For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Welcome to National Novel Writing Month. This blog will exclusively feature regular updates as I write a 50,000 word novel this month. Unlike previous years, I’m attempting a more serious novel. I welcome all productive suggestions, thoughts, and comments. Without further ado, installation one:
Christina / Friday, July 20, 11:43 am
I’m not prone to philosophizing. By and large, I leave that to people with the PhDs. I’ve got better things to do than worry about the Meaning of Life or whether there is a God. But now it seems I’ve got all this time, and my brain’s going a thousand miles a minute, but I can’t think of anything else to do that I haven’t already done. Really, there’s not that much; in another place, I’d be out there doing something to help. Here and now, though – well, all I can do is wait. And hope.
Even in the dim light, I can make out Clara sleeping. She’s at a stage where she spends more time asleep than awake, it seems like. Her eyelashes are extraordinarily long and beautiful against her remarkably clean white cheeks. When was the last time she was this clean? Yet here, after everything, the dust and dirt don’t seem to have stuck to her. She looks like some statue of the quintessential sleeping baby, a mold from which all other sleeping babies have been stamped. Not that it’s actually true – as soon as those eyes open, she’ll turn back into the howling harpy we all know and love.
I envy her ability to live in the now. She doesn’t know anything other than this present moment, can’t anticipate or fear for the future. All she knows is that she’s hungry, or tired, or her diaper is dirty. It’s a gift that children have. I see it in Ethan, too. He gets so absorbed in whatever he’s doing – coloring on the walls with marker, say, or unrolling an entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet just to see what happens – that time stands still for him.
Clara and Ethan remind me of so much that I’ve lost as an adult. We grownups go through life thoughtlessly, passing through each day to just get to the next one. Get up, feed the dog, feed the kids, kiss darling spouse goodbye, trudge off to work. Nose to the grindstone. The next day, do it all again. Before long, years have gone by, and you’re not sure where they’ve gone. Oh, maybe you have some highlights, your trip to Maui or the week you spent in the mountains, but what about every day, every minute?
If Clara could talk, I think she’d chastise me, her mother. Live more, she’s say, Live more and achieve less. Find your enjoyment in doing a thing, not achieving a thing.
But right now, that adult achievement mentality will keep us alive. I have to keep thinking about the future, not the present moment. If I dwell too much in the now, I’m pretty sure I’ll just fall apart and we’ll die in here.
God, we’re in a Californian’s worst nightmare. You see pictures and clips of collapsed freeway decks, those crushed cars, and think, “God, what a way to go. Those poor people.” You never think it could be you. And you definitely don’t expect people to survive. When they finally get the heavy machinery there and start moving asphalt, you watch and count body bags. Survivors make it through some “miracle” occurrence and they’re interviewed and non-ironically thank God they’ve made it. They don’t seem to realize that if God was really looking out for them, they wouldn’t have been under that freeway deck in the first place.
What are we going to do, longer-term?
I should know what to do. You can’t have a childhood in California without earthquakes. You get so cavalier. Is that a big semi truck, or a little earthquake? Are they demolishing another stadium, or is that an earthquake? Yo momma so fat, when she sits down, it’s a magnitude 3 on the Richter scale.
I remember one time when I was in high school, we had a good shake. Afterwards, everybody started betting on what magnitude it was. I guessed 4.1, but I don’t remember what it actually was. Too long ago, now, and after all, it was just another little earthquake. We practiced getting under the desks, but never really took it all that seriously. Get under a table or stand in a doorway, right? Sure, sure, and in case of a zombie apocalypse, I’ll be ready with my double-barreled shotgun and plenty of shells.
The last significant quake was in 1989, when I was seven years old. What does a seven-year-old know about danger? Ethan’s even younger than that, and I doubt this will make an impression on him, once we’re all back together and living life again.
Assuming… OK, that is making some possibly overly-optimistic assumptions. The odds that we’ll both get out of here…
Will I ever see Ethan again? Or David? Hell, I’d even take seeing Phyllis again, and I never thought I’d actually want to see David’s demon-mother. But right now, I’d give anything to have been somewhere else, almost anywhere else, two and a half hours ago.
