NaNoWriMo: Day 18, The End

Day’s Verse:
The more words that are spoken, the more smoke there is in the air. And who is any better off? And who knows what’s best for us as we live out our meager smoke-and-shadow lives? And who can tell any of us the next chapter of our lives?
Ecclesiastes 6:11-12

This post is just shy of 11,000 words long. Brace yourselves.

Friday, July 20, 4:00 pm


Well, fuck. I told Carl I didn’t intend to die in here, and now Dan has as much as told me that I am going to die no matter what I do. That is just wrong. I didn’t get up this morning planning on dying. I would have done everything differently. God, I wouldn’t have gone to work today at all! Then I wouldn’t be here, and none of this would have happened, and I’d have who knows how long with my wife and kids.

I can’t stop thinking about them now. Are they okay? Were they somewhere safe when the earthquake hit? Are they together and secure now? Can they get food and water? Are they away from downed power lines, safe from who knows what else? Is Jean wondering about me, too? I left as usual, gave her a perfunctory peck on the cheek, really just a show for the kids, who were sitting at the breakfast table texting or whatever they do all day on their damn phones. They sure don’t use them for phone calls, that’s all I know. Thousands of text messages a month, and sometimes less than 100 minutes of actual calls.

Oh, God, I haven’t prayed in forever, but if you exist, if you’re out there…keep them safe. I don’t expect to come through this, I won’t even ask for that, because you’re probably not even real and I’m just talking to myself. But if you are real, take care of my family.

“Jon? What do you think?” Dan, patiently squatting next to my car, breaks me from my reverie. “What’re you thinking?”

He doesn’t actually mean what was I thinking; he means “Have you decided whether I dig you out or not?” I have decided, and he’s going to think it’s the wrong call, but I cannot remain here like this, just waiting to die.

“Dig me out, Dan. I can’t stay here.”

“You know what that could mean.”

“I know. Just do it.”

He looks into my eyes, and whatever he sees there convinces him. With a firm nod, he stands up, strips off this coat and steps out of my field of view, presumably to lay it across his backpack, which is somewhere in the vicinity of the back of my car. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Day 18, The End”

NaNoWriMo: Day 17

Day’s Verse:
It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.
Luke 12:34

This post brings us up to 39,179 words.

Friday, July 20, 11:09 am


Things have started getting kind of weird in my head. Time takes on a different dimension in this kind of situation: It has texture, warp and woof, I can feel the fabric sliding by, silky, smooth, and inexorable. Minutes become days, or days minutes; I have no reference, and in a way time becomes meaningless and yet the most important thing in my world. I sleep, I wake, I’m thirsty, I’m hungry, and I desperately long to know what time it is, almost with the intensity of those other physical urges. I have no realistic estimate of how long I’ve spent here, but a conservative estimate would probably come in at just between two and three millennia. After a while, it’s hard to tell when I’m awake or asleep, or if I’ve discovered some new in-between state where even wakefulness isn’t overly meaningful.

I have a conversation with Jean. We sit in our living room, on the white leather furniture I so desperately wanted, and that she insisted would be folly with two teenage kids who are sure to spill pop and crumbs all over it. I won, but she was right; the furniture has turned into a major headache to keep clean.

Afternoon sun streams through the two-story-tall windows, imparting the entire scene with a brilliance rarely seen in this grey climate. A breeze ripples through the leafy green trees that surround our home, and out the windows I can see the perfectly clean patio with its teak furniture, and, beyond, our lawn sloping away towards the expensively landscaped creek area down by the back fence.

I’m drinking a Mac & Jack’s. Jean’s glass of conspicuously non-alcoholic lemonade sweats onto one of the coasters we brought back from Mexico a couple years ago. I’ve been watching her condemnatory glances at my icy-non-coastered bottle sitting sweating directly onto the wood of our $2,000 handmade-in-Washington artisan coffee table. Feet, shod or unshod, and drinks without coasters are strictly forbidden on the coffee table.

Jean looks beautiful, vibrant. Not young – those days are past for both of us – but lovely in a timeless way that makes my heart ache. She always looks beautiful, I realize now; she takes care to try to look attractive for me, and most of the time I just brush by her on my way out the door without seeing. This time I particularly notice, though, because I have this sense of immediacy and urgency that makes all the details of her appearance stand out in sharp relief. Her hair shines in the sun, auburn highlights picked out brilliantly; her summery dress accentuates her still-slender, fit body. Her gaze is clear, direct, unafraid, steady. She is far too good for me, and I am overwhelmed with shame at how I have treated this marvelous, talented woman.

There is something pressing that I have to tell her, but I can’t. Instead, my longing heart is trapped inside a body that keeps doing things to aggravate her, like the beer on the coffee table. Why am I doing that? Reach out yourhand and get a coaster, dammit! But I don’t, I can’t, I’m a prisoner looking through my eyes, suffering through my own terrible behavior.

