Thursday, August 09, 2007

Shake, Rattle and Roll Over

Earthquakes are just not fun anymore.

There was a time when they used to be. To this day, I love making Valley Mom tell the story about how, during the ’71 San Fernando earthquake, she stumbled into my room in a panic to fetch me from my crib, and in her confusion and haste, grabbed her baby by the ankles and ran to the doorway to wait out the rest of the quake. I slept through the entire episode. It was a 6.6. And it was 6:01 in the dreaded A.M. – no wonder I couldn’t be bothered to wake up.

Later, growing up in the valley, there would be other quakes here and there, but they were fun. I was about eight or so and in the living room when a little one started rolling the house to and fro, and I distinctly remember it felt like ocean waves and so I started to ride them on the hardwood floors. How cool is that? Some stuff fell over, but it was never any big whoop.

Until 1994. The big Northridge quake. 6.7 Every valley person has their story about The Big One. Here is the short version of mine: It scared the shit out of me. It remains to this day, one of the single most frightening experiences of my 37 years on this earth.

There was nothing fun or rolling or nice about it. It was not a little “hello!” handshake from God. It was like God picked up the entire house and shook it angrily like He was losing in Vegas and here was the last of His cosmic pension on the table and all the hot angels had moved on to other tables and he was shaking those dice with the fury of a thousand angry Jesuses in the temple. Whoa! I guess I get Biblical when I’m upset. But seriously…

I have always had a kind of loving respect for nature. I get white-hot angry when someone litters, especially in a nature environment like a park or Lake Tahoe. To me, it is the equivalent of pissing on God’s front lawn or treading on Superman's cape or pulling on the mask of the Lone Ranger: You just don’t do it. I have always loved swimming in the ocean and been repeatedly swallowed whole by waves before and felt the power and known I could be taken out like that in an instant if nature so chose. But I have never felt nature so violently pissed off as I did that day, and I guess that is what was so scary. We were no longer friends. Mother Nature had become a hit man.

It took a long time for me to find my little dog Sophie that morning. She was a yappy dog with a lot of sass and believed she could kick anyone’s ass (I made a rhyme!). She slept upstairs next to the bed, but she wouldn’t come when I called her and I believed she must be dead since she worshipped me and always came when I called. After wading through the detritus and broken glass, I finally found her under the kitchen table, surrounded by her own pee and poo. She was shaking violently and quietly fixed her beady little black eyes on me with a look of utter fear, like I had caused the quake and she didn’t trust me now. Eventually I got her to come out and it strangely gave me comfort to comfort her. Every aftershock, she would look to me anxiously to see how to react, and I had to make myself be calm, make my heart rate go down, or she wouldn’t believe me that it really was okay. I kept holding her and comforting her through those long hours of darkness with no power, no street lights, when it seemed like the sun was never going to come up – what had happened was too terrible and maybe it would just call in sick today. The loneliness and fear in those hours is something that is part of me now. It’s in my blood. I still respect Mother Nature, but trust is something that is not so easy to reclaim.

So as you know, last night, not long after I had gone to sleep, the house was jolted by a 4.5 and I woke up, panicked, ready for action. This mother-effer was not going to take me, dammit! But it was over as soon as it had begun. My heart kept pounding. Would there be aftershocks? Would it set off a larger quake? Nothing. I checked on the dogs. Maybe I could comfort them and that would comfort me. But they were already back to sleep. Apparently they are so L.A., they don’t get out of bed for less than a 5.5.

One day I might shake hands with Mother Nature again and we’ll do lunch or something. But for now, her PMS-y nature is something that still frightens me and I have to just keep her as an acquaintance. You just don’t know what’s going to set her off.

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