What most people don’t realize is of the forty-nine of us on average to be struck by lightning each year, nine out of ten victims survive. It’s not many, but enough to be a majority statistic. Enough that support groups exist for survivors. You know the ones I’m talking about: A loose circle of fold out chairs creaking apologetically at each other in some rented-out scout hall. One hour every other Thursday of pretending to heal, then it is back home to microwave dinners, sleeping pills and the persistent malodor of charred flesh. Young as I was, I couldn’t be surprised when the pamphlets began to accumulate on the table beside my hospital bed. Though when I finally decided to go, none of us had much to say except, “it happened, and I lived.”

     I never liked sharing my story, anyway. In many ways I don’t consider the story to be mine at all. I’ve been shaping other people’s explanations in my mouth since it happened ––clinically dead for five minutes in an ambulance will do that to you. I think they said I was unconscious for three days while my heart caught up with my body. By the time I came to, in a sterile room with too-bright white walls, my father had already filled out the paperwork. Stacks of witness reports in his spidery scrawl, all preaching the same testimony:

     I ran out of the house during the rain; I did not come home. 

     None of them ever mentioned the details beyond that. The yelling, or the beer bottle hurled at the wall behind my head. Given the extent of my injuries, the cuts on my feet were largely ignored. An IV pumped my tiny body with morphine, and I floated above myself for weeks while my story wrote itself in the hands of adults. I did eventually read about it. Tore out the front page from the local paper while my father left the room for coffee. It’s surreal to look at your life from the outside, to watch yourself become a narrative: Ten-year-old found face down in a mud puddle, smoke coming off her body in tendrils, unresponsive. They made me sound like an anomaly; I even believed it for a while. But as I read, the words shaped my memory, and every time I relived the event it felt like someone else's dream.

     I did try to talk about it once or twice, but you see, there comes a point when your disfigurement is less of a tragedy and more of an inconvenience. People don’t like shuffling aside to accommodate your wheelchair or waiting on the telephone while you battle the brain fog to remember why you called. I got pretty lucky, all things considered, but even then, I couldn’t leave it well enough alone. I thought I could make it erotic, even. I told the first boy I brought home at sixteen thinking it would be intimate. Skin on skin, calloused fingertips to raised, jagged flesh. A confession in the darkness. Tim wanted the light on, though, because he’d never seen a girl naked and, well, it was a shock, of course. A third of my body had suffered severe burns so the skin is still a raw, fleshy pink. Warped and rubbery to the touch. His eyes lit up with a ghoulish flash of curiosity at my fractal scarring. The path of electricity that ran through me: A fault line.

     “What happened to you?” he asked, voice rough and soft like distant thunder.

     I can’t explain it, but I think he already knew and just wanted to hear me say it. There is a certain eroticism to telling a story, but it wasn’t quite what I had wanted it to be. I thought it would involve me more, you know, sharing a piece of myself. It felt more like peeling back my own skin during surgery. So, when I managed to mumble something disjointed about how the smell of burnt toast makes me gag, and if I stared into a cup of black coffee for too long, I’d drown in it, he didn’t understand what I meant. It wasn’t a story he could consume.

     You’re probably thinking the same. I’m sorry, it’s difficult to reconstruct something that only comes back in sharp moments –– when it rains, when a glass shatters, when I can’t sleep. But no one cares for the explanation. They stare at me, waiting for the real story to begin like…well, like they’ve been struck by lightning. Is the joke still in poor taste if it’s about me? Who can say? 

     No, I can’t tell you how it felt. I remember a seething black sky, the air bending around my body, the hair standing up on my arms. Did I know what would happen? I think so, but that’s not important. By the time it shot up from the ground, reached through me, it was all light and stillness. An interminable second of pain.

     There are nights I still wake up paralyzed, but people don’t stick around to hear that bit. Where my scars end, so does my story, so do I.

     You didn’t even ask for my name.


Patrice Merkouris is an emerging voice in the eclectic community of young Australian
writers. Her poetry and prose fiction resides in the uncanny, exposing the vulnerable
underbelly of the human experience and leaving readers with a lingering sense of discomfort. She is a nineteen-year-old undergraduate student currently completing a Bachelor of Arts with an English major at the University of Sydney.