I experienced my first California earthquake last night.
To be honest, I'd actually been in LA during an earthquake before, a few years ago during a business trip when, while the earth shook, I rumbled along city streets in my rental car, feeling nothing.
And, of course, I'd actually experienced earthquakes and tremors and aftershocks before, dating back to childhood when I was awakened in the middle of the night, thinking one of my parents was shaking me awake from my bed.
In Upstate New York - and on the East Coast in general - earthquakes are a rarity. But in California, betwixt various faults where tectonic plates grate up against each other, earthquakes are an expectation.
Ever since I moved here a year and a half ago, I've been waiting for the big one.
And I'm certain that it's not a matter of if it happens, but when.
Moving to the West Coast, I've traded tornadoes and blizzards for tsunamis and earthquakes. After all, meteorological and seismic phenomena threaten and plague you wherever you go. In certain areas of the country, you have to maintain a certain detachment to your living space, because you are at the mercy of force majeure - acts of God that include hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires that completely obliterate your home, washing it away, blowing it away, or burning it down to embers. When my sister lived in Ohio, the siding of her house blew off - more than once - during wind storms.
It hails in New York City in July.
It's not worse here. It's just different.
But my first earthquake experience was comparatively mild. It was a jostle. A quick jolt. Thankfully, I was already awake, oddly, after 3 a.m., when the tremors hit. (Otherwise, considering my night terrors, I might've been thoroughly more disturbed by them.) The 3.8 magnitude lasted for only nine seconds, and as I sat on my shaking bed and listened to my rattling CD shelf, I wondered if it would last longer, if it would repeat, if it was only a precursor to the big one.
Nine seconds later, it was over, unceremoniously. No framed pictures crashing down the wall. No running to a door frame. Just...feeling the earth...move. And moving along with it, like a passenger on a subway train with no pole or strap to hang onto.
In life, you can try to hold your ground as much as possible - to be stable, unmovable - but everything moves around you, including the ground beneath your feet. Maybe one day the big one will hit, and my apartment will crumble around me, my decor and furnishings crashing and shattering and impaling me in the process. I can keep new batteries in the flashlight. I can stock up on bottled water. But I cannot prevent it from happening. The earth keeps moving, no matter what I do.
We cannot prevent these things.
But I do feel like I have conquered some fear of the unknown by actually experiencing it. And it wasn't so bad.
But something much much worse is bound to come someday. I do not know when. I only know...that.
In Search of the Epicenter
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