Why did I agree to dropping off Ethan at Phyllis’s house today? Why not even an hour later, so we could’ve been at home when it hit? What if they made it to the Aquarium? I can’t even imagine what happened on the pier. I think it’s all fill there, no bedrock anywhere, perfect for liquefaction in an earthquake. Oh God, I can’t keep imagining him dead, crushed, or maybe floating face-down in the water, with debris all around him, or trapped under some tumbled building – so much unreinforced masonry around that area.
God, I can’t waste water with this crying. We don’t have anything to drink except Clara’s bottle, and I have to ration that for her. Who knows how long we’ll be in here. I’d like to think emergency responders are on their way now, but realistically, who knows when they might make it here. They’re going to try to rescue likely survivors first. And, really, are we “likely survivors”? I don’t think so.
I really don’t know.
OK, Chris, get a hold on yourself. You can’t blubber like this. Keep planning, stop panicking. I want to do something, take some kind of action to improve our situation, but I can’t imagine what to do. None of those earthquake drills talked about what to do when you’re trapped in a partly-collapsed, probably unstable mile-long car tunnel, in the dark, with a 6-month-old infant, with no way to contact the outside world.
I’ve already thought about this. The car’s protecting us right now. If we stay here, we can hold out for at least a few days. Water is going to be the real problem. I’m so worried about Clara; she has no reserves. When her bottle is empty, we have that extra one I always carry around, but after that, there’s nothing left. How long can an infant survive with no food or water?
I can’t bear to think of watching her die. Before that happens, we will find some way out. I refuse to let her die in here, hardly even having lived. I refuse to die in here. When I die, it’s going to be doing something I love, or asleep in my bed in eighty years. NOT in some damn tunnel, alone and helpless.
It’s only been a couple of hours, but the car’s already getting stuffy. I don’t want to turn the air on too much, because that battery has to last us a while, and I’m afraid of the engine producing too much carbon monoxide. Or is carbon dioxide the thing we should be afraid of? Hell, anything that’s not oxygen spells bad news for us, I remember that much from vet tech school anyway.
So what do we do? Stay here. Wait for help to come to us, or if that takes too long, venture out when we need water. Stay calm. We’re not in a bad position, all things considered. That semi truck seems to be protecting us from collapsing ceiling tiles, and although we’re wedged between it and the wall, I bet I can open the hatchback, or break the window, when we need to leave.
Before I turned off the lights, it looked so murky outside. I’m afraid of the air. One thing I do remember from the Loma Prieta earthquake: Dust in the air. This is like that, but a million times thicker. It’s going to be plenty difficult breathing out there, let alone seeing through the haze to get around all the cars and debris around us. Better for us to stay in the car for now, use the air filter to bring in fresh air when it gets too stuffy in here.
In fact, I think it’s really time now. When I was a kid, I’d hide under the blankets, but it didn’t take long for it to feel suffocating under there, and I’d have to emerge again. It’ll take longer in a car, but we can’t stay in here without fresh air indefinitely. I’m going to try turning the car on for a minute, just to freshen our air. I hope the filters can keep out most of that dust.
Holy Christ, even crawling into the front seat after sitting still back there with Clara for so long hurts. I feel like I’ve been beaten all over with sticks. Or maybe metal bars. I thought airbags were supposed to help with the impact, but I can’t imagine that without airbags, I’d feel much better. Hitting a brick wall couldn’t be much more painful.
There we go. Ah, fresh air. Boy I am glad the car started. In fact, when I see David – don’t go there, don’t pause, just keep thinking. When I see David, I’m telling him that he was totally right about getting an SUV. I never thought I’d be glad to be an SUV-driving soccer mom, but it has come through this remarkably well. And people say American-made cars are the crap. It’s hard to believe we’ve come through this with hardly any damage, and the damn car still works. If the road was clear, I bet I could drive us right across the bridge and back home.
Home. Will home ever be the same again? Will we ever have a family dinner again? Will I read Ethan Dr. Seuss? Will David and I ever bicker about 2% or nonfat again?
I bet Mom and Dad are frantic. Being a thousand miles away won’t make it any better, either. By now they’ll have heard about it and they’ll be trying to find out what happened to us. Hell, we’re probably the leading news story on all the stations right now. I bet they’ve tried to call me a hundred times by now. They know what a big earthquake can do, and this was undoubtedly a big earthquake.
