Hannah Writes: On Power Outages

I ran into the room, my eyes alight in a sea of darkness. On the bed, my parents rose blearily. “The power’s out,” I said. 

I felt light in my chest, like my heart was leaping. Joy rose in me like a hot air balloon. Everything felt magical in the candlelight, even normal things. In the light, you could see everything that was old in broken. Some people were afraid of the dark, but not me. Everyone was so worried about what sinister things lurked in the darkness that they never thought there could be good things hiding there too. 

In the candlelight, everything glowed. My brother’s grin was like a Jack-O-Lantern, but it didn’t scare me at all. Spooky was not the same thing as scary. Spooky arrived to tickle you and then left you alone. I would later come to know real darkness, that was deep and dark and endless, like space deep within my soul. But this was not darkness – this was mischief. 

My mother floated around the rooms; I could not see her at first, but I could hear her, and that was just as comforting. There were nights I fell asleep to the muffled voices of my parents in the room over, like a lullaby. Always there. As she lit more and more candles, I began to make her out and tried to follow her, her silky nightgown creating an outline of white lit by the flames. 

My parents turned on the gas burners as I watched in wonder- the stove still worked! My mother patiently explained to me that gas and power were separate as my father took marshmallows and metal sticks down from the cabinet. My sister and brother and I gathered around the stove, each waiting our turn to roast our marshmallows in the blue and orange flames. 

With our smores made, we settled in on the living room floor. I don’t know what it was about sitting on the floor: it felt freeing. My brother rose and started spewing out nonsense, creating his own cartoons and commercials. My sister jumped up, stretching her hand high in the air – she wanted to be next. My mother, with a smile in her voice, reminded my brother to let us have a turn – he groaned and sat, but with a silly grin on his face and not an ounce of resentment in his heart. My sister grabbed my hand, her own hand warm and comforting, her hold firm, and pulled me up with her. I watched in wonder at the girl who would always be better than me, the the girl with clear bright eyes not clouded by fantasy like mine, but still filled with endless curiosity and wonder. I tried to copy her movements, to contribute to her show, but did little more than grin and shout words, jumping up and down. My parents laughed like we were a well executed comedy show, and I grinned ear to ear. We all sat down and played a board game in the candlelight. I settled into my mother’s lap, staring into the tiny flame on the wick. It was mesmerizing, fire. So wild, yet so often used, everyone trying to contain it lest it wreak destruction on the world. I wondered if I would be like that one day. I wondered if I would be at all like my sister, like my mother.

When the lights came back on, everyone cheered, but my smile was lukewarm. Everything seemed dull again in the artificial light washing over it all. All the flaws were exposed. The flames seemed much dimmer now, and obsolete – my brother impressed us all by closing each between his fingers to put them out. I couldn’t imagine trying such a thing. What if I got burned? But he did it with confidence. It was not the last time he would do something I did not understand, even as similar as we were in our not yet developed neuroticism. I asked him how, and he began to show me, turning gentler than the boisterous ten year old boy I had come to know. I looked to my parents, who did not stop him – clearly it was allowed. But I could not bring myself to touch the flame. I preferred to watch it from afar. 

I could watch them no longer once my brother extinguished the last one. My parents shooed us to the bath, our room, our beds. We had stayed up too late, without a clock to stop our fun. I was tucked into bed and finally it was dark again, my night light acting as a candle. 

I was not afraid of the dark – but I always needed a light. Just one thing to stretch out into the corners, to lend shape to my imagination of what might be hiding. I closed my eyes as my mother sang to me, her voice as smooth as the edge of flame. 

And then she left. And it was quiet. And dark. And calm. 

Each year, I would wait for the power to go out again. I would secretly cheer when I would hear of a storm. But the magic began to fade each time. The power was out too long. The house grew too cold. My computer ran out of battery; I grew annoyed. Adolescence chased all the magic away until I dreaded the yearly power outages, piling on sweaters and worrying over how I would work out and do my hair with no power, in the dark. 

I moved to California, where it was always sunny and bright. I graduated college and lived with strangers. And one summer, hot and stifling, the power went out again. Everyone used their phone’s flashlights, sitting together and gossiping. But I remained mostly silent. The house was big, and open, and full of people I did not know. Someone noticed a cockroach on the floor, and the group started to scream, jumping up onto tables and couches. Even though people were everywhere, I felt alone in the dark. There was not a single flame. Even the light from the phones glowed cool and harsh: not like the warm, soft glow from a candle or my night light. My eyes began to hurt and I wished upon any remaining unseen magic in the darkness to bring the lights back, so I could tuck myself into bed, and at the very least forget I was alone – for this was an impossible feat among strangers. 

And they did. 

One rocky year later, I sat again in artificial light, reading a book my grandmother had given me before her death. A book that had lain discarded until then, unaware that it may have been my last chance to connect with her. I had missed out on a lot of chances. I had missed a lot of people. A lot of things had become confused, all muddled together, my many ideas of what my life would be intersecting and contradicting each other in a non-linear path of pure pain mixed with pure happiness. My eyes had become clouded and clear again, many times, and likely would many more. I was far away from the family and home I had once known; far away from childhood, from magic, from myself. No one tucked me into bed at night. 

But then the power went out. Without even thinking, I abandoned my book; abandoned my guilt over not reading it sooner; abandoned my anxiety over having chosen to read rather than work. That very same air balloon from my youth, old and tattered from disuse, suddenly filled me again and I jumped up. 

“The fuse box,” My roommate said. 

Ah. Yes. For in adulthood, one did not think of smores. They thought of fuse boxes. 

But resetting the fuse box did not work. My other roommate ran to the window – “they’re not out across the street.” She ran to our front door and looked out, coming back in with a spooked look in her eyes. “But all the lights in this building are out.” 

I clapped my hands in glee together like a child. “The power’s out!” I exclaimed, and launched into the long forgotten stories of my youth. My roommate griped about the darkness, thrown off by my excitement. I simply ignored her as I pulled out candles, requesting that she turn her phone flashlight off. 

The power was out for over an hour. We played board games and ate ice cream before it melted. 

It was not the same as it had been when I was younger. But I felt it again – that magic hiding in the corners. It was less, or perhaps it was just different, but it was still there. In my cat’s white fur, which seemed to glow in the darkness. In the candlelight dancing over the white tiles of our game. In the way we ripped the fridge door open and closed as fast as we could to grab snacks, like it was a race. In twinkling eyes and glowing flames. 

I hadn’t known, when I was little, that I would lose that magic. 

But for much longer, I hadn’t known if I would find it again. 

I worried about a lot of things. I worried if I would ever find success. I worried if I would ever find love. I worried if I would ever find belonging, or comfort, or peace. But the magic I needn’t have worried about: it was always right there, hidden in the dark corners, waiting for me to find it again. 

Finally, finally, without even realizing it, I had. 

And perhaps, perhaps, there was even more to be found.

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