Friday, July 20, 2007

Rockin' 'n Rollin' In Berkeley

This morning, into my second month in Berkeley, I wake to a JOLT. I wake up like I woke to a dream a few days ago, a nightmare of a grizzly bear attacking a woman then following me and my son into a house with flimsy windows: I am tying up the splintery wooden frames and screen doors with whatever I can find, long scraps torn from my red dress. They don't hold and the house (not my own) is open to the bear. I wake with the words (loud) "Oh my god! Oh my god! OH MY GOD!" I am not a (traditionally) religious person. I wake this morning with the same words (loud), maybe with an extra repetition of the sentence, and realize that I am in an earthquake. By that time it is over. And quiet. My son comes running out of his bedroom - "What the hell was that?" and I grab a shirt and meet him in the hall. He asks a lot of questions, mostly, "Is this bad?" Yes, and no, I tell him. "Can people die?" Yes, I tell him, a lot of people died in '89. It depends upon where you are when it happens. And, no, it's not bad. "That was just a jolt," I say. "A 'jolt?'" It's a new word for his already extensive vocabulary. We are standing in the doorframes of our adjacent rooms in the center of the apartment next to the hall closets. "This is the best place to be," I tell him, away from windows, surrounded by these bearing walls. "You want to be away from any windows, away from any high shelves. You don't want to turn on any lights or gas or light any matches, in case there's a gas leak...". I go on with what I had already told him when I left him for a few hours to go to the store or my new volunteer job. "Why are you telling me all this? You're scaring me," he said. "We live in earthquake country," I say, "You need to know." It's rare, I say, but it happens. I repeat and ad to the long list of dos and don'ts. He's excited, the whole city is awake and excited. We are full of adrenaline and I'm wide awake despite having only gone to bed two hours before. He starts laughing, noticing that I am naked and clutching my shirt against me, when I say when and if to run outside, away from our second floor apartment. "You'll be naked in the street!" he says. I know, I say, but it won't matter, "I won't be the only one, naked and talking in the street."

Earthquake Talk, I call it. I missed it in '89. It was the year, a few months after I left (for good, I thought) telling friends and family, "It's your last chance to get out now. The Big One's coming and I'm headed for solid granite in the middle of the country," (and felt bad for it) when I stopped being a California Girl despite my long ancestral lineage. I was no longer a Californian, no longer bound to the shaking tribe. The power of the earth is immense. The Great Turtle rises from its slumber and shakes us off its back. It happens. We go back to bed and I pick up my red dress and place it by the bed - just in case. I note the time: approximately 4:42 am we had a quake.

A couple of hours later I rise. I can't sleep. I think I should have let him talk some more, my newly christened California Boy. I think to myself, I am a good mother to have in case of earthquake. I have "flat worm knowledge," like in biology class when we studied how flatworms could learn to negotiate a maze, then were slaughtered and ground up and their bodies force fed to other flatworms who somehow "inherit" the knowledge to traverse the same mazes. It happens. 3.9 - 4.2, probably 4.2, I say to myself. And it was here, under our sleeping bodies. The Hayward fault, no doubt. Epicenter no more than 2 miles away. It is. I remember the photos my grandmother had, the ones that disappeared or were burned in the fire, of her and her mother's tent camp on the street in Santa Barbara along with hundreds of others. Her stories of watching the earth buckle and fold, great one to two foot fissures opened their mouths, then, most scary of all, closed them again, seamlessly. The great burning in the cities: San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Watsonville, Mexico City; the countries rocking: Afghanistan, Iran, Japan....

I hear the Grey Ghost blaring it's whistle. Loud. The long train that runs from Canada to Mexico is 3 hours late. The earth, my God, "El Mundo," has stopped the train while they check the track. I think of Japan and the broken reactor and meditate on healing. I think of walls falling on my child in his slumber, and it is not funny anymore. I think of an absent partner, and how this is anyone's best argument for living together - one of my greatest fears as a child was being separated from my family during and after The Big One. What would happen if there were no roads, no landmarks, nothing but a long walk - to where? No phones. How will I know if he is safe? How will I know if I should go there or he should come here? How will we find each other?

I get up and turn on my computer - the only damage in the house is my left over tea from a few hours ago has spilled from its cup near my laptop. I look up "earthquake Oakland San Francisco 2007" and there it is, a story from San Francisco:

Earthquake Rocks East Bay; Blackout In Oakland

POSTED: 5:23 am PDT July 20, 2007
UPDATED: 7:05 am PDT July 20, 2007
OAKLAND -- A moderate 4.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the East Bay early Friday, breaking windows in Berkeley and triggering a power blackout in Oakland’s Jack London Square area.
The quake rocked thousands of residents awake at about 4:42 a.m. with a epicenter about 2 miles north-northeast of Oakland near the Hayward fault. The tremblor was felt on both sides of the San Francisco Bay and was reported as lasting up to 10 seconds. more from KTVU

The nearby donut shop where I had just promised my son I would take him this morning has had it's plate glass window shattered. No donuts today. I think to go buy flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, water, a transistor radio, food and a can opener and place it in a sack in the closet.

Flatworm knowledge. Earthquake Talk. Today I become a Californian again, in the Great Bear State, Turtle Island. Today there will be talking and laughing in the streets across the classes standing in lines, rich and poorer, the better and the worst: Where were you? What did you do? What happened? Today, the day something stops this train.


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