The day we thought we died

img_0019It was the first time I started my morning ritual but then stopped and just went back to bed. I got the coffee going, fed the animals, but it was still dark outside so I lay in bed another 20 minutes, showered and then went for the sofa, dozed until the sun came up.

Lily was up with a bowl of cereal stabbing the surface of it with her spoon, making an irregular scraping sound.

I signed on to work, pulled up the budget and sent some emails about it, then went out for a walk, snow on the trees from New Year’s eve.

And I remembered myself doing the same when I worked in SODO, all those days over lunch poking around the shipyards of downtown Seattle, the one time in my life I had to go to counseling because I was traumatized by an earthquake, the fact most normal people don’t take earthquakes so hard but for me it was an association with something else, two friends who lived in the apartment below us, the wife got in an accident outside Crater Lake and Chris had to hurry down, they were “air-lifting her out,” he said: I got an email and then he was gone and she was in a coma, and it wasn’t until the earthquake a few weeks later she came out of it; they removed her skull and put it on ice and she was wearing a helmet in the hospital, I’d never seen such a thing.

I got home after the earthquake and looked for the cats; they were deep in the crevice of the closet hunkered down: and though it had been a 6.8 it didn’t appear there was any damage, just a candle holder that fell off the mantel but the rubber tree broke its fall, there was a leaf on the floor to prove it.

And I knew I had voicemails on my phone but when it prompted me for a passcode I couldn’t remember—only four digits but it was gone from my head, I just sat there empty.

I got a call from my boss who said he wanted everyone in the next day, we were meeting at the old roasting plant a mile or so from the Starbucks HQ (they didn’t know if the office was safe to reenter); it’s where the company had its first headquarters in the ’80s, remnants of those days still on the walls—and when I got there the CEO was in his sweat pants and looked like hell, he just jumped out of bed and drove in: and we were worried about getting people paid on time because the systems were down and the email network too, we were having to use fax to communicate with the field leadership, and I wasn’t much use to anyone, I struggled with simple tasks.

When I saw the counselor the first time I explained things, how our friends had this bad accident and then with the earthquake, how I thought I was going to die under my desk, that it was like one of those dreams where you feel like you’re falling and if you land, that’s it.

And she said as a matter of fact, you’re grieving over your own death: and I thought how strange, that that was possible, to see ourselves from a distance like that, to step outside ourselves.

Around this time Dawn and I went to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: the chase scenes where they’re running across rooftops or through treetops in the jungle, how it looked like they were flying and I pictured myself on screen doing the same, learning to stand on my hands in yoga, flipping the world upside down: how someone called in to the radio to share her experience with the earthquake, that she was out in the garden and the earthworms shot straight up out of the ground—how odd it was to watch the earth ripple like that, like liquid, that something so firm and fixed as the earth really isn’t, and that’s hard to accept.

I walked to the lake to see the snow on the trees and thought of that version of myself all those years at work walking, how that person’s gone: but like the ancient cities, they just rebuild on the foundation of the last one layer by layer. And why I feel so keenly aware of my world, but strangely detached from it too.

Categories: identity

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30 replies

  1. To say your earthquake experiences sound traumatic feels like understating the fact. Not an easy thing to get past or forget. I get the ‘grieving for yourself’ – that makes sense to me. We went through a spell of losing family, people becoming terminally ill and I had an anxiety disorder for a while after that – I think it was the realisation of mortality, the knowledge that if someone I’d known all my life could suffer and die, I was going to as well.
    The photo is an interesting one – all the barbed wired makes Starbucks look like it’s on the Berlin wall, just along from Checkpoint Charlie, the Grim Mermaid watching over us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, funny observation on the photo. And sorry to hear you relate so well to traumatic events, appreciate you sharing though. That mortality thing’s a bitch, and I don’t know the half of it yet.

      Liked by 2 people

      • No, you’re right there – we don’t know the half of it. Sadly, I’m sure we’ll get to know as time passes. But for now, lets drink and sing and forget all things must end 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I found myself playing that George Harrison record All Things Must Pass, by accident. Oh well, so it goes. Time for me to get in “work mode” now, but glad I’ve got a good job indeed. Bill

        Liked by 1 person

      • I often comfort myself with that thought – ‘this too shall pass’. It reminds you that it’s natural and right that everything has its time and then it’s over. But the universe endures and that’s a wonderful thought too.


      • That’s a good phrase. And I listened to that George Harrison record for some comfort, after I dropped my mom at the airport. You get the sense from good artists/singers like that that they’ve seen it all, and they’re there for you. That’s what I’m talking about.

