From the soles of my feet, it begins. A pulse beneath the floorboards; a telltale heart beats to my pace. At first, the quake's movement is subtle, as though someone's tiptoeing the ceiling beneath. But light steps stutter to Mao marches. My heart pounds. My feet bead with sweat. Hands run clammy. The tramp turns wild, careening towards walls, shelves and ceilings. 11:06. 11:10:02. 11:10:44. When the world shakes where do you go? I make it as far as the living room before I fall to my knees, huddled beneath the table with my fiancée. The shelves empty themselves. Francisca clings to me and wooden stability. The shakes. She believes in God; she has faith; she prays. She calls out with terms of endearment, "Diosito, ¿porqué me estas haciendo eso de nuevo? Por favor, no! Por favor, Diosito!" (God, why are you doing this to me again? Please, no! Please, God!).
Eight floors up, the ground never ceases. Sway. Pulse. Gesticulate. Writhing atop a city in a building condemned to a slow death by 2033. A yellow notice plastered to the front door reads "Earthquake Prone." A letter to residents explains that renovations must be completed by stated year or the structure will be demolished. But that doesn't change anything now. The onslaught waits for no one.
From a.m.'s to p.m.'s it doesn't stop. 8:42. 8:45. 8:50. 8:58. Blue, grey, green, pink. In the last 72 hours Wellington- recently rocked by winds of over 200 km/h that blew my roof onto my balcony- has been subjected to more than 230 earthquakes. The majority are bleeps of blue energy released, but over a dozen blush with malignancy. Yesterday highs of 5.4 (20/07/13), today 6.8 (21/07/13); tonight restless. Fissures take to the weekend streets.
Fearless, the earth opens again. It consumes. It devastates. And then it is still. My fiancée and I look to each other, squeezing clammy palms, hoping the surge has ended. We wait.
In these seconds, I worry. I worry about her. I worry about the ocean rising. I worry about my next step. I worry about the construction of Wellington, the fault line we are built on, and that ominous yellow paper. I worry about shards of glass. I worry about unbroken pillars and shattered bottles. I worry about constructed plans turning to rubble. I worry at the top of all this ruin.
The familiar sway opens, gutting the ground from our soles. We shake, rattle and fall into our own constructs- into ourselves, clumsy as we are. Our home turns against us, but our bodies respond. Blood flows. Veins pulse. Oxygen feeds. Brains thrive to heightened awe. A refreshed sense of self; the serene individuality of terror- is this really happening to me?
We've been through this before, but we didn't know each other then. Last time it was February 27th, 2010 in Chile: 8.8 on the Richter scale- the fifth largest in our history, and my 24th birthday. Terror that lasted over three minutes; memories that never go.
Once again- this time on the other side of the world- I feel nature in a fit of awesome violence. I see it take back. I hear it roar. Brought to my knees, whispering sweet nothings to stains on a carpet, I am moved. Feel the world: Fear it, respect it.
As years of travel inform: There is always something to be gained, so I cherish my quakes. A "once in a lifetime experience" cannot be exacted, but it can be mimicked. Every time that needle skips, I learn about myself; I learn about those around me. Disasters, whether man-made or nature-infused, teach. Some stand their ground, dumbfounded; some run, frightened; some react, inspired. When we live, we savor the triumph. When we travel, we adapt. We embrace the dire as a part of our road. We become a part of it.
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