scumbag brain and phantom earthquakes

10 October 2012

one of the strangest things about being in canada, is being the lone earthquake habitue in a land blissfully unaware of them. it was exhausting being in christchurch, a year after the quake, sitting in a cafe and still hearing multiple conversations revolving around 'the quake' and 'damage' and 'insurance' and 'eqc' and 'gerry brownlee' and liquefaction' and 'demolition' and 'rebuild'. there were days that i couldn't wait to get out of there, to somewhere that i wouldn't have to talk about this stupid stupid stupid earthquake anymore. if a day came to a close, and i couldn't think of a conversation i'd had that was directly earthquake-related, i felt both disbelief and victory (as long as i didn't start to consider the conversations about things that were next-tier earthquake affected like gap fillers and pop-up container shops). and oh how exhilarating it was to be in canada, with a pointed absence of that ever-present pain-in-the-ass! no road construction! no port-a-loos on every corner! a city centre!

however, i learned quite quickly, and in a new way, the truth of the old idiom - wherever you go, there you are. 

hard days, in my mind, still get the 'well, at least it's not as bad as it was after the earthquake,' and when i feel down, i think, 'i'm pretty sure i don't feel as bad as i did after the earthquake.' and when i'm the last one in the house to take a shower and i miss out on hot water, i wouldn't dream of complaining, because i immediately think back to having a faint trickle of cold water for a shower, for the weeks when our hot water cylinder hadn't yet been fixed. but it's not all that selfless and grateful. even with the absence of external stimuli, my (scumbag) brain is still very, very conscious of (non-existent) imminent danger.

my brain, after months and months and months of constant, multiple earthquakes per day, in which my mind's immediate and arresting assumption was 'I AM ABOUT TO DIE', in the first split second before reason kicked in and i could deduce that it was only an aftershock (and not even a particularly strong one), still seems to be wired to react immediately to any threat, no matter what size, with, 'I AM ABOUT TO DIE.' even in the moments not following a threat, my scumbag brain likes to keep me on my toes by throwing in an occasional, casual, 'i could die at any moment'.  such fun!!  it also seems to be unable to trust weather, the earth, rocks…anything in the natural world that could, in fact, kill me. Heavy rainfall or thunderstorms keeps me on edge, acutely aware that nature can (and will) do her worst, if she so desires. 

when visiting new york city last month, i found myself constantly on edge, feeling the rumble of the subway, and my brain jumping to assume that it was an earthquake, and yes, you guessed it - i was about to die. the average person would be unfazed by the rumble of the subway, or a garbage truck, or someone with heavy footsteps walking on the upper floor of an old building, but my nerves have become supersonically sensitive to these movements, and seem to notice the ground shaking when no one else can. in moments when i seem to be the only one to feel this, i have been able to point out a sign, or a houseplant or a hanging light fixture, displaying the faintest bit of motion to prove my point to my doubting friends and family. Not only did the feeling of the subway beneath my feet awaken my internal earthquake-sensors, venturing underground to catch the subway took my anxiety to a whole other level entirely. 'wow', i kept thinking while looking at subway lines, plumbing pipes and electrical cables, 'new york would be seriously effed if there was an earthquake here'. knowing what i now know about the effects of seismic activity on underground infrastructure, i marvelled at the imagination of what would happen, were the ground to be jolted unexpectedly by the shift of tectonic plates, and all of the intricately connected underground channels were simultaneously disrupted… if the christchurch cbd had to be basically flattened and re-constructed, how much worse would it be in NYC!? pardon my crass language, but NYC would be fucked. oh wait, maybe i am meant to say 'munted.' no, no. no one would understand that here.

and when you're standing 6 stories underground, as i was one night, waiting for the subway at the 63st and lexington avenue subway station, which was under construction with many cables and beams exposed, thinking about such things, and getting mental pictures of the utter carnage that an earthquake would wreak on the place… you begin to feel slightly anxious. In fact, if you're me, you begin to reconcile yourself with the fact that in the case of an earthquake, you would most certainly die. instantly. and once you have accepted that, and decided that you're okay with that, it's very positive. because if you are, as i was, a lone, defenceless woman,  waiting for a train after midnight at 63rd and lexington, not only will you be waiting for quite a while, and working yourself up about impending earthquakey doom will really do a number on your nerves, you also have more immediate and probable concerns than an earthquake - sexual harassment and muggings, for example. it's better to direct your brain to the prevention of these occurrences, since, as we (well, in edmonton i) know all too well, there is nothing you can do to stop an earthquake from happening. ever. 

and now i find myself in the opposite situation from the one in new zealand, where it feels like every conversation revolves around the earthquake. here, understandably, NO conversations revolve around earthquakes in a tiny island nation half a world away from here. it didn't take long to learn how quickly a conversation gets awkward when someone exclaims, 'new zealand! you lived in new zealand for 6 years!? why on EARTH would you come back??' and i say 'well there was an earthquake that killed nearly two hundred people, destroyed the city that i lived in, including the shop i worked at, which made me lose my job, move five times in a year, get depressed and generally was a giant fucking wrench in the system of a life i actually previously quite enjoyed.' As a result of this, i don't mention the earthquake with too many people, as there are a precious few who have given much thought to the effects that it had (has?) on my life. three who are particularly empathetic are my sister, alana, and my friends angee and ryan. and ironically, but perhaps understandably, i really want to be able to talk about the earthquake, because it still has a presence in my mind, and will always exist in my memory as an experience (or, more aptly, a year of many many experiences) that has shaped who i am. And so, with the select few who i feel that i can talk about the earthquake with, i often find myself de-railing a perfectly peaceful non-earthquake-related conversation with a comment about how 'it' was 'after the earthquake.' then i realize what i've done, and how labor-intensive it must be for them to talk to me, their overly-dramatic friend/sister who turns upbeat conversations about kittens into a one-sided description of the devastating effects of a natural disaster. good grief. i'd be sick of me. 

so, in closing… to my new zealand friends - now you know what it's like when you leave, and no one is talking about it… not hearing about it every five seconds has it's pro's and con's. i miss you guys, and the intimacy that comes from those shared experiences….(no one gets it when i say 'panquakes' :( ) but also, i like having a stable place to live and work, and not having to continually dodge potholes when i drive through the city. to my canadian friends - thanks for putting up with my debbie-downer earthquake talk. and finally, to those of you that genuinely try to understand, i owe you all the gratitude i possess. 

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