Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I do not work in a warehouse, but for the purposes of this conversation, imagine a warehouse. There are metal shelves and thousands of boxes. I was leaning against an empty row, taking notes on the boxes in the filled row before me. I was not near an aisle.

Those metal units are designed to hold thousands of pounds. Unweighted, the shelves pop right out. They always rattle a little in their notches before they hold their boxes. Against my back, they started vibrating. They thrummed, long enough for me to stop, notice, consider, and think to myself: what is that feeling? Then the shelves started swaying. One of the students I was working with yelled, "RUN!" and we all did. But we had been working in row 79. By the time we got out, it was already over.

That's my earthquake story. The rest is meta-story. I had neither my phone nor my car keys with me, but I followed protocol and exited the building. I watched a friend with some health issues develop some breathing problems and leave by ambulance. (He's still hospitalized, but is doing well enough to text his status updates.) I broke protocol to leave my checkpoint and go to the daycare checkpoint. And then I sat with my kids in the grass for an hour until the building was declared safe for re-entry.

The earthquake occurred at 1:53pm and the kids were asleep, deep in dreamland, and didn't feel the shaking. Their experience began with the emergency intercom instructions, the ceiling voice, they call it, and being ushered outside, still mostly-asleep, by their teachers. They have monthly fire drill evacuations and they were resultingly unphased. They only lost it as the adults' anxiety became palpable. In those first minutes after, cell signals were jammed and kids realized that they were tired and the sun beat hotter and...it wasn't so fun. But whatever image you think of earthquakes, this wasn't it. This wasn't awful.

My agency declared an early dismissal and once I was able to get keys and phone (confidential to Tara: thanks again!) we went home. I offered a stop for ice cream and the girls both surprised me by immediately saying no.

I just want to be in our house, E said.

Our house is capable of being its own natural disaster, but as we walked in, everything looked fine. Once I had the kids settled I checked upstairs and G's wooden robots had jumped off their shelf in a mass suicide pact, but I resuscitated them. E had two or three knick-knacks down, and the lamps in our room were teetering. Nothing in the house was broken, though. Interesting, all the bookshelves that stand latitudinally looked fine but those that stand longitudinally showed several inches of displacement. In both girls' rooms, books looked like they were trying to run away, climbing off the edge of every shelf.

And that's our story. I feel compelled to write it out because social media is so powerful in experiences like this. I had calls of concern on Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare from all over the world, and texts and voicemail and old-fashioned email. Thank you for the love. We're fine. I love when something that could be a big thing turns out to be a small thing.

But, hey- since you're sending the good wishes- Hurricane Irene is supposed to make a mess of those of us in the DC area this weekend. Tell her to knock it off.

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