Little earthquakes

I have decided that I don’t like earthquakes. The first one I ever felt was in Japan. It was early morning, I was happily sleeping in the 2nd floor bedroom of my host family’s house, and then, suddenly, I wasn’t sleeping and the house was swaying and creaking. I gripped my bed until it was over. Then I waited. I waited for the family to get up, to compare notes, to sigh with relief that it had ended, that it wasn’t stronger. But the house was quiet. I looked out the window. The neighborhood was empty of activity.

When I later saw my host family at breakfast I asked about the earthquake. “Did you feel it?”
They looked at me blankly. “There was no earthquake,” they said. I argued. They insisted I had been dreaming.

Later, in the newspaper, I found a tiny block of text buried on some back page. It listed the size of the earthquake I had felt at 3.3. Tiny, by earthquake standards. Not even noticed by most people, the blurb said.

Which is when I began to consider this: Are people who grow up in earthquake-prone areas born with some kind of alternate equilibrium that allows them not to notice when the earth shakes and their homes sway unnaturally back and forth, causing objects to rattle and fall of shelves? Because I sure am not able to ignore it.

Last night Billy and I were sitting on the couch when our building began to shake, then sway. The movement was visible — outside everything seemed to hold constant. We were the ones moving. An illusion, I know. The swaying and shaking continued for what seemed like a long time. Long enough for us to have a conversation about it; long enough for me to envision our new house jumping off its foundation before we have a chance to move in.

It was strong enough for Billy to get up and walk over to the TV (which is new and sleek and top heavy) and hold it against the motion; it had been rocking back and forth precariously, as if it would topple onto the floor. One of our picture frames tumbled from the mantle. Frames on the walls were suddenly askew.

And then it stopped. I have lived in California long enough now to know that it wasn’t a big earthquake. When I looked it up a few minutes later I discovered it was only a 4.4 centered some 45 miles away in northern Sonoma County. The problem is that they all seem like big earthquakes to me.

Out of curiousity, Billy called some friends of ours who live in Marin, closer to the center of the quake. J., who grew up in LA, said with the nonchalance I have grown used to in long-time residents of California, “Oh, was there an earthquake?”

I theorized that because our friends’ home is newer construction than our circa 1911 duplex, they might have felt less of the shaking. But I don’t really believe it. Am I more sensitive to the earth’s violence? Probably not. I just haven’t gotten used to it, I guess.

But I don’t know that I ever will.

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