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Following the Lightning
Ever since Henry was a little boy, Momma and Poppa knew that there was something different about him. We lived on a farm in Colorado, where the children ran wild. In the summer, we’d play outside all day. By the time we’d return, our feet would be mud-caked from playing in the cornfields, and our faces would be covered with red war paint, berries from the trees along the side of our home. We kids would play from dawn util dusk, whooping and galloping in our Poppa’s crops, careful not to pull out any roots. And as we played, Henry would yell out the strangest things.
He’d say, “Giddy-up trooper.”
And Poppa would occasionally overhear. We kids never thought anything of it. We’d just laugh and laugh, rolling on the ground. We kids thought it was funny, just some silly thing that Henry would say, but Poppa thought differently. He would shake his head, and mumble, “Don’t that boy know that they’re playin’ cowboys and Indians? Don’t that messed up boy know?”
Poppa never confronted Henry about any of his concerns. He didn’t give the boy a chance to stand up for himself. He immediately assumed that he was unintelligent, that he was a half-brain, a mentally challenged child, doomed to a life of difficulty. Me, being the oldest, knew what Poppa was thinking. I knew it from the way he looked at Henry, and I knew it from the conversations he had with Momma.
“I want to home school him. The other kids are going to be laughing at the poor boy,” Momma would tell him. And Poppa would shake his head.
He’d sigh, “He can learn. Besides, maybe it'll do him good. He needs to start experiencing the real world, and a proper schooling is a great way to start.” And that was the end of it.
It was at dinner one night when Poppa and Momma gazed around the table, looking from one child to the next. When their eyes fell upon Henry, Momma opened her mouth to speak.
“We’re having Dr. Bernstein over for dinner the day after tomorrow.” The children became silent, and I just stared. I wondered why. None of us kids were sick. Lucy was as healthy as an ox. Eddie hadn’t sneezed or coughed more than a few times from his allergies. I was feeling fine, never complaining about any small ache or pain I had. Then, I gazed at Henry as I chewed a mouthful of mashed potatoes. I dropped my fork, thinking. Maybe it was Henry. My eleven-year old mind worked up an idea why Henry needed to be seen by Dr. Bernstein, and then it occurred to me.
Momma and Poppa wanted to see if Henry was really a half-brain. I couldn’t believe that they were doing this.I refused to accept that he was. Henry was a normal little boy. He was; there was no way he was mentally challenged. Not Henry. He was a beautiful child with bright blue eyes and a kind smile. He was loving and talented. Why couldn’t Momma and Poppa see him that way?
Suddenly, I had lost my appetite, and Momma noticed. She looked at me then, and asked, “Why don’t you finish your potatoes, Katherine?”
“I’m not very hungry,” I answered quickly, and moved the plate away from me.
“Well, then, you don’t have to be rude, dear. Asked to be excused,” she told me, no longer looking in my direction. She had gone back to cutting her asparagus into tiny pieces.
“May I be excused?”
“Yes, you may. Remember to clear your plate in the sink,” Momma reminded me, and I nodded my head. After I had left the kitchen, I walked down the hall and went to the bedroom that I shared with Lucy. I sat on my bed and breathed slowly. Closing my eyes, I allowed the tears to seep through one by one. And as I cried, I wished Henry was there, so I could hug him and tell him that everything was going to be alright.
The next morning, I woke up and felt unsettled. I needed to get out of the house. After getting dressed, I tiptoed into Henry and Eddie’s room. Placing my hand on Henry’s mouth, I shook him until his eyes popped open. He was frantic, trying to get up, but I wouldn’t let him. With my other hand, I put my finger to my mouth, and he got the signal. He calmed down, and I took my hand off of his mouth.
“Come on Henry,” I told to him, and I pulled him out of bed. Henry obeyed, and followed me as I quietly crept down the hallway and out the front door. After we had gotten outside, I noticed that the clouds were threatening a thunder storm. I knew that we shouldn’t be gone long. Taking Henry’s hand in mine, we walked down the front porch.
“Where are we going Katherine?” he asked me in his soft-spoken voice. He seemed to never raise his voice above a whisper.
“We’re going to the river,” I said.
“It’s gonna rain cat whiskers and dog tails, Katherine. The crops always get messy when it rains like the way it does. And Momma and Poppa are gonna get mad if we get the house all muddied up,” Henry warned me, but I patted his back.
