right. 

He goes home sometimes.  He has to sleep, he has to eat.  But he’s always back there when it counts.  When my sister got hit by a car, her boyfriend had to crawl into the field to tell him.  He visited her at the hospital for two days straight, and then went back.  She’s functional, now, but they’re barely on speaking terms.

It really hit home when Sue left me, and it took my father three days to pick up the message that I was getting divorced because it was raining hard and he didn’t want to leave.  I knew where he was the whole time:  I could have gone and told him in person, but, I didn’t feel like moving.  I still don’t.  I’m functional now, though.  And I want my father back.

But he’s not coming back.  Standing out on that field, even on a sunny day, he doesn’t want to budge.  “What else am I gonna do?” he asks me.  “Waiting for lightning is better than waiting around to die.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, pop.  You’re old.  This time, it’ll kill you.”

“That’s better then what happened last time,” he says.  “When you’re over the hill, you think about things like this – about how it’s the one thing that really happened special to me in my life, and I just got up and went on, and it didn’t change a thing.”

Then he turns his face into the sun, and scans the sky for clouds. 


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media,, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at

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