The cloud formed upside down, rising, roiling, raging almost into a thunderstorm anvil, lightning almost sure to vein the edges and shoot ‘bolt from the blue” far from the rising storm. It was as though hail would soon roar and crash , shattering on impact, gales born from the belly of the rapidly growing cloud, floods to rush garbage cans as suburban absurd boat races.
It was milk.
The cloud was growing upside down.
In a pool.
I watched the cloud grow in the deep end of the pool. I was probably 13 or so. The sky likely had just the high thin shards of the thunderstorms that grew on the eastern mountains and died upon leaving the peaks they had briefly been pinned to in updrafts of hot air then cold, heavy rains. The pool was kidney shaped. Once on 4th of July a witches cauldron firework had spun errant deep colors from the cement to that deep end of the bowl. The aging diving board lit colors as hurricanes seemed to spin angry lights below. The summers at 12, 13 were a suburban doldrum, mid-summer being the deepest vault of tedium as a chubby young boy with too much unfocused time unspooling all around. I thought too much, read less and less. I wanted a girlfriend but was so shy. The cloud unfurled and expanded like a thunderstorm in a sky held by a backyard; the cloud was born from one hurled glass of vitamin A milk and soon would turn the whole pool a lighter non sky and robin’s egg and mayo blue that dad would find quite displeasing to say the least but this was a few hours away.
This is as good as any a starting red dot on a blank map on my life. It could be one of a hundred other odd and random pin points along the arc of whatever makes these eyes now, these hands, the odd fade of these moments to follow , the thin insecure arc of whatever has ran along all those years. A few years later this same pool will hold a best friend and ex girlfriend drunk saying I should just give up everything. Later my brother will get married on the edge of this pool so my dying mother can watch silently and a bird can almost drown before the music plays. Years after it will be the death of a 102 year old tortoise found in a desert and will be left behind when the family all move out and on separate paths. For now it is making a milk cloud.
I am old now but this boy will fill most of these pages. He around this time was almost hit by lightning. He wanted to be a brain in a jar (thought it was cool and a great workaround for zits, smelly arm pits and general teen failings). He watched the weather channel so much he taped it until two boxes were full of men and women in questionable haircuts pointing at primitive looking radar loops and satellite images of serpentine storms over oceans. He was obsessed with professional bowling and even the older woman with giant cotton candy hair sprayed pink who dropped the submarine shaped corn dogs in the frying vats at the bowling alley asked him about how he did in that Saturday league in that alley later eaten from the earth in the Northridge quake, by those lanes fogged by the lysol sprayed in rented shoes.
This boy (a stranger now, part of that hall of strangers who once peered out of some version of this hotel, this body, he poured milk into the pool to try to make those damn clouds that were killed to high thin nothing when leaving those hills, he also did it to study what was to be that Phd in experimental Meteorology, the devlopment of 3d graphical models and data narratives of complex and unusual weather events. A year from this afternoon in the pool he would in fact order the phd application from the University of Colorado at Boulder to stare at , to pet once in a while like a sweet resting cat. He would meanwhile underachieve like a champ.
The upside down cloud from a glass dissipates now as if the whole thing never happened. It is hot. The beheaded thunderstorms have left the hills. An hour ago it seemed like they might just die overhead, those few fat drops , maybe one last gust of wind, maybe, just maybe one last light of lightning before it all was just high thin clouds like those dull drifting high anemic pencil sketches line of the boring weather that rules supreme most of the year in Southern California. Nothing came but a brief blotting of sun to circle in high grey then hot again. I am pimples, sweat and sunburn here. I am anxiety riddled like a swarm of fruit-flies inside (this is not 13 but a forever constant it seems). I am trying to grow a mustache and beard but it comes out like I glued errant hairs from the floor onto my boy face. I am half molded. I am terrified of something I can’t quite place. I am excited about the idea of some far off future, not now, not here.
I mourn this boy. He was so innocent and in the pocket of life before the Meteorology dream hit math at high speed, before that doomed first love he dreams of as some ghost translucent honey perfect phantom of future, snakebite venom antidote of loneliness, of the progression of mom’s canes to walker to bed as continent soon to come, all a few short years from then milk and the pool.
This moment at 13 is like old photographs in a sense. It is ripped from roots , shorn from context, clipped from the dull continuim of days and decades. It has details and has smears and fade. It has a digit of a moment, a frame in a sequence, the rest out of the corners, out of what it holds. I got a phone call a few days ago from a distant relative, a nervous voice on the phone where now is mostly texts or taking photos. She sounded tired, supremely timid. She may be my mother’s real mother. That is a family rumor anyway (again like the photo this floats out of frame, not captured or solid). She rambled and fumbled, her words almost meekly falling out the air in transit. She then excused herself for taking my time (5 minutes out of the blue after 20 years..hardly a big packet).
I have long thought that photos are strange rectangles, odd and not just of images and time and all that. They have this odd pressure, this tension sometimes. It is almost like they want to spill, like rain from those rare thick summer clouds, like the body is not just lines and shapes. Old photos almost seem to wish to burst, pop like grapes, flood like lakes and rivers, pour out old afternoons, scents of smoke and candy or exhaust , unburden themselves of past.
The milk is thin in the pool in that afternoon when I was 13. Dad will come home soon angry from a long day. I am decades from that boy I was but he haunts me, his ghost like the photos on the table seem to carry weight, tons in a polaroid, in a lamp, a window open, curls and lines and spaces in the haircuts of people long passed on.