Might as well check my phone again, just in case… No love. Still no signal. I wonder if that text I sent ever went out. Did my phone have reception in the tunnel before? I don’t remember. I hope it went, so David at least knows we’re not dead. Assuming he’s OK. But those Microsoft buildings are all new and fancy; I’m sure they’re built up to earthquake specs. I’m sure he’s fine. He probably didn’t even notice anything had happened until the power went out. He gets that way when he’s working, like there’s nothing else in the world but the computer monitor. It drives me crazy sometimes. How can he not notice Clara crying, or Ethan demanding that Daddy come build a tower with him?
Oh that air feels good. I hate to turn it off, but I should conserve. Time to drag my sorry carcass up to turn that key again… God, it isn’t going to be fun when we need to get out of the car.
“Clara, sshhhh, it’s OK. Here you go.” She’s hungry, of course. I am, too, but Ethan’s fishie crackers are so dry and salty, I can hardly choke them down. It seems odd to think that I should ration those, too, but I suppose in a few days, I’ll think these little orange crackers are haute cuisine.
Christina / Friday, July 20, 9:06 am
Ethan’s getting to be such a big boy. He didn’t even bat an eye when I left him with Gran Phyllis. I think Phyllis gives him all those sugary, fatty treats we don’t even keep in the house. Phyllis’ philosophy towards being a grandma is that it’s her job to spoil the kids; it’s our job – mine and David’s – to discipline them. She did all the hard work on David, and now she gets to do all the fun stuff without the nasty hard work.
Not as if she’d want to, say, reinforce the concepts we’re teaching at home. Oh, no, that’s my job. I’m just a lousy mother if Ethan misbehaves. Certainly has nothing to do with Phyllis’s giving him totally mixed messages.
But, honestly, I’m fairly sure David was the world’s best child, at least if we can trust family lore. When I ask Phyllis what he did as a kid, the only bad thing she can think of is the time he squeezed out an entire tube of toothpaste, “to see what’s in the bottom.” HA! If that was the worst Ethan had done, I’d be in heaven. Hell, I’d give Ethan a tube of toothpaste to squeeze just to know he wasn’t doing something worse.
There’s Clara. We should’ve named her Lungs, the amount that girl screams. That sounds like a happy scream, though. Oh, she saw that yellow lab sticking its head out the open window of the car next to us. She’s saying something that sounds like “dadadadada,” but I’m guessing it’s supposed to be “doggie.”
“Yes, that’s a doggie out there. Look at the doggie!” I slow down so we’re parallel to the dog-car. The dog’s tongue lolls out, flapping in the wind. Glad we’re next to it; the car behind must be getting a rain of slobber along the front windshield. “Clara, do you suppose the doggie ever gets bugs in its mouth? Probably just extra protein, huh, honey?”
We’re just about to the Mt. Baker tunnel. I have always liked driving through the tunnel. Tunnels make me think about how amazing our engineering is, but even more, what people achieved before tunnel-boring machines that cost millions of dollars and are always breaking down. Before that, it was all just picks and shovels and wheelbarrows, I imagine. Amazing. It feels kind of sneaky to split the lanes and then to reconnect later. Somehow I feel like I’ve entered a wormhole and will come out in another dimension.
Instead we’ll just get a gorgeous view of Bellevue and the Cascade Mountains. It’s kind of hazy today, but I’m not going to complain. That means it hasn’t rained in a while, and that’s the way summer is supposed to be.
The semi truck ahead of us is going absurdly slow for the left lane. No matter. I’ll go around it as soon as there’s a break in traffic. I didn’t think semis were allowed in the left lane.
It’s almost 9:07. Clara’s going to be ready for her nap soon. If I can get home sooner rather than later, I’ll be able to put her down for her nap and still get a little bit of time in on WoW. Maybe it’s time to go around that truck. Damn, that Hummer is still here. They’re pacing us exactly, how annoying.
Hummers shouldn’t be allowed.
I wonder if I should start another character. My current character is getting kind of boring. After a certain point, there’s not that much more to do. I can beat pretty much anybody. It’s not really as challenging. Maybe I’ll do something totally different…
“Clara, do you think I should start a new character?” Gurgling from the back seat, and some kind of plasticky thumping that sounds suspiciously like her bottle against the car seat. “Try not to spill everywhere, OK? I just finished cleaning up that chocolate milk shake Ethan spilled under my seat, and I’d rather not have more spoiled milk in the carpet than absolutely necessary.” Fat lot of good asking her to do anything will do, but I have to talk to somebody. She’s about as responsive as a puppy, but I’d talk to a dog the same way, so it’s really a wash. Fortunately, she has to work pretty hard to spill that bottle.
