A guy shouted at us, Get away from the building! My boss was pale white and crying, all the blood drawn out of her face. Doris, my colleague, looked like she was 10 years old, as if the fear of dying had reduced her to a little girl.
We made our way to the parking lot as a slow-moving blob, dazed, and waited for direction as we looked back at the building. I don’t remember how I got home, either by bus, or a ride.
When I got there, the cats were gone. A glass picture had fallen flat on the floor, but the rubber tree broke its fall, snapped a leaf, and remained intact. There were messages on the voicemail, but I couldn’t remember the four-digit code to hear them. I was in shock.
I went looking for the cats: they were burrowed deep in the apartment, hiding. I sat and waited for Dawn. We didn’t have cell phones, and I didn’t know how to reach her.
I had to go into work the next day. Work wasn’t work though, because the building had been badly damaged. It was built in 1912, and we had been on the eighth floor.
Instead, we were meeting in the old roasting plant, trying to communicate with our field people via fax and conference call, trying to work out how to get about 150,000 people paid by Friday, how to get product delivered to the stores. Our email and servers were down, and we didn’t have off-site back-ups yet.
The company offered free therapy, and I took them up on it. I couldn’t figure out why I was so out of it, but I told the counselor my friend in the apartment downstairs had just been in a bad car accident, and somehow her condition, combined with my fear of dying that day, had put me in a fragile state.
The counselor said I was in mourning for my own death, that on some level, I had experienced my own death during the earthquake.
We later learned the epicenter had come from 32 miles below the surface, just south of Seattle, near Olympia. It was a 6.8, one of the largest recorded in Washington history.
No one died from it, and most people I talked to were more amazed than frightened by the feeling. But at our building, we got a full 45 seconds to think about it, under our desks. When we evacuated down the emergency stairwell, we had to turn around, come back up, and go out a different exit because the mortar in the bricks had created a thick cloud we couldn’t see through.
Later that spring, Dawn and I went to the movies to watch the martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In one scene, the characters fly like superheroes through the forest, moving from tree to tree, dangling, suspended, balancing with one hand, high above the earth.