Summer lightning streaks the skies over central Florida, and I want to paint myself with electricity. It’s a familiar feeling—and I need a good jolt after all these years. I watch the white bursts and build girls around the strike—as if each bolt is a skeleton. Look at the girls dance for Zeus. They are a tribe of fire amongst the water, unable to be extinguished, except by time. Or, in another vision, they are flowers with jagged petals surging through the air like a neuron firing.
Because the brain is a sky.
An old man’s white, twisted electric fingers molest the sky. The thunder of repercussion shoots down a young girl’s spine; hers is not a ladder to heaven, just a cord to the tip of her skull. A different kind of lightning travels back up, a return stroke to her brain. She swings her head back and forth, discs popping. She does this in defense, to ward off the stranger whose blood is part of her own, her grandpa, the old man.
Depression is a Florida sky. Even sunshine has a certain sorrow to it.
On television commercials, the neurotransmitters are represented by emotional spheres, ball lightning, bouncing below rain on a sidewalk, ricocheting between Nerve A and Nerve B. A chemical imbalance. They don’t discuss electricity. It would frighten people.
You see, your wiring’s off, the doctor explains.
It was too late, so I gave in. A fistful of Klonopin would let me die in my sleep. It was an easy and peaceful way to surrender, to not wake up. I never wanted to feel the jolt of sunlight again, just forever sleep to match my forever darkness. The transition seemed simple. I didn’t anticipate the druggy stupor and blood that followed. I woke up. I smashed my mouth on a doorknob. My grandpa joked that I shouldn’t go around kissing doorknobs.
As a “last resort,” electroconvulsive therapy is used to treat severe depression. A grand mal seizure induced by electricity is an earthquake in the body, lightning induced. The snakes of current slither from one temple to the other, and the patient is left with the aftershock, sore muscles and a headache. Before muscle relaxants were used in electroconvulsive therapy, the patient thrashed, snapping their bones.
The skeletons of girls fractured further.
Her grandpa invades her body with his arthritic fingers. Later, as a woman, she will feel his fingerprints branded, still hot on her skin.
In my thirties, my own fingers begin to snarl.
The lightning bestows scars to those who survive the strike. They mark the hero for all to see.
Electricity can erase memories but can also breed new ones. The singed brain tissue is cleansed and crisp. Time and lightning can heal wounds and reignite cicatrices. Just ask a tree.
Victor Frankenstein witnessed lightning strike blast an oak tree into a stump. The next morning, he declared, “I never beheld any thing so utterly destroyed.”
My mother and I didn’t tell him it was a suicide attempt.
Did he know? Could he recognize the silent simmer?
I walked alongside my grandpa when I was young, maybe three years old. I got tired.
“Grandpa, I’m tired. Will you carry me?”
“No, let’s go a bit farther.”
I took a few steps. “Grandpa, my legs hurt. Will you carry me?”
“We’re almost home. Just walk a little bit farther.”
“Grandpa! I’ve got a bone in my leg! Will you please carry me?”
He picked me up, and I rode the rest of the way on his back.
No matter how drunk he got, he always told this story the same way.
I have never broken a bone, only a brain. Someone else, my body.
Girls for Zeus. Memories for Lethe. Exchanges, sacrifices. The flash and the fade, the life of a girl, the life of a Florida summer, volatile. What endures the weather of forgetting are the bone fragments of history, flashes of the many-branched ifs, Lichtenberg impressions.
Amy Suzanne Parker is a doctoral student in Binghamton University’s English-Creative Writing program. Her work has appeared in Punchnel’s, The Mighty, Oregon East, Witch Craft Magazine, and Burrow Press’s Fantastic Floridas and their anthology We Can’t Help It If We’re From Florida. This piece is part of a larger project about lightning, electroconvulsive therapy, and memory.