Sometimes I swear I’d kill for adult conversation. Even with Phyllis – and that’s saying something. I love Clara and Ethan, of course I do. But sometimes, I think changing one more poopy diaper or building one more tower for Ethan to knock over will send me over the edge into screaming insanity. When that happens, it’s time to take a break and retreat into the world of WoW. Ethan can cope with Mommy being busy for an hour at a time, especially if I plunk him in front of some documentary about dinosaurs. Clara is remarkably self-contained for a screaming six-month-old. She seems perfectly happy to spend an hour puzzling over a sealed Tupperware containing a rubber bouncy ball.
If sometimes it gets to be longer than an hour, maybe even a couple hours, and Clara’s wet and Ethan’s hungry… Well, David understands what it’s like to find yourself absorbed in something so deeply you don’t notice the outside world. I can’t just quit a quest halfway because Clara’s diaper needs changing!
I don’t think David really understands what it’s like. He comes home and is critical – why’s the house a pit, Ethan’s bouncing off the walls, there’s nothing on the table or even in the fridge for dinner. Shit, if he wants everything done so perfectly, he can do it himself. I’ve told him so plenty of times, but he’s all, “No, I support this family by working every day, I don’t want to come home and have to make dinner, too.” What is this, the 1950s? I’m not Suzie Homemaker here. I have needs, too. I can’t take the kids all the time without some kind of adult interaction.
World of Warcraft gives me the chance to still be at home, but stay sane with some kind of non-toddler conversation. How many times can we talk about trucks, outer space, and dinosaurs? Answer: Endlessly, Mommy, they’re the three most fascinating things in the entire world. Granted, there’s not a lot of scope for diversity of conversation, but who needs that when you’ve got depth? After 10,000 similar conversations, at least I have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to talk about.
God, sometimes I have to question my own sanity. Here I had a good job, so interesting, new things happening every day, new challenges. I was good at my work, had such great colleagues, not to mention making good money. I helped people, healing their pets. I’d take a sick dog over a sick child any day. People would leave just glowing, with Fido doing a zillion times better than when he came in. It felt rewarding on a day to day basis in a way that being Mommy just… doesn’t.
David can’t understand. He goes off to Microsoftland every day and works with geniuses from around the world on some kind of super-interesting software challenges. I don’t know what all he’s up to, but it’s got to be more interesting than spending the day alone with barely-verbal young kids. Then he comes home and wonders why the house is a pit. Shut your face, asshole, I’ve been maintaining sanity with WoW. Would you rather come home and find me gibbering in a corner? Because those are the options.
OK, we’re almost through the tunnel. The Hummer has pulled ahead a little bit – that semi truck in front of us is going below the speed limit! I hate that. Time to go around –
Christina / Friday, July 20, 9:09 am
Holy shit. The road. Is moving. I can’t keep straight –
That’s not just the sound of traffic. It’s like ten thousand semi trucks all revving their engines at once. It’s so loud, I can hardly hear Clara’s screaming, now in terror –
The Hummer’s veering toward us, shit, shit, shit this is an earthquake. And we are in a tunnel.
“SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!” I swerve to the left, gotta get away from the Hummer
There’s the wall, brakes, skidding, the antilock brakes won’t keep us on the road when it’s moving beneath us
Somehow we’re to the left of the semi truck, its trailer is between us and the rest of traffic
The road looks like ocean waves, the asphalt is moving like a liquid, rolling. Oh my god, you think the ground is solid and it isn’t –
Slamming on my brakes, everybody’s all over the road
Crashing now, oh god, that’s part of the tunnel crashing down just behind us, God help us
The semi trailer is coming at us –
SLAM we go against the wall, scraping along, god, there goes my side mirror, David’s not going to be happy the car’s entire side is getting totally destroyed.
Here comes the trailer, swerving into the right side of our car, trapping us –
Something hits my chest and side incredibly hard, it’s like being hit by a truck – ha – can’t help but appreciate that irony.