All I can think of right now is the earthquake. That yanked me out of deep sleep, shaking me awake at 4am. Like it needed to urgently tell me something. (Maybe to remind me more can happen in 2020?) Once my heart rate slows, it shakes us again. I’m up.
Earthquakes are a traumatic and collective natural disaster. There’s no early warning system telling you to board up your windows, shelter, evacuate. There’s no names, no weatherman giving you play by plays like a sportscaster. There is no path, no one is spared.
We as a region are all shook into consciousness as we hear the groan of buildings swaying on their foundations, pictures rattling on the walls. (Why does it always happen while we’re sleeping?) Adrenaline runs high, heart rate skyrockets, you wonder how long it will last and if you can make it to your doorframe.
Once the sway subsides, you know there’s a chance of another one, or two, or more. The aftershock. When does Mother Nature want another turn on the dance floor? She inevitably does, you just don’t know when. So you wait. When your chest stops hurting is when She lurches you back in, reminding you She’s still restless and to join Her.
I lived in Huntington Beach for the Northridge earthquake, “the big one.” My benchmark. Every earthquake following shakes me back to eight years old: violent shaking, surfing the hallway to the stairs, I can’t descend, turn around, back to bed, ball up, lamp falls, hits my head. Twenty seconds. I remember every second. Buildings didn’t groan, they screamed. Dishes sliding out of cabinets, crystal diving off shelves, frames crashing on floors.
As I sit here drinking my coffee, an hour earlier than usual, I think about how an event so collective is something we actually experience alone. There’s no community in those first seconds. That fear is yours alone. Usually by the time you make it to others, its over. You hug them, but you know you’ll be alone again for each aftershock.
I’ve been in tornadoes, hurricanes, fires … each requiring specific preparation, but similar sentiment. Nothing compares to the solitude of an earthquake.
Image: “Nude Descending Staircase” Duchamp 1912