My Month of Written Devotion is for the Spirit of the Santa Clara Valley
Four prompts are due today.
Before Lon found and we began this meme, I had been inspired to write this poem, and accompanying memories:
Love, Anger, Memories & Loyalty
On October 17th, 1989, around 3pm in the afternoon, I was sitting with 30 or so fellow 10-year-olds in a Girl Scout meeting at my elementary school, learning about earthquake preparedness. The details blur into every other lesson on earthquake preparedness I’ve ever had – and there have been many over the years – but I do recall the instructions on how to position ones body properly in a door frame. It was a pretty good meeting, and essential information for a group of children growing up in earthquake country. Everyone knew The Big One was coming someday. The faults hadn’t released significant pressure since the dreadful 1906 Quake that resulted in so much of San Francisco burning to the ground. It’s just a fact of life here in the SF Bay Area that every so often, the land we love tries to kill us.
I walked home to an empty house, as I always did that year. It was my first year without daycare after school, and I was proud to be a self-sufficient latch-key kid. As usual, I set my backpack aside, putting school and homework from my mind, in favor of watching whatever was left of afternoon cartoons and Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns.
During a commercial break, I got up from the couch and took a few steps towards the kitchen, when…
*Huh… no, I probably imagined that. Earthquakes on the mind, after all.*
Step, step, BUMP BUMP!
*Oh! No, that’s an earthquake for sure, okay!*
There are two empty door frames between the livingroom and the kitchen in my Mom’s house. I settled into the kitchen doorway as I’d just been instructed to do, when
BUMP BUMP SHAKE
*Brace yourself, here it comes!*
I’d been through earthquakes before, but this was insane. It was WAY more violent than anything I’d felt before, and it seemed to go on forever.
I screamed myself hoarse watching a bookshelf in another room fall towards me, the panic of the situation closing any perception of distance, making me fear I would be crushed under the load of books and vases it was dumping onto the already-cluttered floor. Heavy earthenware plates flew out of the cupboards across the room to land – or smash – on top of the refrigerator, which was taller by several inches. The earth wasn’t just shaking, it was rolling and tilting.
It was the longest 15 seconds of my life.
When the rumbling died down and the shaking stopped, my neighbor, Sid, came running over, calling my name, and I emerged. I thought she might have heard me screaming, but realized that no, the earth tearing and waving was much, much louder than any sound mere mortals could generate.
Sid had a big wrench to help turn off our gas lines to avoid a fire. She went around gathering our other neighbors to my yard.: the elderly woman from across the street, my friend and his mom from a few doors down, and so on. Every aftershock that came bumping and shoving its way through the rocks had us clinging to each other and crying.
It took a while for my Mom and my Sister to get home. I don’t honestly remember the details. Since school was cancelled until the buildings could be inspected for danger, Mom sent us to stay with our Dad elsewhere in the Valley, until she could be certain our home was safe, that the gas and water and electricity were flowing safely contained, and the chimney wouldn’t come crashing through the ceiling or anything. Mom’s neighborhood was dark. Dad’s house was warm and well-lit.
I was lucky, living in the Santa Clara valley. We shared the most violent earthquake ratings with neighboring Santa Cruz, the San Andreas fault line running right along the mountains along our county line. But the insulating bedrock and modern infrastructure made Santa Clara Valley one of the least damaged parts of the greater Bay Area, with the fewest injuries, and no deaths at all. Not that people tend to stay in the county they live in around here, but it’s nice to know that once you can manage to get home, your home is still there.
I know people who were much worse off, people who lost loved ones to piles of falling bricks, people who spent days digging with bare hands through the rubble, hoping to hear even the weakest of voices crying for help, instead of irreparably crushed bodies. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be only me.
Those comparative blessings didn’t stop the images from flooding in, of course, nor should they. For days we watched news coverage showing the Cypress structure collapse, the Bay Bridge section that failed, the buildings in San Francisco and Santa Cruz turned to rubble, killing and injuring all those people who had no way of knowing they should choose another place to be that day.
And yet, so many had! Over the next days and weeks the death estimates rose, only to fall again as officials realized that having both of our local pro baseball teams competing in the World Series meant that many people who would have been on the road during the quake were instead in the stadium, in sports bars, in their homes, relatively-safely watching the game. Instead of the hundreds of deaths there could have been from the collapsing and crushing highway, the total number of deaths across the Greater Bay Area was, amazingly, only 63!
(Yes, you read that right, fellow Heathens – the Giants and the As being in open competition for the “World Series” saved hundreds of people from dying in the Loma Prieta Earthquake.)
The media coverage on the Loma Prieta earthquake was honestly kind of numbing after living through the actual quake. But the aftershocks were terrifying.
And then they told us – this was not The Big One. Compared to 1906, only a tiny fraction of the release of fault line tension occurred. The tension is still high, still building, and still has to go somewhere, it’s only a matter of time, and the time is not ours to choose. We can’t even have particularly precise warning. Foreshocks might tell us it’s coming sometime in the next year or two, maybe even narrow it down to months, but they can’t tell us which day to stay home, or avoid crossing our many bridges.
This wasn’t the big one? Dear gods, what will The Big One feel like? With the earth open up beneath our feet and swallow us whole?!
How am I supposed to live with that? Never cross bridges? Refuse to enter buildings with brick facades? Spend my life making sure I’m only ever a few steps away from the nearest doorframe?
Honestly? I live with a kind of morbid zen acceptance that someday my Lady might just kill me. It won’t be because She wants to, it will be because She can’t help it. There will be nothing much I can do about it. If I don’t survive the onslaught, then that’s it. If I do, then my survival thereafter will depend entirely on how well I’ve prepared, and it’s nobody’s fault but mine if I don’t prepare well enough, now is it?
That’s moderately terrifying if I stop to think about it, but really, I don’t. Earthquakes are.
They’re not good, they’re not bad, they just ARE.
So be it.
P.S. Lon is doing it too! 😀