First the Other Worldly Sound.
Some blame it on the volcanos. Others say it has nothing to do.
My role as Dad, demands adjusting and resetting.
It starts subtly. As though a groan that’s not quite there. Yet.
Through space, sounds change, barely noticeable at the start, but then the imponderable forces arise to a crescendo. The greater the shake, logically, the greater the noise. Things rattle around. That line about hearing or lack of a falling tree in the forest comes to mind. Seeking connection.
Usually they happen at night. Don’t make me make a case that claims the majority happen at night. I think I’d be wrong.
Last night it was near midnight. Seems ghoulishly fitting, I know. But any weirdness attributed to mother nature is none other than the amazing mind doing its best to confuse things. The shaking is an earthquake. Some would sniff then correct me by saying that it was a mere tremor. It’s all the same stuff.
The earth shakes damn it and it’s unnerving as anything I can imagine.
As happens frequently, earlier in the day yesterday, the thought of a possible, now overdue shake crossed my mind. I’ve learned to take these warnings seriously. Too often it comes to pass, but probably just as often it does not. Once again, the mind gives me the impression that I’m actually foreseeing the movement.
Such an impression can easily enough be explained away. There’s no crystal ball predicting going on here. No, there isn’t. Though I understand the human desire to lean to this kind of thinking for whatever hard wire need, we may have to see things that way.
But no. The mind keeps track of things like few other things on the planet. Our minds will pick up on the most subtle anomaly that deviates from routine. In this case, I pick up after a certain time period of weeks or even months that we haven’t had a shake. We may take an increased notice of our active neighborhood volcano Fuego when it growls and puffs more frequently during the day.
The mind is preset, an algorithm of sorts seems to make sense, a very natural one that begins to shine greater light on the subject of shakes. Why? Because shakes are a regular part of our daily fabric here in Antigua, Guatemala.
An example: If my dog, who is usually asleep at my feet throughout the day, suddenly goes missing, I will notice. The same thing goes on when I think I’m predicting a shake!
Last night the almost undetectable movement started. Watching a late-night movie on my Notebook next to my wife. She is quick to notice. ‘Is it shaking Tom?’
‘Yes, I think so. So, we better get downstairs now, let’s go, c’mon now, we need to go.’ I keep my voice low and stable with a careful measure of added concern, I move gingerly to get out of bed.
‘I think it’s gone now.’ She says. ‘I don’t feel it anymore. Maybe we don’t have to move.’ She stays in bed.
On my feet now and opening our bedroom door. ‘Pablo, Pablo, feel that bud?’
Pablo, our twenty-year-old boy, smiles calmly, laptop across his chest, doing late night university work. This is perhaps the second time ever in the ten years of living here that he’s not on his feet in a shake, ready to join the trek downstairs and out to our yard. I read his relaxed body language.
‘No big deal huh, Pablo? Maybe just a little one. The shaking is completely gone.’
‘Yeah, no big deal, Pa. It’s gone.’
‘Okay Pablo, we’ll leave it at that then, this time. We always need to be alert, though. We don’t want to get caught unprepared.’ He smiles at my concern.
I’m not entirely sure what his smile is. It could be the smile of a young, invulnerable youth humoring an old man who perhaps has lost some of his edge. The smile could be that one where he is saying that the shake really wasn’t worth getting upset over.
The smile may have been the one that tries to soothe…
In that briefest of moments as I’m determining to back out of his room and returning to bed or pressing the case for getting out of the house I review the unbalanced experience levels of all involved.
Both my son’s and my wife’s earthquake experiences don’t come close to mine. There is much to be said of the greater trauma experienced by some compared to others in certain emergencies.
I have dug dead people out of collapsed buildings after a massive shake in El Salvador. The earth and crumbling buildings still being riddled by aftershocks, the unique stench of death searing the nose forever. Inside the fallen structure with the Mexican rescue Miners and their dogs searching frantically. Bits and pieces of concrete falling all around us as the earth continues to move and settle.
One can’t help contemplate the countless, broken tons overhead making every natural effort to come down.
In the northern city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, it was my misfortune to be awakened, at midnight. Why always midnight? Awoken by a seven point something shake, a big one. My hotel was shaking as though a giant had a grip and was trying to uproot us.
Three floors up in my managers apartment of the eight story building, thinking it was all going to come down on top of me. The deafening freight train roar throughout the building and city, the pool on the ground floor forming five foot swells splashing out onto the sitting area.
Finally reaching ground floor, still shaking, impossibly it seems, I dash across the pool area and a wave catches me and I’m on all fours, soon back up and out the front door.
My staff and I are able to determine that all our guests are safely accounted for and standing in Central Park in front of the hotel. Coffee and soft drinks are served, blankets passed around. I’m inspecting the basement equipment room immediately after the first shake in hopes of getting back out before the first after shock.
We don’t. The after shock almost dropped us but was soon passed. The basement went dark and silent but luckily we had flashlights and found the way upstairs and out.
My experience with that of my loved ones does not compare. My level of deep-seated trauma much deeper, much more engraved. In that moment at my son’s doorway, I recollect this and remember that I must always stick to my ‘escape always’ approach.
Earthquakes do not give Russian roulette style opportunities of surviving as obscene as that may seem. Oh of course some would argue this. They hit, the big ones. Buildings do come down and people die as my father did in the big one in El Salvador in the eighties.
My brother swears he doesn’t fear quakes. He experienced the monster shake in the seventies in Guatemala city which took countless lives. Again, middle of the night. He rationalizes away the irrationality.
He gently suggests that I might have an irrational fear. I ask him what the hell that means. He explains one may fear unjustifiably about something. A fear of something that shows almost beyond a squeak of a doubt that it will happen. Like fearing getting hit by that flash of lightning. Not going to happen, almost never, but then…
He explains most convincingly about probability and statistics, the science, modern versus adobe architecture and structure.
That night both he and my mother met each other out in the patio crawling as the tumbling earth did not allow for walking or running. The Spanish tiles raining down all around them, covered the grass, any one of them to the head would have been fatal.
I decide as I walk from my sons room to my room, just a hall’s width, that I will let things be as they are. Allow my boys’ young, more manly response, even nod away the perhaps condescending smile with which he regarded me.
Young man, old man, the old scenes play out, they always do, always will. At some point the young ones take over the hunt…
I recalled as a sixteen-year-old doing the same one moon lit night out in the swampy Guatemalan boonies when the older ranch administrator was certain bandits were attacking. We prepared, formed an armed line along the haciendas veranda.
My escape, my confusion, was to make light of what seemed a most improbable assault by honest to goodness bad guys, (in those days in fact, mid sixties, ranches were being attacked almost on a daily basis by Marxist rebels thus the reaction by my older and more savvy administrator).
So last night was a replay of those things. I don’t want to force my insecurities upon my loved ones. I don’t want Pablo to develop an unwarranted fear of daily life. Such a thing can be so debilitating, an unnecessary added burden in a life already over stacked with the regular, everyday fears and concerns.
It seems all too often that modern society, while it does offer so much good, pure, uncut fear has never held such a prominent place in our psyches as it does now.
Back in bed, back to my movie, a spy thriller, the old, evil Soviet bad guys hatching all sorts of nefarious plots. There was room to consider one final time in the present before sleeping: when the ‘big one’ does hit, that I will be ready to take my family out to the relative safety of the yard.
Maybe Pablo will lead us out.
I was asleep in five minutes. Probably not as deeply and as sweetly as my wife and son.