2 years. Wow.
At 12:51pm on February 22, 2011, I was at school, having just finished my day at work. I was chatting to some children when we first heard, then felt the quake. We watched the verandah do a cartoon-like warping wobble, heard the glass rattling in its panes and the continuing rumble of hundreds of kilometres of earth shifting.
We took cover under a doorway, a ridiculous number of bodies in a small spot and futile in any case, as the shaking threw us out. I was told later that my vice-like fingers left marks on one child's upper arm. Sorry about that, Sammy.
After the shaking ceased, we stumbled out onto the court, legs shaky, hearts pounding. Staff wandered about in circles for a bit, unable to formulate words. I think I verbalised ironically that I wished I'd updated my class register so that I could make sense of who was in my class that day. Everything was bizarrely quiet.
We all watched as a Year 8 boy threw the cricket ball he had in his hand, and magically, the spell was broken. Games were renewed, play continued, as Mother Nature had not made such a rude intrusion minutes earlier. With the toss of a ball, all was okay, and with bewildered looks, the call was made to let them carry on and we'd do a walk around check for safety and carry on as normal. We assumed that was a repeat of a local faultline that had had a rumble a few nights earlier.
Apparently, parents began pouring in some 30 minutes later, some from ChCh, having seen some awful things, and the panic only then began to hit children. I was gone by then.
My phone rang, and a panicked Steve informed me that he was okay, and was coming home. He was picking Sophie up from nursery school on the way. I remember feeling surprised that he was obviously stressed. Steve doesn't 'do' stress. I asked if was sure we needed to get Sophie, who was having her first all day session at a new preschool. I was confused in my isolated wee cocoon 50km away from the ChCh CBD, that there seemed to be so much NOISE coming from Steve's end. He told me bluntly that it was huge. People had definitely died this time, there was a hell of a mess to clean up at his work, but he was leaving before the bridges were closed, keeping him from crossing the Waimak River and getting home.
He tells of a long, harrowing journey home, driving over sunken bits of road, overtaking lines of banked up traffic and eventually getting to Sophie, where she was one of the last to be picked up. She was totally unfazed, assuming no doubt in her 3 year old way that these crazy adventures were just what went down at Rangiora High School Nursery School.
I had returned to Mum and Dad's place, where a certain 2 year old boy was being looked after by Nana and Grandad. Things had rattled a whole lot more at their 150 year old home than they had at school, as evidenced by the cracks in walls and fallen bricks scattered around. The first aftershock struck not long after I arrived, and once again I was thrown out of a doorway, this time while holding Caleb. I don't rate that as a survival strategy these days.
2 years on and so much has changed. I find myself scoping out emergency exits when we go somewhere new, and if I find my children separated, I do a mental checklist of how I will get to each one and in which order. I get the odd wave of panic when I hear a truck drives by, making that all-familiar rumble. I have my own seismographs around the house - crystals dangling from chandeliers, mobiles in children's rooms - that tell me when it's real and when it's not. We have a new baby, who will never know the old ChCh. Our older two children know no time when there were no quakes. They are just what happens. They are a part of their day-to-day play, as are house fires, for an entirely different reason. They talk about "When our house falls down in the next earthquake..." as if it's a perfectly normal, life event.
We are lucky that our children have no lasting effects from this tragedy. Their worldview was so unshaped at the time that they just absorbed the event and its aftermath as normal. We were lucky that they felt safe where they were and knew no-one personally that died that day. The rest of us weren't quite so lucky. Everyone knows someone that lost someone. Or lost someone themselves. Everyone got a taste of how precarious life is, and how no-one is immune to the randomness of disaster. A loss of innocence, I guess.
What a two years it's been.