Standing in my bedroom I could sense “something” coming before I could see or feel it. I guess it’s kinda like the intuition that animals have before something bad in nature occurs, only I’m not feral enough to know what it means or when you’re suppose to run.
Before I could make sense of what was happening the room started shaking and everything around me was moving; the walls, the floor, all vibrating as if it were an everyday occurrence and it was the room’s time to come alive. A lamp on a bookshelf across from me started to fall and I knew that I couldn’t reach it in time but I instinctively reached out to steady the things nearest me as I watched the lamp tumble and bounce for a second or two as the floor moved beneath me.
I stood there, staring at the lamp; the shade crooked, at an odd angle, like it was a person who’s neck had been broken in a fall. Suddenly, pulled out of my dark reverie, I remembered that there was something more important than the lamp or the objects I was holding so I started down the hall to find Miss Cathy.
In the few seconds it took to reach her in the dining room all was calm. I could see that she was visibly shaking as she asked, “What was that?”
“It was an earthquake”, I said plainly, her reaction clearly that of someone who didn’t quite believe what she’d just heard.
I couldn’t blame her really; it’s not the first thing you’d think would be happening, this wasn’t Los Angeles or San Francisco, we were on the East coast, very close to Washington DC where we only read about such occurrences. The only reason I knew with any certainty was because I had experienced an earthquake before. It happened in New York City in the early ‘80’s when I lived on the fifth floor of a six-story apartment building in the East Village.
It was the middle of the night and I remember waking up to what sounded like a loud crash, I thought a semi or some other large vehicle had slammed into the side of our building, that would “explain” the noise but then the entire apartment started to shake. I held onto the bed for dear life not knowing how to process what I was seeing and feeling.
It ended almost as soon as it started but those seconds felt like hours while it was going on, after the vibrations and sound of things falling and shifting there was an eerie quiet that (to me) rang in my ears as loud as the quake itself. There was no major damage from that quake but it was recorded at 5.0 and something that hadn’t happened in New York in more than a century.
Although I didn’t know the official number for our area (yet) it definitely felt a lot milder than what I’ve experienced before. But, being as it was mom’s first quake it didn’t matter if it registered as 1.0 or 10.0-it was just as upsetting.
My instincts told me that the worse was over so I got Miss Cathy settled on the sofa and I walked back through the condo to check to see if there was any damage. I “right-ed” pictures that were askew and picked up objects that had toppled over.
I received a text from my ex, Chad asking “U ok?” and I text’d back, ”I’m ok, u ok” not knowing if he-in the Midwest (or the entire country for that matter) had just experienced the same thing. He’d contacted me so soon after it happened here that I just assumed the same thing was happening to him (later he told me that he was in his car when the news came on the radio so he text’d me right away concerned about Miss Cathy and me).
I rejoined mom in the living room and watched the TV with her. The news reporter announced that a earthquake had just hit a majority of the East coast, registering 5.9 at the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, about 80 miles away from where we lived. Miss Cathy (now convinced) sat in amazement, digesting what she was hearing and seeing.
“I thought something was going on upstairs in Ron’s apartment.” she said, “I heard this rumpling sound and I looked up at the ceiling fan and I thought it was odd that it was shaking so I thought he fell or dropped something heavy up there to make it move like that.”
She tried calling his apartment but the phone wasn’t working.
Looking out the sliding glass doors that lead to the balcony I could see that neighbors from the apartment complex across the parking lot were streaming outside, coming together as people seem to do when a common experience occurs, huddled together trying to make sense of what had just happened.
“I’m just so nervous, I can’t stop shaking.” She said, “ I didn’t know what in the world was happening, how did you know it was an earthquake?”
I reminded her of my long ago experience in New York and how it’s such a strange feeling that once it’s happened you never forget it.
She seemed to be handling it all pretty well, I thought. I was concerned about her shaking but I wondered if that wasn’t adrenaline-you know, the whole “fight or flight” feeling that takes over our bodies when situations are “heightened” (as this was pretty “high” on the list of things that had happened to her lately).
I asked her if she wanted a glass of water and sat with her after she declined the offer. Given how she’d reacted to recent doctors’ appointments and other mood swings, I have to say (other than the shaking) she was calmer than I thought she’d be but I was no less worried about her. There wasn’t much I could do for her besides sitting with her but sometimes that’s enough.
I had been getting ready to go to work when the quake hit so I got up go back into my room to finish getting dressed. I asked Miss Cathy if she was all right and if she wanted me to stay with her.
“No, I’ll be alright,” she said, “I’ll get myself together after a little while. That’s not going to happen again is it?”
“No,” I said, “probably not, but there are usually aftershocks can come after the initial quake but they’re usually much milder.”
I could see that little factoid didn’t give her much comfort but I had to finish getting dressed and I kept reminding myself that she said she’d be “alright” (I kept repeating this assertion to myself to assuage any guilt I was feeling about leaving her alone).
I must have asked her “are you sure you’ll be alright, I don’t have to go to work, I can stay here with you” half a dozen times. Each query seemed to receive the same tepid “I’ll be fine.”
I picked up my bag and headed for the door going over my rationalizations for leaving
(against a gnawing in my gut that I should stay), using “I’ll be fine” as the green light to go.
It’s interesting isn’t it how we ask a question not wanting an answer so much as permission to do whatever it is that we know we shouldn’t but we’re not quite ready to take ownership of the action, instead, “asking” absolves us of any responsibility for that which we know we shouldn’t do.
Next week “I’m okay, You Okay?” Part ll