Tuesday, December 11, 2018

After the Aftershocks

I’m ready to write about the earthquake.

7.0 at 8:29 a.m. on November 30 in Anchorage. I had been up at 6, so at 8, I went back to bed for a nap. I knew it was a big one by the sound, but it was dark, so I couldn’t see the disarray. I knew things were flying. It took me four tries to punch in the numbers on the phone to call Tim. I have never seen my hands, my body, my whole self shake that much. I was an internal 7.0.

At least we had power. Only afterwards did I find out that many people didn’t. How did they vacuum up all that glass?

Supposedly, I was ready: years of conducting Great Alaska ShakeOut drills. Landing at the airport in the midst of a 7.1 in 2016, I was relieved that I wasn’t in hurricane, tornado, or fire country. I felt prepared.

Ha, ha, ha.

It is more than a week now, and I’m still not normal. Thousands of aftershocks don’t help.

This is my new normal: That painting on the wall? It could come down and shatter glass everywhere. The metal sculpture of ravens? Guillotines. Lighting fixtures? Bombs from above. Beverages in glass? Future clean-up nightmares. My world is a world of hazards, and I’m not prepared.

I thought I was. I knew to get under the dining room table and hold on. But I didn’t count on glass on the floor. I knew to have supplies, but I’d have to collect them. I knew to brace the bookshelves … but not the items on them.

And this was not the Big One. That one – 1964 earthquake variety – will be 1,000 times stronger. Moving to a safe place will be hard because we’ll be on hands and knees, doors will be stuck, stairs will collapse. Power will be out for a long time.

Facebook was full of photos of downed shelves, broken glass, demolished pantries. But everyone was Safe. Safe. One-word messages: Safe. Calls from all over the country to hear “Safe.” Things down and broken, but Safe. No fatalities: Safe. So-and-so reported in: Safe.

And in our house, the heavier seder plate fell off the mantel and crushed Sophie’s Noah’s Ark menorah and decapitated the little animals, leaving Walrus in pieces. On the eve of Hanukkah.

The next day, while Tim was bracing shelves from multiple directions to handle future shakes, I glued Walrus back together. And then I just put my head down and cried.

Did I cry because all the clean-up was stressful? Did I cry because with all the aftershocks, I hadn’t gotten any sleep? Did I cry for Walrus? Did I cry for Sophie’s childhood? For Hanukkahs past? Hanukkahs future?

No, I cried because Safe is an illusion.

Safe is always an illusion, but when Not Safe arrives with a roar and throws everything all over the place, it’s hard to ignore. When all the evidence around you – and all your friends and neighbors – are dealing with Not Safe, it’s an epidemic of Not Safe.

For a while, Anchorage was ecstatic about how it could have been worse: an amazing story of an intersection collapsed and no one hurt. But then the reports came in: two schools are Not Safe and won’t be reopened. Houses came off foundations and are Not Safe. Gas lines broke, roofs caved in.

We all have to walk around every day believing that we won’t be murdered or knifed or kidnapped, but it’s hard to believe your house won’t fall on you when some houses did. It’s hard when the earth keeps shaking. And shaking. And then you remember: life is precarious. Life is always precarious.

Pretty quickly, yes, humor appeared: my friend Connie lost a whole china cabinet and called the pile of glass “Chihuly-esque.” I looked at the bookshelves and saw new opportunities for de-cluttering and donating: why keep books to potentially fall on our heads? Kitty made a mosaic of her broken vases. And we sought each other out: spending a day cleaning up the library, gathering to tell stories, finding out who needed help.

Noah’s animals made it through another Hanukkah. They propped each other up, held candles tipping in every direction, and did what they could despite cracks, missing pieces, and rubble all around. They’re hurting, but they didn’t sink. Just like us.

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