I’m not ready. Tomorrow there will be a city-wide drill, and I’m not ready. I thought I was. I wrote about the September 7th quake and it helped to remember, lay it out in words so I can send it off and no longer hold it in. Over the past year, I’ve talked about it many times. Starting shortly afterward, whenever you saw anyone you hadn’t seen since that day, you exchanged earthquake experience stories. And you even exchanged them again the next time you met. “Dónde te agarró el temblor?” they say. Where did the earthquake grab you? It seems fitting.
So I sat down to write this to put the story to rest on the year anniversary. I didn’t make it all the way through. It started off fine, like this:
My semester hadn’t started but the kids were in school. We had donated food, a tent, and some other things to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region for earthquake relief.
I arrived at my son’s primary school a few minutes before one. I try to get there a bit later as he was never ready to go right at one when they let out, but I was early that day and stood outside the front gate with some other parents waiting for the bell. When the bell rang we were allowed inside and I sat down in the shade on the edge of the basketball court which is covered with a high corrugated tin roof to keep out sun and rain. My son’s teacher usually ran a little bit over but I was sitting across an open space in front of his classroom door.
I don’t really remember how this one started, did I hear it or feel it first, maybe both at the same time. But it was loud and strong–and that tin roof made a ton of racket.
The classroom doors opened and I met the kids in the middle of the open space where the green “punto de reunion” or meeting space was marked and the ground. I held on to my son and kind of knelt down to be at the height of the second graders and tried to be reassuring–it’s going to stop just hold on it will stop.
But then suddenly with a jolt, it got a lot harder. Like standing in the aisle of a bus that suddenly starts moving. Everything was rattling and it was so loud. I didn’t really look around at what was shaking because I was looking at the faces of the huddle of second graders. As it came to a stop I told them to hold on, don’t move we were fine there where we were.
My daughters also got out of school at one. Their school was about 5 blocks away and our routine was that they walked over to meet us here and I drove us all home. That walk took them across a bridge. I looked at the teacher and said, I’m going to go get my daughters and then come back for my son–having no idea what I would find outside of the school walls. And I really hoped that they hadn’t been on that bridge when the earthquake struck.
Outside people were dazed but there didn’t really seem to be a lot of damage evident at first. There were however a ton of kids in the secondary school uniform. I walked slowly towards the school scanning the groups of kids. My daughters are fairer skinned than most of the kids in their school but with uniforms and long dark ponytails it can be hard to spot them in the crowd.
Halfway there my sister-in-law caught up with me, she was frantic, I tried to calm her, the streets were not full of rubble and everyone seemed to be okay. I had run into a teacher I knew and he told me the girls were still inside the school. I tried to calm her down; we will find them and tried to get her to slow down so we wouldn’t pass them in the shuffle. We finally found my girls and her son just outside the entrance to their school.
This is where it gets harder to tell the story because up until here it was sort of exciting and we all made it through, but after this point in the story, we began to have to deal with what had happened. Buildings damaged, bobbles smashed, uncertainty, anxiety, clean up, and bureaucracy, lots and lots of bureaucracy. From here on out, I don’t know what to say. Words get stuck in my throat and there’s no easy way to describe the frustration when you’re not allowed to go forward because your waiting for government officials to give approval and provide funds and those things never materialize. Even from NGOs. I hear the other day that a famous Mexican actor raised 30 million pesos for earthquake relief and hasn’t given any of it to anyone, yet. The city library was closed for about six months and when they realized they were not going to get any money to repair it they just reopened it without repairing it at all. Going on with the details doesn’t seem like it will make me feel better—so maybe I ought to stick with the WASP tradition of just stuffing ugly feelings into the tightest possible interior corner and trying to pretend they aren’t there in hopes that one day they won’t be.