“I’m going home to lie down. I’ll be back soon,” I told her teachers. I felt off but, other than a slight dizziness, it was nothing I could put a finger on. Later, I’d wonder if like others of the animal kingdom, I was sensitive to the quake’s impending arrival.
I’d come to pick up my daughter from her preschool on Grove and Baker. I, too, attended as a part-time artist-in-residence, developing a program of peace education using puppets and the expressive arts.
I’d returned to and just closed the door of my apartment when the building began to sway. Stand under a doorway voiced an inner command dictated by years of living in earthquake country. After the first few head bangs against the doorframe, I realized I’d need to do more than stand.
As I stood bracing myself with outstretched arms, my thoughts were on my five year old, five blocks away. I could only pray that the seismic proofing, just completed on her school, was effective. Waiting out those 15-20 seconds before I could stumble disoriented down three flights of stairs seemed endless.
Once outside, I observed with some curiosity what can best be described as visual vibrations, after-images left hanging in space as the quake subsided. They would form, multiply and disappear as I raced down Grove Street and my beloved daughter. “Let her be safe, let her be safe.”
Arriving at her preschool, I yanked open the door. Inside, a young teacher sat on a tiny chair in the lobby. “The bay bridge collapsed,” he whispered clearly shocked, as the shaky voices of newscasters quietly streamed from the large silver boom-box on the low round table.
At that moment there was only one voice I wanted to hear. “Mommmmmmmy!!!” One lone child stood beside the child-sized drinking fountain in the hallway, my child. I forced myself to slow to a walk, giving myself a moment to appear calm and in control while she gleefully shouted, “We had an earthquake!”
On the day the earth violently shook, I felt every parent’s terror of being separated from their child during a disaster. My panic lasted only as long as it took to run those endless 5 blocks. For other parents, relief would not come so quickly.