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  • I was nine years old when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck San Francisco and part of the Bay Bridge collapsed. I was living in LA and had weathered many minor tremors, during which my dad would run into the hallway, yell ‘earthquaaaaake!’ and we’d all – he and I, my mother and two brothers – end up in our backyard steeling ourselves against the possible aftershocks.

    After that, talk of The Big One hitting LA was in full force on the radio and on TV, and I was terrified. It was the same fear I felt when I heard news reports of a serial killer in LA and asked my mother what a serial killer was and began to notice all of the open windows in our house that seemed to be inviting death. The world, my world, was dangerous. Life was dangerous, and I was on edge.

    Less than two weeks after that earthquake, we moved out of the ring of fire. I was relieved.

    I didn’t return to earthquake country until I was 22 and right out of college, teaching English in Tokyo. I lived in a small wooden house and could sometimes feel shaking from my flimsy, futon-like bed. I was usually half asleep and wasn’t always sure whether the shaking had been real or dreamed. I asked my housemate, who had been living in the neighborhood for the better part of a decade, what I should do if a bad earthquake hit. He told me to jump out of my second-floor window onto the small, flat surface of the fence below and then onto the ground. An orchestrated double jump seemed a little dicey to me, but perhaps something had been lost in translation.

    Mostly, though, I didn’t think about it. When I lived in the natural disaster-prone Philippines a handful of years later, I was also far too busy living, happily, to worry about dying.

    I’ve come full circle to California, to San Francisco this time and to people talking about The Big One. I don’t have the wide-eyed fear of nine-year-old me, nor the myopic disinterest in possible calamity that I had in the heart of my 20s. I’m not sure yet how I feel about earthquakes in this new decade of my life, but I’m aware and fascinated with a dash of worry.

    I asked my coworkers what I should do and have if (when?) a big earthquake hits. I’ve been told that I need water purification tablets, two weeks worth of food, flashlights, batteries, a tent, waterproof gear, medical supplies, and I don’t even remember what else. I was also told that I should be prepared to survive for two weeks without any help.

    All of this talk made me…dare I say it…nervous and….excited. And so on a whim, I started taking a class to become part of an emergency response team for my neighborhood. It’s actually a pretty strange thing for me to do. I’ve never been one to think too far into the future, nor have I ever really spent much energy preparing myself for the worst.

    I’m still not – and yet here I am learning how to treat shock, closed airways, and bleeding, how to do minor search and rescue, what to do if there’s a gas leak or a small fire and all about the city’s emergency response system. The class part is boring, but when we do the practice drills, we all get so in the moment that it’s almost fun, or maybe it’s the adrenaline and immediacy of it all. But there’s something kind of refreshing and terrifying about creating space in my life to contemplate these forces…
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