The lightning cracked above my head as thunder simultaneously boomed across the sky. I felt the vibrations of its roar reverberate through my body.
Why am I not at home? I shouldn’t be out in this mess.
It was a question I wanted to ask myself, but couldn’t. If I asked the question, I would have to answer it. And thinking of the answer would only make my heart beat faster and stomach flop more. In the raging storm, I needed to keep my wits about me and pay attention to the road… not die from heart palpitations or distractions.
My hands were trembling. I willed them to be still, but they wouldn’t listen. My lack of control over them only made me more nervous and agitated, which in turn, made them shake harder. The only thing shaking harder than my hands were the windshield wipers, desperately trying to shed the rain pellets assaulting the windshield.
I took advantage of a red light and took my eyes from the road, stealing a glance at my phone to check the time. Five minutes. Five minutes stood between me and Gabriel.
It had only been 13 days since I met him. In that time, he had gotten my number, tricked me into writing a newspaper article for him, taken me on two dates and discovered some of my deepest passions.
He was funny and intelligent. And he was driven. He had dreams he wanted to fulfill and plans to fulfill them. And now he was making plans to fulfill mine too…
The first plan involved taking me out in the middle of a storm to photograph lightning.
If I had bounced this idea off a friend or two… or maybe my mother… they might have thought I was a lunatic. If I had really thought through the idea myself, I might have wondered if those first two dates with Gabriel hadn’t gone as nicely as I thought, and perhaps he was trying to get rid of me permanently?
Instead, I thought it strangely sweet that he was going to put himself in danger with me, for the sake of my bucket list.
The previous night, we somehow landed on the topic of goals and dreams. He asked me if I had a bucket list, and I said yes. When he asked to see it, I just pointed to my head.
He jumped up from the couch and ran upstairs, returning with a notepad and pen. “You have to write the list down,” he said. “Otherwise, you won’t check things off of it.”
I sat there, staring at the white blank page, feeling vulnerable. Writing my list down — in the same notebook that contained his highly intimidating bucket list — meant sharing with him some of my most personal desires… many of which I kept secret, even from my closest friends.
I started off with the “safe,” stereotypical bucket list items:
Go grape stomping in France
Visit the Great Wall of China
See a glacier
Gabriel told me to add things to the list that I had already accomplished. That way, I could see my progress and use it as a source of motivation to continue checking things off.
√ Learn to play an instrument
√ Ride a camel
√ Write a penpal
After a few minutes, he looked over my shoulder to see how the list was coming. “You can come up with more than that. Think bigger! Don’t just see a glacier… CLIMB a glacier!”
I suddenly realized I was scared. I was scared not only of sharing with him what I truly wanted to do, but also of admitting to myself that these were my dreams. Once I admitted them, I had to either accomplish them, or live in disappointment with myself.
Slowly, I picked up the pen and began to write again.
Visit my best friend in Kenya
Become fluent in another language
Write a novel
Live in another country
Learn to play a second instrument
Finish an art project and be happy with it
I crossed out “see a glacier” and changed it to “climb a glacier.”
Just then, a flash of lightning illuminated the window. A storm was coming. Before thinking of the consequences, the words “it would be awesome to take a photograph of lightning” popped out of my mouth.
“Write it down,” he said.
Less than 24 hours passed between that moment and the one I found myself in next: driving back to his house in the middle of a storm as he planned to check off one of my bucket list items. Of course it had to be one of the most dangerous items on my list.
When I pulled in the driveway, he ran off the porch with an umbrella and ushered me inside. I wasn’t sure if the sight of him calmed me, or made me more anxious. As I walked into the living room, I saw his camera equipment sitting on the coffee table. The cameras reminded me of why I was at his place and I decided my feelings were definitely those of anxiety, not calm.
We didn’t want to lose our opportunity to catch lightning by letting the storm pass, so Gabriel hastily loaded the equipment into his GTI and we quickly headed to a destination unknown to me.
As we drove, it became clear that the storm was clearing out faster than anticipated and we were going to miss the electricity. I let out a deep breath, expecting the anxiety gripping my chest to lessen. When it did not, it dawned on me that perhaps it wasn’t the storm making me nervous. Perhaps it was being in such close proximity with this guy who now knew my passions and dreams and cared about them…
The evening was not a disappointment, despite the lack of lightning and danger. We took pictures of wet sidewalks reflecting city lights downtown. Gabriel also showed me how to take “ghosting” photos without any post-production editing.
It was also the evening we shared our first kiss.
Although I have yet to take a photograph of lightning, Gabriel has helped me check off many of the items on my bucket list that I wrote down that fate-filled evening, 5 years ago.
But more importantly, he’s taught me to believe that bucket lists shouldn’t be awe-inspiring, unattainable goals to make others jealous of your experiences. They should be personal, and leave you with more than a cool story. They should ignite some sense of accomplishment, and can include the smallest of things.
That’s why, when my 77 year old grandmother said she had always wanted to fly in a plane but supposed she was too old to, I knew it was time I helped someone with their bucket list, as Gabriel helped me with mine.
My Grandmother is one of the most beautiful individuals I’ve ever met. She is kind-hearted, loving, gentle and down to earth. Don’t let her fool you though — she’s also full of spunk. Just ask her about the time she raced cars, down at the local track.
Above all, she is selfless, which is why I’m sure she never flew. She always puts others’ needs before her own. Since she never had the need to fly, the thought to just hop on a plane never occurred to her.
With Gabriel’s support and help from my generous (and equally selfless) parents, I decided it was time Grandma traveled by air. Less than two weeks ago, we booked her a flight to Atlanta, where she and my grandfather lived more than 60 years ago. And on November 15, 2016, we headed to the airport for an adventure like no other.
The flight was only 45 minutes — long enough for a beverage and snack service, but not long enough to wear us out from travel. We hit the ground running in ATL, first grabbing lunch in College Park at a new cafe called Loveland, minutes from the airport. Never have I met such kind, accommodating people. The deli (and BBQ) sandwiches and organic coffee they served were delicious, too.
After lunch, we checked off another “first” for Grandma: getting a manicure at the salon. She selected a dusty rose color that complimented her plum blazer and made her look absolutely regal.
We managed to squeeze in a short nap before it was time to eat again, this time at Pitty Pat’s Porch. We feasted on fried chicken, mashed potatoes, Savannah-style crab cakes, grits, jambalaya, fried green tomatoes and salmon… in addition to the biscuits and cornbread that arrived, prior our entrées.
The next morning, after breakfast and a quick shopping spree at a nearby outlet, we packed our bags and returned to NC. The return flight proved smoother than the first, with clearer skies. Grandma and I stared out the window for the full 45 minutes, trying to figure out what towns we were flying over.
I’ve flown through ATL countless times, but this trip was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Grandma, thank you for being the role model you are, and the “CEO” of the Burchette family. Words cannot express how much you mean to us, and how much we love you. Thank you for your constant support, and for encouraging me to continue dreaming. Above all, thank you for letting me take this unforgettable trip with you.