When I was young, my grandfather owned a farm. I only remember it vaguely. I don’t know if he kept livestock or grew crops, or if he just wanted all that land so he didn’t have to be around people. Most of my memory has been whittled down with age, and what little I recall is of sweltering summer days in the fields, mowed down to dirt and stubble, and running around in a sunlit kitchen as deer wander up to the deck outside. We didn't go up to see my grandfather very often, a necessity if we wanted to maintain our tentative peace, but I look back at the few times we did very fondly (I personally place the blame for my restlessness on those summers that I spent out there. Acres and acres of land for a grubby little five, six, seven year old to explore, my first experience of the kind-- of course I would be exhilarated by the freedom I found).
This would be easier to write if I had photos, but despite searching for a few days I came up empty-handed. I wasn’t really surprised. I have photos from dozens of different places, but not many from childhood. Sometimes the farm doesn’t even feel real, like it was maybe something I’d read about instead of a memory that was mine. As such, you’ll have to take my word for it as I describe the place. I have little hope of it being incredibly accurate.
What I can tell you is that there was a farmhouse, and in that farmhouse lived my grandmother, grandfather, and my grandfather’s big dog. The lawn was unkempt, dead in patches, wild in the way that is usually only found in the country. To the side of the house, about twenty paces away, was the barn. When I’d first wandered inside, I hadn’t found horses or cows, but instead a herd of tractors and machines. I’d run my fingers across the metal, poking into crevices, opening hatches. I earned myself dozens of small scratches on my arms and tears in my cargo shorts from all the sharp, rusted edges. A few times I’d even driven some of the tractors around the fields. The weather was always nice when we went there. Sometimes it became cold, the wind biting through your clothes, but the air remained clear and fresh in my lungs. Guarding the back of the farm was the forest, a long line of trees that stood straight and tall like soldiers. Most of my ventures ended where those woods began.
Back towards that treeline, where the fields turned into taller grass, there was a handmade fire pit.
“Don’t go back there, now,” my grandfather warned us, waving one of his few remaining fingers at us. “There’s snakes back there.”
Which, of course, my sister and I totally disregarded every time we came. We loved the fire pit, for some strange reason that I can’t quite figure out anymore. It made sense to the mind of a child. It was dug shallowly into the ground and filled with sand and pebbles. Along the edge it was ringed with heavy stones. I would jump from one to the other, attempting to balance on top of them. The stones were layered thick, all different shapes and sizes, but each one grayed and weathered and worn. It was like a fairy circle for fire.
My sister and I were out there one day, screwing around at the fire pit and making up fantastical stories about witches in the woods and pixies in the cupboards when the wind kicked up suddenly and I started to feel raindrops on my face.
“Huh,” I said, wiping at the wetness with my sleeve. It hardly ever rained at the farm. At home, my dad and I would sit out on the porch with popcorn to watch the rain, just for the love of watching nature at work.
Over at the house, the doorwall leading to the kitchen slid open. “Come on in, kids. It’s about to storm,” my grandmother called out.
My sister looked at me and shrugged. We had no problem playing in the rain, but our grandmother had been making cake before we’d gone outside. There were worse fates. We took off running at the kind of breakneck speed only kids seem to manage. I can’t remember who won. Probably my sister.
The rain had truly started by the time we’d made it to the safety of the kitchen. Within minutes it’d become a downpour, the storm as abrupt as a missed step on the stairs. The rain lashed against the glass, angry that we’d escaped inside.
“These summer storms can happen just like that. No warning at all.” My grandmother bustled my sister further into the kitchen, casting a glance over her shoulder as the wind roared, audible even through the walls of the house.
I didn’t follow her. I should’ve, since my teeth were chattering and my clothes were drenched and there was a towel somewhere in the closet with my name on it, but I didn’t. The storm was getting worse with each second I stood there. I wanted to watch.
“You should get away from the window, hon,” my grandmother called.
“Sure,” I said, not nearly loud enough for her to hear. Can’t be lying if no one’s listening. A crack of thunder, louder than a gunshot, made me startle. I stumbled back, running into the dinner table.
My sister was talking, asking about our parents and when they’d be back from town, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I lowered myself to the floor, the tiles wet from where I’d been dripping all over them. The rain turned to hail and back again, as though the storm couldn’t make up its mind.
The thunder rolled and this time I felt it in my bones, rattling me from the inside while it shook the foundation of the world beneath me. It sounded like a war cry, like the shouting of gods, louder than anything I’d heard before. It filled me up, striking a chord somewhere deep inside me, resounding like I’d banged it against a tuning fork. I was bigger than my body, part of something I had no way to describe. The world got darker and darker as the clouds fully blotted out the sun. I pressed up against the glass, wanting to be out there, craving the feel of wind in my hair and rain on my skin. I looked up beyond the violent clash of the trees to the sky, a muddy green, like it was itching for a twister. Hell, maybe I was, too. I hadn’t felt that kind of wild emptiness before, and I have yet to again.
The lightning flashed bright enough that my vision spun with white and purple and blue. We were collateral damage in a battle of the elements, electrocuted and then washed away in the aftermath.
It was brutal. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I wanted to throw open the door and embrace it, scream with the same reckless abandon that it did, let it sweep me away.
My grandmother tossed a towel over my head.
“Dry off, kiddo, and then come help me frost the cake,” she instructed. I blinked up at her.
After that summer, we never went up to the farm again. My grandfather sold it. It took too much time to take care of it, he said. He didn’t want to be spending that kind of money. He lives down in the suburbs again with his wife and his dog (a different one this time), and I hardly ever see him.
Sometimes I think I got cursed with something while I was up there. Maybe it was that summer storm that did it, instilling me with a sense of longing for something I can never find. I can feel it, this slot in my chest, empty and waiting to be filled again. I’ve searched for it in the Redwood Forests, where the trees stretch towards the sun. I’ve searched for it, nameless, faceless, in Mumbai, Rio, and Sicily. I haven’t found it yet in the oceans, wide and open and deep enough to drown me, nor in the mountains, be it the Appalachians, the Alps, or the Andes. I haven’t found it yet in the hundreds of summer storms I’ve run through, with the wind at my back and the thunder above me and the rain coursing down my sun-browned skin.
I wonder if I ever will.