I thought we lived in one of those suburban cookie-cutter houses that I saw on TV, but actually, we lived in the projects in Diamond Heights. As a six-year-old I didn’t know any different.
One night, we gathered around the table for dinner and I watched my father serve plates of spaghetti from a gigantic vat. When I asked why my dad made so much pasta, he shrugged and said that he just felt like cooking an extra big batch.
The next day started out normal. I went to Buena Vista Elementary with my mom, who also taught there. During the after-school dance class in the cafeteria/gym, or “gymeteria,” two girls started arguing. It only took a few seconds for the whole gymeteria to fill with the piercing screams of quarreling girls. The teacher brought the two culprits to the front stage for some conflict management.
While the three of them worked out the details of who started it, I heard a slow grumble grow louder and louder, coming from nowhere and everywhere. I looked up and saw hanging lights moving from side to side, like the swings in the yard. It was a sound I could feel. It was an earthquake.
All the girls scattered, screaming. I went into autopilot, duck, cover, hold, duck, cover, hold. I spotted the long cafeteria table and weaved my body over the bench seat and under the table. Just as I got my head below the table I realized, I’m all alone. Where is everyone??? They must be hiding in a better place. I DON’T WANT TO DIE ALONE! I left my safe hiding place to find our teacher, a spandexed, sweatbanded dancer, stuck to the doorway like an 80s starfish, surrounded by a herd of squawking guppies. Even though I was completely exposed, I was sure that dying with the group would be better than dying alone. As soon as I got to them, the shaking stopped and we made our way to the yard.
Eventually, I found my mom amongst the chaos of children. She didn’t come out of the building right away because she was convinced that the rumble was just the janitor dragging trashcans down the stairs.
My mom and I headed home. To wait. At least we knew that my dad and brother were together, but downtown was so far away.
The first thing we did was assess the damage. Our porch had moved a few inches away from the house and a little calavera had fallen off of a bookshelf. Otherwise, everything was just as we left it. I listened to the radio as new stories trickled in with reports of damage. A piece of the Bay Bridge has fallen into the bay… a freeway collapsed… more details to come…
My mom pulled out the address book and hopped on the phone, making quick calls to our family and closest friends to make sure everyone was okay. We couldn’t stay on the line too long. No call waiting.
About an hour passed before we heard the click of the door. They made it. My family was safe.
With the sun setting, no electricity, and strict instructions to not turn on the gas, my dad took stock of our supplies to get us through the night. The giant pot of pasta! My dad was happy to take credit for his uncanny sixth earthquake-sense.
Since we were more than covered for dinner, my uncle and grandmother, my godparents and their baby all came over to share in a candlelight dinner of cold spaghetti. My brother and I kept our ears on the radio, anxiously hoping, awaiting official word that school the next day was canceled.