A Bit Shaken

I’m suffering from vertigo from earthquake aftershocks and this isn’t even the big one.

I was sitting outside, under a grapevine in the garden when the Valentine’s Day earthquake shook my world. It was a 5.7 and I saw the ground jump up from under me in a violent, horrific fashion. Pretty sure the nectarines shook from the tree prematurely. I gripped the bench I was sitting on, dropped my notebook and pen. There was yelling from the neighbors next door, “Is everyone alright?” to no one in particular. “Yes, you?” I yelled back. I don’t even think I’ve met the man but I didn’t wait for a response. “Isaac!” I said aloud and bolted for my bike. My hands were shaking and I quickly ran through the scenarios of whether to ride my bike, the danger of an aftershock and power lines falling, whether I should wear my helmet (it was in a shed which I didn’t want to go in to) and my fear of going inside the house to nab my phone. I don’t think I really made any decisions, I just moved and soon enough I was pedaling furiously toward the estuary where Isaac was kiteboarding.

Photo: GRAEME JOLLIFFE

I gasped as I looked left at the estuary. I covered my mouth with my hands, “Something terrible has happened,” I remember saying aloud as I passed cars who had pulled over on the side of the highway to take pictures. Out in the distance, a puff of dirt and sand was surrounding the cliff face just near Sumner/Taylors Mistake. Phone lines were jammed. SD cards were filling up with videos of the disaster that was happening. I kept riding, panting heavily as I neared my partner. I looked up and saw him driving toward me and I waved. My shoulders dropped and my wheels slowed down. I was relieved he was okay. Of course, he’d been through this before and looked calm as a cucumber. He u-turned to catch up to me and we talked briefly through his car window. “I’m okay,” I think I said, “I’ll meet you at the estuary.”

That was 9 days ago and I have major vertigo. I feel every aftershock above 2.7 or so on the scale and hear them coming at the house. I wake up often and it takes me a couple of hours to get back to resting. I work at a building in the CBD that’s very safe but I still feel every truck that passes by and I can’t sit still. Every rumble feels like the next big one and I’m well aware of where I need to go and what I need to do in case it is. I keep glass and hot beverages at the middle of the table. I don’t drink wine out of wine glasses (I have a fear of broken glass and razors). I sleep with my eyeglasses in my hand. I know every exit when I enter a new building. I check the earthquake GeoNet website multiple times a day. The last one I felt was walking to the beach this morning to check the surf. It was small but it stopped me because the shed next to me shook. I grip the tables a lot more than I used to.

And yet, I feel guilty. I wasn’t here for “the big ones”. I don’t know what the city looked like before “the earthquakes”. And I certainly don’t feel like I can claim to know what it must have been like. This is all new territory to me. I hate it.

I keep telling myself it’s the price you pay for living in paradise. Currently, I don’t think the view from my office is the paradise people dream of. But I love my work. I love the opportunities in Christchurch, in all it’s brokenness and shakiness. I love living by the beach (despite being 10km from the epicentre of the V-day shake). I carry this guilt.

Photo: Diego Chellet

We commemorated the 5-year anniversary yesterday of the Big One and I felt like I didn’t really want to participate. Yet, I found myself at the river, throwing a single rose in the Avon and shedding a tear. It was hard.

Here I am today, back at work, trying hard to carry on like the rest of them — the ones who have been through the harder stuff. Cantabrians.

And I can’t stop swaying.

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