        Liked by 2 people

      • You’re right. The best artists manage to hit a place of truth that most of us find easy to identify with – even if at times we’re not quite sure what they mean!


  2. Aware, but detached. Yep. I frequently feel like I live somewhere outside my body rather than in it.


  3. My wife lived through the Loma Prieta quake in SF in ’89 and describes a similar detachment. She lost her apartment to the damage and was in this weird floating state for quite a while. Everyone in the Marina District was wandering around like dazed zombies.

    I guess this is why earthquakes are such a good metaphor for our sudden awareness of mortality every now and then. It startles you.


    • Gosh, that makes me feel like nothing, for what we had here. The joke (if you want to call it that) was there were two earthquakes here on that day: the one in Seattle and then the one in our work neighborhood, which is built on landfill. So we sort of shifted like a wonton noodle, our old building. But no fatalities that day, remarkable. And no one in the elevators at lunch hour (when it came) which also strange — or underneath the weather protection canopy out front smoking like they normally did around that time, when the canopy collapsed. No, losing one’s place would be much different. I understand the zombie thing. I felt like that at the bus stop when I was going back in, like where is my life right now?


  4. I like the shot of the maximum security Starbucks.


  5. Glad to hear you went to counseling for the trauma. That’s a big thing for most of us to do. Like the idea of exploring shipyards at lunch.


    • Yeah, thanks Kristen — it was a company-paid benefit and I had some great people I worked with who supported me on that, of course. Weird, how shit lands in your lap like that sometimes and you don’t have the tools to deal with it. But then you move on AND THE NIGHTMARES ABATE, ha. Dark! Cheers to you and yours. Bill


  6. I don’t know why, but reading this gave me an odd feeling, like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I should be. It’s significant because I often worry that I’m being foolish, leaping into creative waters when maybe I should be keeping both feet on dry land. Focusing on something tangible and productive.

    But reading this I have that magical feeling that something indescribable has been communicated and that we’re both better for it. The world is better for it. You know? I have this moment where this is the only thing that matters and if my writing can share that experience with even one person then my life will have been worth something.

    Well, here I am, your ‘even one person.’ I’m sure there are many others, but they don’t always make themselves known, do they?

    “how odd it was to watch the earth ripple like that, like liquid, that something so firm and fixed as the earth really isn’t, and that’s hard to accept.”


    Liked by 1 person

    • No, they don’t make themselves known often and rarely like that Carol. That was heavy, very appreciated, and I reread it. Somehow consuming stuff on one’s phone doesn’t do some things justice, like this. Really, really happy it connected with you as a creative person, and that you told me — thanks. I had to go back and try to remember what I wrote this morning because I do it and let it go, and then move on. But happy it touched you, thanks. May you continue to find yourself right where you should be, and connect with others as you wish. Peace. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  7. yes, and we are all living on shaky ground if you really think about it


    • That’s the thing for me, or was, the psychology of realizing the earth isn’t fixed. You can internalize that, but better not, I think. Better to believe it’s the way it should be (but be prepared when it’s not, don’t act surprised). Ha, I should write fortunes for Chinese cookies. (Oh wait, perhaps I already am!) “Today you will be startled to find your dreams more attainable then yesterday, when you weren’t asleep.”
      OK maybe I need help with the fortunes.


  8. Love the images of the earth rippling — to be forced to realize that the ground beneath your feet is, literally (and otherwise) not firm — and of people being built layer over layer like ancient cities. And the rest too, like how such a jolt can affect you in weird little ways, like your brain goes sideways and refuses to do normal things while it tries to process something so foreign.

    Good job weaving magic from trauma.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You wove your magic in that post you did for that anthology I liked so much. That’s the thing, is that magic that’s all around us in the strangest places. Part magic seeing it, part magic recreating it. Happy you had a chance to read this and you enjoyed it, thanks for telling me so. Here’s to magic, with a “K.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • There’s a clever-feeling idea bubbling around inside my head about practicing magick versus practicing writing about magick being a similar practice… but my brain is too fogged with mundane work to process it. I hand it to you in pieces, semi-formed, instead.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think I had that too but didn’t sound as clever, quite. But thanks (I think!).

        Liked by 1 person

  9. There’s a ton of clarity in this. Lucid Anxiety. I just invented that.


  10. That was a good one. Glad I didn’t miss it. 6.8 is pretty severe. I just read an article yesterday about how there’s a major fault line off the WA coast. One that’s prime. I got a lot of voicemails after 9/11. Like I was suddenly a celebrity.


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