I want to apologize to her for all my years as an absentee father and husband. I want to apologize for going off on “business trips” and coming home smelling like another woman’s perfume. I want to beg her forgiveness, to fall on my knees and swear on ten Bibles that I have my priorities straight, now and forever. I will come home for family dinner every night. I will attend the kids’ school and sports events – god, I don’t even know what extracurriculars they do these days. My best memory is of Mackenzie in gymnastics at age six. I will stay faithful to Jean forever, truly, no other woman could begin to compare to this radiant vision I see illuminated in the afternoon sun. God, how could I have thought Sharon was anything other than the grasping, dumpy social climber she is? I will listen to Jean, really listen. I will pay attention to what she cares about, and I will care about it.

I want to tell her that I love her, and beg, please, please, let me earn your love again. I have changed. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Day 17”

NaNoWriMo: Day 13

Day’s Verse:
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. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Day 13”

NaNoWriMo: Day 12

Day’s Verse:
Hearing that, [the religious leaders] walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

John 8:9-11

Friday, July 20, 11:29 am


“You’re too old to do anything except order other people around, yeah, I’ve noticed.” I cannot believe that Daniel says this to Paul, who is older and more experienced than him. Of all the ungrateful, nasty things – when Paul has done so much to help free me from my car! It was his good advice that got the Hummer turned off, and his insight that showed the way to extract me.

Quite frankly, I don’t think much of Daniel, for all he says he’s a firefighter. His language is altogether too crude, and I don’t trust people who swear. It shows a lack of mental intelligence.

“Daniel!” I exclaim, before Paul can say anything. Paul shouldn’t have to defend his wisdom to an idiot like this guy. “I think you owe Paul an apology. Paul has been a real help, and you’re wronging him, and you should apologize. In fact, I completely agree with everything Paul has said, and that puts you in the minority.”

“This isn’t a democracy,” Daniel shoots back. “I know the hazards of this situation, and your stubbornness is going to get you killed and I refuse to let that happen, even if you don’t believe it will.”

“Nothing worse is going to happen, and we aren’t going anywhere. That’s final.” I cross my arms and set my face firmly, using the Don’t You Dare Argue With Me, Young Man body language that works so well on Michael. The effect is probably marred by the fact that Daniel can’t actually see much of my body through the darn dust, and my face is a smudgy mess, but he can certainly hear my tone. I ache all over, and I can’t imagine clambering over all the rubble and debris I can just barely make out looming all around us.

I’ve steadfastly refused a face covering, I already feel mostly-suffocated, and I couldn’t imagine trying to breathe through a cloth on top of everything else. Daniel tried to say that we could choke on the dust, but I’m sure I’ve coughed everything out, and now I have water to rinse my mouth, I’m much better.

We’re in a kind of clearing, an open space that Paul and Daniel created by heaving some cement blocks – part of the ceiling? – out of the way. My car is one wall, and there’s a kind of gap between the other cars around, so this seems like a pretty good space. I’m sitting on Paul’s jacket for some padding; we have water from the Hummer, and Paul has uncooked hot dogs. I don’t relish (har, har) eating raw hot dogs, but I think they’re actually pre-cooked and BBQing them actually just warms them up, so it’s probably okay. Paul checked the cars around us and all those people are beyond helping – he told me not to look, so I’ve avoided looking in the shattered windows. This is a good place, we can wait for help here about as comfortably as anywhere. More comfortably than if we try to move around, that’s for sure.

Daniel personifies all I dislike in younger people. I can’t tell how old he is, maybe in his early 30s, probably around 15 years younger than me. His casual approach to everything is dangerous, you can tell that just by hearing his voice, and he simply will not listen to reason – I suspect that he never actually learned to reason from the data at all, and just goes by his “gut feel,” whatever that means. Kids don’t learn reasoning skills in school these days, it’s why all those new grads who keep replacing the old guard at work are doing such a terrible job. They’re running the company into the ground, but management, of which I should be one even though I’ve been wrongfully passed over, keeps hiring young people to fill positions. Not that there are that many openings these days. Plenty of people were laid off not so long ago, and yet now they’re hiring again. What’s that about?

That’s when I remember my meeting. An indescribable feeling fills my stomach, a combination of dread, disappointment, sense of unfairness, and frustration, leavened with a little bit of hope and my innate optimism. I can’t help but think things will work out for the best, even though my entire life has been one slow downward slide. “What time is it?” I ask, which seems apropos of nothing to the guys, both of whom look at me questioningly – or so I assume, since they’re both wearing those ridiculous face masks made from ripped up fabric that obscure half their faces.

“What?” Daniel asks, while Paul glances instinctively at his wrist, then shakes his head ruefully.

