It was still dark when I woke. 4.30 Saturday morning, and someone was shaking my bed.
Except: My bed's enormous and I live alone. Shreds of sleep were still falling away when I knew the truth. I was in an earthquake.
More than one ex-girlfriend has compared me to stone, to wood, to a machine. I've been called cold-blooded, soulless and untouched by human emotion, usually when the women in question were trying to draw me into a shouting match.
Fact is, I'm just not that emotional in a crisis. Clear and decisive, yes, but not in the least emotional.
My bed thumped and jumped across the floor. Furniture rattled. The house shook but did not screech, creak or groan. I thought about the plate glass window behind my head and decided the curtains were protection enough. The power died. In the front of the house, something crashed.
I stayed calm enough not to wake Butler, sleeping beside me.
After the tremor stopped, I got up to check on Midge and Buddy. There were books all over the floor, but nothing major was broken and the cats were well.
I went back to sleep.
Unfortunately I didn't get the rest I needed. There were aftershocks to endure, texts and calls on my cell to send and receive, a bright spring sunrise and yet more aftershocks.
That morning I had coffee with some elderly neighbours. With no power, they boiled water and made toast on a barbeque grill. By then I knew my friends were safe, and vice versa. My neighbours and I had a lovely chat, and it was off to work.
The tattoo shop looked a wreck. Once the lighting fixtures were back in place and a tipped-over sculpture set back upright, it wasn't that bad. Frankie showed up, and together we cleaned up the spilled ink and broken potted plants, set the jewelry cabinet to rights and got the place back together. The room shook and jumped, stopped, shook again. We set the shop up so any further shocks wouldn't break anything and locked up again. That night I went to a friend's birthday party.
We've had over a hundred earthquakes in the last few days. Some of them rattled no more than a large truck passing in the street outside. Others had me scrambling to keep palette, painting and brushes from juddering to the floor. Buildings are falling around town, and some of my favourite restaurants and businesses are gone. We have power back, but will need to boil our water for some time to come.
Meanwhile I've kept the tattoo shop open and running, got the shop's bookkeeping sorted out, done my workouts at the gym (a building too old and tough to crumble) and navigated the rubble downturn to make it to the NZSA's monthly writer's lunch.
I also kept writing. Through all this, I keep drawing, painting, tattooing and piling up pages on my novel.
Way I look at it, life is just as fragile in good times and bad. Love is just as precious. Every life has disasters and crises.
None of that is any excuse. Every single one of us tap dances under a dangling sword. One day the blade will fall, and the only thing that matters worth a damn is the manner of your dance.
Or, as James Lee Burke is so fond of putting it, sometimes you just have to smile and walk through the smoke. :-)
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