Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Johannes Plenio

As I sit in my apartment, I look out of the window, seeing people running for shelter as rain starts to pour. 

It’s a wonder how quickly the sky turns gray and dark these days. I don’t remember the weather being this volatile when I was a kid. 

The rumble of thunder makes my heart skip and makes me flinch in my seat, even though I had seen it coming through the flash of lightning cutting through the dark mass of storm clouds; thunder has never failed to frighten me. Good thing I wasn’t holding my cup of cocoa. 

My adverse reaction to sudden noises has earned me my fair share of ridicule, from when I was a ten-year-old to now, a thirty-something-man. 

I still clearly remember that day in math class when it started to rain outside, and I was seated next to the windows. The teacher was trailing off in her lecture, and I dreamt off. I looked at how relaxing the clouds were, a nice break from the aggressively bright rays and the heat from the sun. 

And then there was a flash of lightning, followed by the loudest blast of thunder. 

I shrieked. 

The worst mistake of my life, as it seemed. There was a moment when everyone looked at me, then an eruption of laughter. 

My face flushed red and I looked down at my textbook. I was embarrassed the entire day. 

If it was only for that one day, I would have been able to move on from it. But the next day I learned how mean and how cruel children can be. 

That was where the mean kids started to put me on their radar. First it was them sneaking up on me and frightening me with sudden noises such as clapping behind me. Then they started to slap books and worksheets out of my hands in the walkways before running away. Then, rumours about me circulated to the point where I had to transfer during my last year and take the final exams as a private candidate.

Since then, I have always told myself–trained myself–to be like a deeply rooted oak tree. Firm and solid. That’s what successful people do right? Be firm and be calm no matter what. 

It never worked out well. Funny thing is, the more I tried to control my nerves, the more obvious they became to the outsider. 

In every job I have ever taken, I have always been able to do low level tasks fairly well. I can finish reports, I can file orders and complete invoices, and I certainly can talk to clients. 

But once I get to the higher levels I crumble, and I always get left, smothered in the ashes of wasted effort. 

In my job as a bank teller, I lasted a month before the manager had me fired because I cannot handle angry customers yelling in my face. 

In my job after that, as a clerk, I left after a year and a half because my supervisor could not stop using abusive language with me. I caved because of the stress and dread I had. 

I have blown through lots of money and many hours working things out on my own and with a professional, but here I am, still flinching at the sound of thunder. Even with the abundance of lightning rods in the city and in the concrete shelter in my home, I cannot help the tingling of my nerves.

The sound of falling rain becomes louder and louder, and petrichor slips through the small gaps of the windows and into my nostrils. Water flows down my window panes, staining my view of the neighborhood and leaving a blurry silhouette for me instead. 

I pick up my cup of cocoa and take a sip, anticipating the next blast of thunder.

All the what-ifs, could-haves and should-haves run through my head: what if I had never been on the bullies radar? What if I had been able to handle those yelling customers at my first job? What if I did not have such a toxic supervisor at my second job? What if I was in a better environment back then? 

Now, I work as a QA tester remotely at home, for a company. The pay is decent and the workload is manageable. I don’t have much to worry for now since I’m not seeing any of my colleagues or my managers. But this arrangement won’t go on forever. 

But the biggest, most prevalent one of them all is–the one that nags at me the most–what if I had never shrieked at the sound of thunder?