“Sorry, my watch seems a bit worse for the wear,” he tells me, holding his wrist out so I can see the shattered LCD screen.

“My meeting – it was supposed to start at 9:00, and I’ve probably missed it by now,” I explain. “I hope those rescue guys come soon. I really need to get back to the office and start repairing the damage my missing this meeting caused. It was a big meeting, I was responsible for it, the client’s going to be wondering where I was. I’m sure Shane screwed up without me there.”

Daniel snorts, another indication of his general uncouthness. “I wouldn’t worry too much about Shane screwing up,” he says, drily. “He’s probably dealing with a mess the same as we are.”

“Well, no, I don’t think so,” I tell him. “I don’t know what caused this collapse—”

“Dammit, an EARTHQUAKE!” Daniel shouts. “A fucking HUMONGOUS EARTHQUAKE! How stupid are you? Haven’t you heard us talking about aftershocks? Do you think tunnels just collapse out of the blue?!” He makes this incredibly insulting, derogatory noise with his nose, a sort of exhalation of disgust.

I clench my jaw. His outburst has just about put me over the edge, I’m about to give him a piece of my mind. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Day 12”

NaNoWriMo: Day 11

Day’s Verse:
The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
1 John 2:16

Sorry for the post blackout this past week. Expect another post blackout this coming week, as I am traveling for business. Today marks the milestone where I pass the 25,000-word point (I can’t say halfway, because I’m not sure how long it will be). Enjoy. If you’re still reading, do me a favor and leave a comment – just so I have some idea who’s made it this far.

Friday, July 20, 11:05 am


I’m a woman of action. Sitting still, holding Clara, and meditating upon the vagaries of life, the universe, and everything is not my style. After an earthquake, I always have this adrenaline rush, and it translates into this urge to get out and do something, to go, to help or just to move around. I don’t panic or freeze up the way I’ve seen other people do because I know what’s going on and what I should do, and the rush helps me do it.

Now, every minute I keep thinking, “I should go do something. Just sitting isn’t a good plan,” when I know in my head that it is a good plan, the safest plan, at least for the time being. I can’t see anything; outside the windows it’s totally black, except when I turn on the headlights, which I’ve done a few times to reassure myself. Somehow it is reassuring, having the ability to add light to the environment – perhaps it’s that urge to do something getting satisfied, at least a tiny bit.

I keep wondering about Phyllis and Ethan, if they’ve come through it alive, if Ethan is hurt, if I’ll ever see my baby boy again. And what about David? Him I’m reasonably sure of, he’s smart and would know what to do, but if he was working, he might almost not have noticed anything until the power went out. But Ethan, he’s only 3 years old, he can’t swim, he doesn’t know to get under a table or into a doorway. Heck, he probably would think it’s all a big game – I did during the earthquakes we had earthquakes when I was a kid. I can just imagine him looking at Phyllis when the shaking stopped and saying, “Do it again!”

I can’t help but think that there must be other people out there, moving around, trying to get out, and if we joined them, we’d be better off. This big of a quake, it’ll take forever for the rescue crews to get to us; they probably aren’t even trying yet. They’re dealing with downed power lines, burst gas lines, collapsed apartment buildings, masonry that fell on suckers standing nearby, those kinds of immediate emergencies. We’re a slow emergency. They can ignore us for a while, and we’ll be here. We’re not going anywhere.

Clara starts crying. I dig out her bottle and give it to her, but I’m worried: I can’t not feed her, but we just don’t have that much food, and she won’t be able to go very long without food or water. I could stand to lose a little bit of weight, those last few pounds from my pregnancy with her that I haven’t quite been able to get rid of yet. One good thing about this, at least I’ll probably come out slimmer…

That’s assuming we do come out. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Day 11”

NaNoWriMo: Day 8

Day’s Verse:
They were in absolute awe, staggered and stammering, “Who is this, anyway? He calls out to the winds and sea, and they do what he tells them!”
Luke 8:25

Friday, July 20, 10:57 am


A face emerges from the gloom. It’s dust-caked, with sweat and – is that blood? He is young, at least 10 years younger than me, maybe more, and he’s wearing some kind of heavy jacket, a backpack, and leather work gloves; he can’t be much taller than me, although I am rather tall for a woman, 5’9”, and despite all the clothes he looks slender and fit. His short, curly hair sticks out in all directions, also covered in dust and spiking in strange directions, so coated in filth I can’t even make out what color is. It looks dirty blond, but everything looks dirty right now. His eyes are hard to see in the light but they’re definitely not dark, and what I can see of his face, which is mostly covered with some piece of fabric, has this firm, resolved, set look that barely hides some other emotion: Fatigue? Anger? I can’t read him.

