What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.
1 Peter 3:4
Quick real life update: I will be offline Monday and Tuesday, possibly Wednesday. Posts will resume either Wednesday evening or Thursday.
Friday, July 20, 11:29 am
After another half hour, I’m done crying, and I’m at that quiet place where I feel emptied of all emotion, suspended, purified of toxins. Calm, unafraid, ready to face my reality again. I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths.
It’s clear now that I have to get out of the car. I’m thirsty and, perversely, I have to pee; and Clara hasn’t stopped howling this entire time I was upset – she senses my anxiety, or maybe she just needs her diaper changed. I check. Sure enough. Clara’s problems are so refreshingly simple, and although I hate changing diapers, and it feels like I’ve spent the last three years straight doing nothing besides changing poopy diapers, I’m actually glad to do it this time because it’s doing something and I’m solving one problem. I’m improving Clara’s life, moving forward, and that’s a relief.
Once that’s done, I feel better, too. Clara stops fussing, which helps, but I also feel like I’m back to myself: I’m not some stupid girl who gives up and waits to be rescued and meanwhile cries and sighs and hopes for the best. No, dammit, I grew up in California and I’m not intimidated by earthquakes, although I do respect them. I also appreciate, as time goes by, that we could be in here for a very long time. Rescue personnel aren’t going to come walking up with space blankets and stretchers imminently. If I want help, I’m going to have to help myself. And first and foremost, I need to find water before that situation becomes desperate. I still can’t remember how long a person can go without water – certainly longer than I’ve gone, I’m pretty sure it’s only been a few hours, although it feels like an eternity – but I am confident that if I wait too long, I won’t be able to do it.
No, better to venture out while I’m still strong, coherent, alert.
That being the case, I immediately start thinking about a way to carry Clara. Our view is of blackness, but I’m sure it’s all rubble out there, so I’ll need some way of carrying her that leaves my hands free. I know that to one side of our car is the wall; the other side and ahead is the semi truck trailer. The trailer wedges us in at an angle that extends beyond the end of my car, which meant that in the chaos of the quake as cars were (presumably) caroming into each other, nobody hit me: My car is intact. Also, the back of my SUV is open to a small section of the road that was protected by the semi trailer when everything hit the fan.
I decide to venture out, with Clara of course, but use the car as a safe home base. It’s a kind of compromise between the urge to run away and desperately search for an escape from this horrible clinging, endless, terrifying blackness – OK, Chris, get a grip – yes, right, balance between looking for a way out and just sitting here forever.
From what I recall of the last time I turned the headlights on, the air was super dusty. I’ll need a way to protect Clara and me from breathing in that dust. She won’t like it but I might put her hoodie on backwards and cinch it down – protect her eyes, mouth, nose. Just so she can still breathe at all… For me, I’ve got plenty of rags and shit, easy.
It doesn’t take me that long to jury-rig a face covering. And those towels have turned out to be handy: I wrap one around myself to make a pouch to carry Clara in, and secure it with a few safety pins. Ta-da! My entire emotional state has improved so dramatically as I crawl around figuring out how to make do, I can hardly believe that less than an hour ago, I was curled up in a pathetic tear-soaked ball.
Popping the back is as easy as pressing the hatchback button on the key fob – guess I’ll have to let David know that was a good idea. He couldn’t resist getting a car with all the high-tech gadgets possible, so of course it has to have a screen, and a DVD player in the back “for the kids” – ha, as if, I’ve seen him back there plenty of times – and, incidentally, a key fob that can automatically open the hatchback remotely. The ads all showed a perfectly coiffed actress mother, her arms full of groceries, two kids in tow, poking this handy-dandy button and voila, depositing her grocery load in the twinkling of an eye as her kids docilely stand next to her. My reality is so far from that ad, it’s not even funny. I’ve never used the hatchback button before; David did once, when we got the car, just to marvel over its actually working, but I scoffed at have always used the handle. Now, having wrapped up and secured Clara, I punch the button, and incredibly it works exactly like in the ads. The hatchback smoothly opens up, admitting a swirl of dust.
Out into the world. I have packed my pockets and Clara’s baby bag with as many useful things as I can find in the car – diaper wipes, the goldfish crackers, Clara’s formula of course, that kind of shit. I don’t know what I’ll need, so I’m really just guessing here. This must be what butterflies emerging from their cocoons feel like. Only mostly I imagine that they hatch into a beautiful, sunny springtime world of delicious nectar-filled flowers, vibrant green trees, freshly-cut grass, blue sky, and light breezes, whereas we emerge into a dark and terrifying post-apocalyptic nightmare of unmoving air filled with cement dust, rubble everywhere, smashed cars jammed together in crazy positions. I’ve never liked underground or enclosed spaces that much. Even on WoW I don’t like missions that involve going underground or into dim, close quarters. Now I keep having to squelch the instinctive panic that this cavelike scene inspires.
