At 8:42 in the morning on September 5, 2012, Emily and I were talking with Lizza on Skype. Emily was holding 12-day-old Layla, and 20-month-old Maya was standing between us. Suddenly the whole room began to rock and roll. "Earthquake!" we blurted to Lizza as we bolted for the door. Emily, still holding Layla, grabbed one of Maya's hands and I grabbed the other. We flew down the embankment with the kids and stopped short at the barbed wire cow fence.
We'd experienced small tremors before in Costa Rica, but never had we witnessed anything like a 7.6 earthquake. The ground tossed beneath our feet, accompanied by thunder coming from deep inside the earth. This went on for over a minute and a half. Not a long time when you're brushing your teeth, but time stands still when you're watching your fortress of a house boogying hard enough to fling heavy clay roof tiles in all directions. I wondered if the earth would split open and swallow us. An alien spaceship landing in the front yard wouldn't have seemed any more bizarre to me. The earthquake was so completely foreign and unfathomable, I was far more astounded than scared.
Here, in sequential order, is what was going through my head during my first big earthquake:
1. Thank God we got out of the house with the girls and they're okay.
2. Thank God Emily's had twelve days to recover from her Cesarian or she would have split her gut running down this steep hill with two kids.
3. How the hell will we pay for all this damage?
4. How playful are those lottery gods! Always testing me to see if I'll remain cheerful and positive in the face of adversity. Surely this challenge means I'll be winning the lottery very soon.
That's how weird I am.
By the time the rattling subsided, half our roof tiles lay smashed on the ground. After a few moments of stunned silence, the monkeys began to bellow with displeasure and we hesitantly made our way back up to the house. We walked into the kitchen to find that heavy Caphalon pans had bounced right out of the cabinets.
We made our way into the room we'd been in when the shaking began.
It wasn't a conscious choice to run out of the house. Our guts led the way.
Being higher up, the second floor swayed more dramatically than the ground floor. Here's what my collection of children's books looked like:
The big zebra mirror in our upstairs bathroom galloped right off the wall and we lost a few toilet tank tops.
The toilet in the downstairs bathroom pulled away from the wall, spraying water all over. Bill shut the water off and we all breathed a prayer of gratitude that none of us had been hurt.
Poor Lizza waited anxiously by her phone until we could call to tell her we were okay.
The earthquake was so shocking I didn't have enough sense to get scared, but the many aftershocks were terrifying. We were told they'd go on for up to a month. On the 48th day after the earthquake, we had a 6.6 that lasted 30 seconds. I was far more frightened running down the front hill the second time. With our roof tiles missing and our walls etched with cracks, I thought a second quake might bring the house down. We came away from that one with only a few pictures falling off the walls and some plaster dust scattered around.
Chan, who was working at a hotel on the beach several hours away in Santa Teresa, came home that afternoon after tsunami warnings were issued. A few days later, Bill went back to Santa Teresa with Chan, and Emily and the girls stayed at my house, choosing to sleep on the pull-out couch downstairs so they could run out quickly if need be. Whenever an aftershock would begin, I'd be out of bed in a flash, racing down the stairs to help Emily with the kids. We had an intense thunderstorm the day Bill left. My entire cache of spooked feelings burst open when I walked over to the stove to cook dinner, as I'd been standing at the stove the night before when the big aftershock began. Alone with Emily and two babies, with the wind howling, the rain pounding down, and outrageous claps of thunder attacking our nerves, I had to admit that perhaps we are just a bit crazy to live out here. I later called Bill and told him that as brave a pioneer woman as I am, earthquake aftershocks in a crazy thunderstorm at night with no menfolk around was perhaps a bit more than I cared to deal with.
Just last year, a huge clap of thunder shook us up in the middle of the night. I awoke to find myself at the foot of my bed, racing toward the stairs to help Emily with the girls, who were not at our house. I can't begin to imagine how veterans cope with post traumatic stress. I'm not the type to get scared, but I now know fear can live inside our cells and resurface at the slightest trigger. I'm still wondering if I'll ever hear a big truck rumble by on a city street and not have my first thought be Earthquake! I'm not frightened, per se, when that happens, but my first instinct is to run.
We had imagined that Javilla would be destroyed by the earthquake, when in reality, our house sustained much more damage because it is big and heavy and rigidly strong. It couldn't go with the flow when the earth performed its seismic dance.
Another jungle lesson learned: always be flexible and keep things light.