Thursday, November 1, 2007

Earthquake Country

Or "earthquake weather", they call it. 'They' being anyone who lived here in '89. Oooh, I guess I'm one of them. The Loma Prieta quake was first a 7.2, then downgraded several years later to a 6.9. I was in a car, already sick and soon to be actually delerious with strep throat, and I was 10 years old. At first I thought one of my siblings was bouncing around in the back seat, shaking the car, but when I looked around I saw the streetlights swinging and waving, and all the cars stopped around us, rocking like boats. The woman in the car next to us looked at me with her eyes wide and her mouth a perfect O.

At my mom's house, the chimney collapsed, into the kitchen I think, I was too sick to remember much of the aftermath. Things were flung from shelves. At my dads house cracks tore through the walls and foundation, all the dishes leaped to their deaths from the cupboards, and, most awful to me, the fish tank lurched and the fish met a sad end. There were ten aftershocks over the next few days. Schools were closed, buildings downtown were rubble, and people died. The effects reached for miles and miles. I don't remember how long the power was out.

There was a sudden increase in earthquake awareness and preparedness, albeit a little late, and childproofing was recomended on cupboards and shelves, fishtanks strapped to walls, evacuation plans made, drills practiced regularly in school. And yet, it was always more exciting than frightening to me. Running for a doorway- the next safest place if you can't get outside quick enough. There have been many gentle tremors over the 18 years since then, the anniversay only two weeks ago.

Then we had one, the night before last, that wasn't like the other tremors. It wasn't short, and it wasn't small. 5.6 on the richter scale and almost thirty seconds long, I was cooking some fried squash and mashed potatoes when I felt it. It took a few seconds to be certain, sometimes they're so mellow it could almost be a heavy truck passing by. Then when I realized what it was, I thought, cool, an earthquake. Yeah, probably not the most typical response, but I figured it would pass- they always do. I've been through tens of 'em, even a biggie. But it didn't stop, and then it started shaking more. It got louder. Rumbling, and the first creakings in my house, the floor moving under my feet, and still it didn't stop. And then an image came to my mind, of our roof, and how it just eeeeeever so slightly looks bowed, and that was when I felt, not the quake, it was still growing, and going, steadily bigger. I felt the fear hit me. I could imagine the roof falling in on me.

I've never been scared in an earthquake before now. I dropped the spatula, and ran for the door, debated whether to run from the porch or not. I'm completely surounded by trees, though, and there's nowhere open I could run to, so I stayed in the doorway. And still it kept shaking and rumbling, but I felt like I had done what I was supposed to, and the fear lessened. It seemed to last so long, and though I estimated 30 seconds at the time, I thought I might be just imagining it, you know? The one in '89 was something like 45 seconds long. I had time enough for the fear to ebb as I stood in the doorway, time enough to think, "Dang it, right in the midddle of cookingh dinner". And then it faded away and was gone, like a storm passing to new ground.

I was a wee shaky myself, and I kind of just stood there, feeling like, what now? But nothing had fallen, aside from the spatula, the power was still on, and everything seemed the same. I didn't feel normal, but I think I've already established that I'm somewhat less than normal anyway. I kid, I kid. After a few minutes of standing around, I went back to the sink, washed off the spatula, and stirred the veggies. That earthquake brought back a lot of memories, and feelings that I'd forgotten, but the fear was new. It faded as quick as the earthquake, a fading that felt about as quick as 10 minutes in the waiting room at the dentist before a root canal. I'm not afraid now, of one to come, more afraid of the fear itself. Like the spider. Is this a new thing, or a one time thing? I thought fear lessened with age, like bad dreams and boogeymen (who, by the way, when I was a kid I thought was a monster made out of boogers). Or do we trade the fantastic fears from our protected childhoods for realistic ones as adults?

Now, I'd like to add, I wasn't crippled by it or anything, and honestly, I'm not worried. As a worrier by nature, that's saying a lot. It' just something that's been on my mind since the earthquake. I guess fear is a perfectly natural thing, a saftey mechanism, but it seems like America treats it as an evil that not only can be combatted, but could be wiped from the planet entirely. You know, now that I got all my thoughts down about it, I don't even fear the fear. It's a real part of life, but it didn't hinder me, and I feel confident. Cool. I think I just passed an internal test or something. I'm a strong person, and I can count on myself.

P.S. Belatedly I must say, eeeeeeeeew a booger man.


Anonymous said...

love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

dint know the earth quake made it to you! think it was out of hayward and very close to the surface..........

fear is a crazy, wow, kinda wind blowing through your inards kind of thang.....

love you and your writing!!!!!!!!!!!

jill said...

Wow. Do I remember that '89 quake! Being in AZ now, I never even think about them. I have to say, one of my fondest memories in LIFE was the night or two after the '89 quake being outside at the Kay's house and you and Morgie and Markie and Nick were running around, and all the adults were sitting outside (because we all were afraid to go indoors) drinking wine. There was such a sense of closeness and human frailty and fear and wanting to be around people we knew and loved. I think the power was out for a week or ten days. I know I didn't go back to work for a week! And finally, please don't tell me it's been 18 years since then. Aughhh!

daddums said...

Yeah, I remember drinking (good) wines at the Kays that night. After driving all over town to make sure all loved ones were safe. And sleeping in the back of the car ('89 Toyota Landcruiser) because it was too scary being inside a building. And the big aftershocks that went on for days. There was a very strong sense of closeness and caring for each other. Pappy and Uncle Mike were on just about the next plane from PA to CA to help fix things at the house. Pappy even worked the jack hammer for a while. Really hard non-stop work by him and Mike for the entire time they were here. I remember one particular late night aftershock. We jumped up (from our cots in the living room) and ran outside leaving Pappy and Mike in the house wondering what the heck we were doing. I think we were so tuned in that we guessed the Richter scale of that aftershock to within 0.1. Do you remember Pappy's drawing? OMG 18 years!