Shake, Rattle, and Roll

At ten minutes to two this afternoon, I lay on my bed in the hopes of catching a quick nap. Since quitting my day job at the end of June to focus on publishing and writing full-time, I’ve found myself working odd hours and enjoying a regular afternoon siesta. Today I hoped to get a short power nap, then wake up around four or so and get back to my current work in progress, a fun little story called Lover’s Cross.

If you don’t know, I live in a garden apartment on the second floor of my building. My apartment faces the street — while it isn’t exactly a busy avenue, it gets its fair share of traffic. This morning, for instance, the recycling truck rumbled by at an ungodly hour, pausing to idle noisily in the middle of the road while the driver collected the recyclables out on the curb. When I felt the first tremor just before two o’clock, I assumed it was a large truck passing by outside.

But the shaking grew worse. I felt it in the pit of my stomach, and heard my bedroom walls creak under the stress. I started to sit up, still sort of thinking it might be a car outside, when I heard crashing in the living room — photo frames fell off the top of the television, and cards tumbled from the mantel above my fireplace, and for once it wasn’t my cat Lew at fault. I knew it had to be an earthquake.

Living in Virginia for 99.9% of my life, I’ve had very little exposure to seismic activity. The only other earthquake of any magnitude I’ve experienced was in 2003, with a magnitude of 4.5. It occurred in Richmond, and though I lived 25 miles south of the capital city at the time, the earthquake was felt all over the state. As the tremors today continued, I knew I was experiencing a similar event.

Time seemed to stand still during the earthquake — it must have only lasted a minute or two, if that, but it felt as though it would never end. At one point I even thought, “God, how do you make it stop?” I lay on the bed thinking I had to get up, but I was unable to move — from the unusual shaking of the world around me or some innate sense of fear, I don’t know. It felt like the tremors would never cease before everything fell apart around me.

When the tremors began to subside, I got out of bed and rushed to find my cell phone. I had to call my parents, who live south of the city, and my sister and brother, as well, make sure they were all right. Make sure they’d felt it, too; that I wasn’t going crazy or living in some tenement slum about to fall down around me.

Unfortunately, I only have a cell phone, no land line, and the earthquake interrupted my service. Calls wouldn’t go through, or they’d initiate and never connect. When I finally got hold of my mother, the call only lasted a few seconds before it dropped. My water heater was still rattling, muttering with aftershocks too subtle for me to feel, and both my cats were in hiding.

In retrospect, I think my cats knew something was up. I’ve heard animals are sensitive to pre-seismic activity, and this morning my cats were very clingy, never wanting to be too far from me. They usually sleep the day away, but today they pestered me all morning long. Perhaps they knew a quake was on the horizon?

Though cell phone calls weren’t going through, text messages did. Things quieted down — the water heater stopped grumbling, and slowly I began to hear the usual noises that come with apartment living: neighbors banging drawers through the wall, someone mowing the lawn outside. When I finally got in touch with my mother, she was upset. Not at the earthquake, per se, but rather at the fact that she was in her car when it hit, and because the engine was idling, she hadn’t felt it.

As for the cats, they’re already fast asleep, making up for lost time this morning. I’m the only one still too rattled to get back to normal.

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