fourteen years ago today

I was lying in bed, when I felt a blast and saw a series of bright flashes. The bed shook violently, the dresser came crashing down–the oven literally split in two. As a second blast hit, and then another, I became aware of a loud announcement, emanating from the street: “You have violated a protected zone, please evacuate immediately, you have violated a protected zone, please evacuate immediately.”

I could only imagine one possible explanation: Belarus or some other rogue (formerly Eastern bloc?) nation had unleashed its entire nuclear arsenal, the whys would have to wait for more contemplative times–if basic communication was ever restored–and then society could begin the tough task of rebuilding brick by brick. But first I had to find my glasses. They’d been thrown across the room, there was broken glass everywhere, the power was out, and I had no idea where my shoes were. As I groped for the glasses, cutting my feet in the dark, I cursed the turbulent times I lived in. I knew I’d said I’d save the political analysis for later, bt this was really fucked up.

I found my glasses and shoes much faster than I deserved to, considering I wasn’t keeping my head in a crisis, not even a little. I went out back to the courtyard, where my can-do neighbor was already turning off the gas line. “Some earthquake,” he said. Until that moment, the possibility of an earthquake hadn’t even occurred to me.

“Yeah, I was here for the earthquake in 1971, and this felt really different,” I said lamely, “more violent somehow, more like a bomb,” I added as suggestively as possible.

“It was an earthquake,” he said confidently. I had never met this man before, even though there were only four units in the building, including my own. But now I knew he could teach me things, this man who knew when threats came from the ground and when they came from the sky. I could be his friend.

So what had I experienced? Well, the flashes of light were power lines going down. The announcement about the protected zone was a car alarm. And Belarus was the first country to pop into my head.

I went for a walk to survey the damage in the neighborhood. Buildings on either side of mine had pancaked, fires were breaking out all over the city. Next door, a little girl stood in front of her apartment building, the second floor sitting uncomfortably inside the first. She looked at me sadly, having about as much luck making sense of this terrible day as I was, then said something that made me never forget her. She said, “my house broke.”

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