Pretend you’re on a quest. This isn’t that different from searching for treasure in WoW. Use your water finding ability. You need to detect water resources on the map – if only I had a mini-map, this would be a lot easier. Of course, if I had a mini-map, I’d just be able to walk out of here. Well, I’ll just have to hope that I put talent points into locating water, because I definitely haven’t spent any time building that ability.
Somehow that helps. As I’m standing there, wondering how to even find my way around – we didn’t include flashlights in that pile of emergency stuff, more’s the pity, but in the future I sure as hell won’t be caught without some kind of light source on me at all times – I hear voices. Some guy is shouting about earthquakes. I want to tell him to shut up, if he shouts much more, he’ll probably bring half the tunnel down on all of us, but he stops almost immediately. Almost being operative here, because I was able to sort out from the echoes the general direction the shouting came from. Now I just have to get there.
Friday, July 20, 1:45 pm
Rachel has wadded the jacket she was sitting on into a kind of pillow and has fallen asleep, her back against what serves as a wall. She’s taking up most of the space in our little rubble-free zone, and I have to keep my legs awkwardly folded to make enough room for her. With her asleep, I’ve had some time to think.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing, actually. Up until now, I’ve been moving towards a goal. I’m good at that, it suits me, all my training and experience allow me to act quickly and decisively in emergencies. So often, people shut down during emergencies. I’ve seen it time and again: You get into combat and all those things your commanding officers told you, all those hours of drills, everything goes out your head and you freeze in place. It takes somebody outside to give you a kick in the pants. Without that, some men would have stood still and gotten shot, paralyzed by everything around them.
I remember one rescue, years ago now. It had been a gorgeous day, light breezes, minimal chop, perfect for recreational sailors. What this couple didn’t know was that a massive storm warning for that evening was broadcast. Maybe they knew and figured they’d get home in time or something. They went out on their [insert some verbiage here about small sailboat types] for a nice day on the water, got distracted the way amateurs do, and the next thing they knew, the sky had turned black, waves near as tall as their mast, not so sure about where shore is, time to call the Coast Guard. When we got to them, they refused to leave their boat. They just plain wouldn’t move. Paralyzed in an emergency. We had to physically remove them from the vessel.
Is it possible that Daniel is right? Are we on a sinking ship? Should we evacuate to the lifeboats and hope for the best? But this isn’t a vessel taking on water too fast; it’s more like we’re holed up under fire, having to wait for reinforcements. It’s dangerous out there for many reasons and safe – as safe as we’re going to get – in here. No, I’m sure I’m right to choose to stay here.
I hope Carol is somewhere relatively safe. And Sarah and Adrian, wherever they are. They can take care of themselves, I know, they’re grown and old enough to have kids of their own these days, but I can’t help but worry a bit. I always made sure they were taken care of. Carol – well, she’s smart, and I’m sure she’s probably chewing out some police officer right now, demanding to know where I am and why nobody’s trying to find me. Or chivvying our neighbors into all banding together to make sure everybody on the block is safe and gets medical attention. Or taking care of Pepper, who’s sure to have peed on the carpet in fright when things started falling off the shelves. If she was here, she’d probably be nagging me to check my blood sugar and eat something, or give myself my insulin.
I close my eyes and try to relax. The ground is covered with small pebbles that keep digging into my ankles and butt as I sit. I would like to stand up, if only to achieve some kind of different position, since I don’t actually have anything to do, but Rachel’s posture makes it impossible for me to do the kind of slow ladder-climb necessary to get me on my feet. I’m stuck here until she wakes up.
“Hello? Is anybody here? Where are you?” Good lord, that’s another woman’s voice! Without worrying about waking Rachel, I call back.
“Over here! Come over this way.” I turn my maglight back on – I turned it off to save the battery while Rachel slept, since there’s nothing for me to see – and somehow find myself on my feet without thinking about how I got there. I shine the light around. “I’m waving my flashlight. Can you see my light?”
“I can see it. Keep shining it – yeah, this way.” She calls. I shine the light in the direction of her voice, but I can’t see anything beyond the thick dust, which may be settling out a little bit. Sounds of very slow progress in our direction drift from the west. She doesn’t have a light source; goodness only knows how she’s made it this far.
“What are you doing? You woke me up.” Rachel sounds grumpy, and looks like a rumpled crab.
“There’s somebody else out there,” I tell her, keeping the light and my attention on the sounds. “We’re over here,” I call to the woman, hoping it’ll help.
“Do we want somebody else?” asks Rachel, and that warrants a sharp glance.
“Are you saying we shouldn’t help other people?” I ask, not bothering to mask my tone, which clearly says You’re a sorry specimen of humanity if you won’t help another person in this disaster.
“I’m just saying we don’t have that much water, and another mouth…” She trails off, leaving that unworthy thought dangling, because just then a shape starts coalescing in the beam of my flashlight. It’s a young woman, with short dark hair, average height and weight, some kind of cloth covering her lower face, and a beach towel wrapped around her front holding – oh my goodness, is that a baby? She has another towel, bulging with some kind of supplies, slung across her shoulder.
“Hi,” she says. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”