My first feeling is disappointment. This isn’t the cavalry charging in to save the day; it’s just one guy here on his own, probably having no idea what to do and making this up as he goes, and he’s way too dirty to be a white knight. For just a fleeing moment I’m sorry I even said anything when I heard him calling, but then I remember that I need him to get me out of here, and once he’s done that, I can always make my own decisions, call Michael, call Shane, call 911, and generally get back to real life.

“I’m Daniel,” the man says, and his voice sounds dry and kind of croaky through the dark cloth.

“I’m Rachel.” I don’t bother with any other pleasantries but get straight to the point. “Can you get me out of here?”

The man, Daniel, has been examining the exterior of my car. “There’s a fucking Hummer on top of your car, partly up on the roof,” he tells me, looking up and off to the right. “It’s bent your car frame all out of shape, and it’s going to be damn hard to get you out of there. Let me look at this…” He starts to walk away.

“Hey, don’t go anywhere,” I call, or try to call, but I’m thwarted by more coughing and dust.

Daniel reappears, peers closer at me. Whatever he sees seems to alarm him, because for a second I see the lines around his eyes tighten and he draws in a hissing breath. “OK, Rachel, how about if we get you cleaned up a little bit, and I’ll make you a filter, so you can breathe without sucking in too much more dust.”

“Fine, but I really need to get out first.” He doesn’t seem to understand that I’m on the verge of passing out from being so squished in place. “You don’t get it, I can hardly breathe, I’m – I’m –” suddenly my chest is heaving, as much as it can, and then it’s dark. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Day 8”

NaNoWriMo: Day 7

Day’s Verse:
No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a washtub or shoves it under the bed. No, you set it up on a lamp stand so those who enter the room can see their way.
Luke 8:16

Friday, July 20, 10:01 am


When my nose starts bleeding, I’m about ready to give up because it’s just too much, but I summon enough energy to blow out as much blood as I can and take another through-the-nose deep breath and shout with all my strength: “HELP!”

Then I start coughing, the dust is choking me, and I cough so much that white lights start flickering in the corners of my vision, and soon the flickers become a blizzard, and then everything goes dark.


Getting out of my car wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, but I feel much better standing up. I have a backpack with me, containing whatever might be useful that I could reach in my car: My sad, lonely single bottle of water, a change of clothes including a jacket and a pair of shoes that I was wearing when I left the house but which I’ve now swapped for a much heavier-duty pair I was bringing to the station, a flashlight that I always keep in the glove compartment in case I have to look deep in the engine, a folding knife, my keys, some maps – who knows, paper might be useful – and some miscellaneous stuff that I can’t imagine using but again, better to have it and not want it than vice versa. I’ve also put on a pair of work gloves that were leftover from some work project and had been banging around in the passenger side of my car for ages. Thank God they were there, because whatever I do out there sure to be hard on my hands.

I have made myself a jury-rigged face mask/filter system using a strip of a cloth grocery bag. This fucking dust, which I know could stay in the air for a very long time, is a real visibility issue, plus it’s concrete dust and therefore alkaline, and I’m increasingly concerned that it could pose a fire hazard, too, if anything explodes.

I’m fairly sure this tunnel had some kind of fire suppression system, sprinklers installed during that revamp they did like fifteen years ago, but since the power is out and I’m also pretty sure they installed backup generators, there’s no guarantee that anything else will work either.

I’m out of my car, and I have my tools, such as they are, and now it’s time to start thinking about potential sources of fire, and how to mitigate those hazards. This place is a nightmare, from a fire prevention standpoint, with all these cars smashed into each other and leaking fucking gasoline everywhere, and some may still be idling or on the verge of fire and there’s no way in hell I’m going to get to all of them in my lifetime, which admittedly may be very short.

I’m just starting to peer around through the haze, thinking about what to tackle first, wondering: What’s the highest risk? What was in that semi truck that was behind me? God, I hope it wasn’t some hazardous chemical truck, or gas station refueling truck or something. Just my luck it would be, and everybody in here will die of some fucking toxic gases that I don’t even know about and can’t do a damn thing to prevent.

I don’t know that there were any gas lines or anything going through here, but I know earthquakes can release methane gas from the ground, plus any idling cars will be happily puffing out carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and the damn fans are off because of course there’s no power. No power means electrical lines are broken somewhere, that’s one more thing I’ll have to watch out for, especially if there are some emergency egress tunnels.

Air’s going to get real thin in here before too long.

I’m thinking that finding some means of egress should be a top priority and at the same time I’m keeping an ear out for any vehicles still running and will get them turned off, either by the driver or myself, when I hear a very faint call. It’s so brief, I’m almost sure I imagined it, but I immediately shout: “Is anybody there? Does anybody need help?”

A voice calls back, but it sounds much nearer, and I think it’s a woman where the first voice, although faint, sounded like a dude off ahead of me in the tunnel somewhere to the east. Continue reading “NaNoWriMo: Day 7”