“Don’t you worry about Momma and Poppa. If we get in trouble, I’ll tell them that it was all my fault. You got it?”
“Got it.” Henry smiled, and squeezed my hand tighter.
When we reached the water’s edge, I leaned over and gazed at my reflection as it flickered through the ripples of the water. Henry stood beside me, and he stared at his reflection too.
“Katherine, look. I’m in the water!” he exclaimed, pointing down.
“Yes, you are Henry,” I laughed, as my dress was brushed back by a gust of angry wind. It was almost time to start heading back, but for now, I sat down and told Henry to sit with me. Henry did so, and he dangled his feet over the water. He allowed his toes to hit the surface, but he quickly took them out, taken aback by the cold temperature. When silence had fallen over us again, Henry leaned his head on my shoulder.
He decided to break the silence. “Why did you want to take me here?”
“Dr. Bernstein is coming over soon. He’s coming over for dinner, and then I’m guessing he’s going to give us kids a check-up. Momma wouldn’t just have him over for dinner,” I explained to Henry.
“Well,” I started. “I just want you to know that whatever anyone tells you after Dr. Bernstein visits that will always love you no matter what.”
“What are they gonna say Katherine?” Henry looked worried now, and a pained expression came to his face. When I didn’t answer, he tugged on my arm. “What are they gonna say Katherine?” he repeated.
“I don’t know what Dr. Bernstein or Momma or Poppa is going to say,” I said annoyed. I shook my head. “I don’t know Henry.”
“I love you too Katherine,” Henry said, and placed his head back on my shoulder. We stayed there a moment longer, until I told him that it was time we ought to go.
We stood up and made our way through the long, golden stalks of corn. I held onto Henry’s hand tight just to be sure that we wouldn’t be separated. Every step I took, Henry would follow behind, looking down at the ground. Suddenly, a drop of water hit Henry’s neck, and he rubbed it with his hand. He looked up at the sky, and when another drop fell onto his forehead, he looked back down at the ground. He frowned, wiping the water with his sleeve.
“Katherine, a storm is coming. I’m scared.”
“Don’t worry Henry,” I told him, bringing him closer to me. “We’ll be home soon.”
I quickened my pace, and we hurried out of the cornfield. By the time we reached home, dozens of raindrops were falling onto the ground, and the ground was covering in puddles. Our clothing was sopping wet and before I undressed myself, I helped Henry.
After sneaking back into the house, and getting changed into dry clothes, I joined Henry in the parlor. We watched as the rain fell harder and listened as the thunder pounded in our ears. Henry shook, frightened from the thunder. Whenever lightning cracked in the sky, he’d jump, and I’d wrap my arms around him, so that he’d feel safe.
At one point, I whispered in his ear, “Don’t be afraid of storms like these. There’s no reason to be scared of thunder.”
“Why not?” Henry asked, hiding his face behind his hands.
I got excited then, and my eyes grew large. “Don’t you know? Thunder comes from the Heavens Henry.”
“Really?” Henry peered at me through his fingers.
“Yes, Henry. Thunder comes from the Heavens above. God and all of the angels in Heaven gather together every so often, and they decide to play a game. Do you know what game they’re playing up there, Henry?”
“No,” Henry said, putting his hands in his lap. “What game are they playing?”
“They’re bowling Henry,” I said. “And every time God knocks down those pins, thunder rolls across the earth and the Angels cry rain just because they’re so happy.”
“And what about the lightning?” Henry asked, smiling now. He was no longer fearful, and I felt proud.
“Well Henry. Lightning bolts are the pins dropping from Heaven to the earth. Those pins are falling so fast. They’re dropping at the speed of light. That’s why they’re glowing. That’s why they’re called lightning. If you ever wanted to follow one of those lightning bolts to the very point it hits the earth, I’m sure you’d find one of the Lord’s bowling pins.”
Henry laughed, and then he became serious. He said to me, “We gotta follow the lightning one of these days Katherine. Just you and me. Not with Eddie and Lucy, or Momma and Poppa. Just you and me, following the lightening. Can’t we Katherine? Please say yes Katherine. Please say yes.”
I grinned and kissed the top of Henry’s forehead, knowing that I’d always be there to protect him, whether it would be from thunder storms or from Dr. Bernstein. I would be there. So I told Henry, “Yes, of course. We will follow the lightning.”