Tuesday, December 26, 2006


As Chemical Billy pointed out, it's been a rock and roll Christmas in the Bay Area.

This is hard for me to write about. I hate earthquakes. They petrify me. Even the short little temblors, the quick shivers that come and go before I've had a chance to decide, train, truck—or quake?

So when we have three in about as many days, burbling up from beneath the Claremont, uncomfortably close to my soft-story apartment, I'm on edge. My cats are on edge, too, starting and hissing at every unexpected shake of the bed. They cast suspicious glances at our living room windows, which rattled threateningly each time.

And I know why. When I was not quite six years old, the Los Angeles area woke up to a Richter 6.6 shaker. I had no idea bunk beds could squeak like that. Plus the groaning sound of tons of building pitching and rolling around me. A minute is a long time when you think you're going to be crushed beneath your brother and his bunk full of Bert and Ernie dolls.

I don't remember any aftershocks, although I've read we had them, plenty of them, big ones. I only remember the sounds, and the fear on everyone's face that morning in kindergarden. But instead of developing a fear of bedroom furniture or muppets, I focused on the quake.

Almost forty years later, I feel a quake and I'm either a terrified six years old again, Mommy!, or hyper-rational and entirely focused on the quake. I've been jolted awake from a temblor and blurted out the Richter and distance. Mexico was hell. We had quakes on a regular basis, and I was surrounded by brick, adobe, and concrete bloque houses. Less stressful to live next to a time bomb in Berkeley rather than in a popcorn popper like Oaxaca. For the second or so that Saturday night's quake lasted, when again I was dead asleep, I knew it was the same epicenter as the quake earlier in the day, the same intensity. I could even in my mind see the waves and the direction they eminated from, clearly.

Then I spent an hour trying to unclench my muscles and go back to sleep.

Even though they torment me, I never imagine that I'll actually die in an earthquake. Oh, maybe when I'm old I'll have a heart attack during one, but I don't see myself as ever being squished by one. Buses, sure, spontaneous combustion even, but never quakes. Isn't that funny? Or maybe perverse. When I stop and let myself think about it all, like when I'm writing it down, I think about the great childhood fears of some folks I know, how they see these fears as the gods walking and talking among us, and (the smarter ones, anyway), listen. Figure out what they're saying, why they're here. See the other side.

Whakaruaumoko, Cizin, Poseidon. Maybe sometime before I get old enough to have that heart attack I'll finally figure out what it is those earthquakes are trying to tell me—you know, before I'm hit by a bus.

The landscape of my life.

1 comment:

Chemical Billy said...

The earth moved for you, too, then...