I was pulled grudgingly from my sleep about 130 a.m. this morning by the pestering ring of my cell phone. In the states, I had frequent calls in the middle of the night – so often, in fact, that I just never answered them. Here, though, my phone rarely rings at all, let alone in the middle of the night. So, tempted as I was to “ignore,” I went ahead and picked up. I was disoriented enough that I didnt right away recognize my dad’s voice.
“In a few hours, you’re going to be hit by a Tsunami,” he said.
“No, no no, that doesn’t make any sense.”
“There was an earthquake, and it’s bad,” he insisted.
“The one in Japan? I know, that one has passed.”
“No, there was an earthquake in Chile and you’re going to get hit by a Tsunami. I just didn’t want you to be out riding your bike or something.”
“Dad, you must be mistaken. Chile is in South America.”
“Yes, I know, but the entire Pacific Ocean is on watch.”
Exasperated, I stumbled out to my computer and turned on CNN. Sure enough, all hell was breaking loose in South America. And, just as dad said, a widespread Tsunami warning had been issued.
“Oh, no” I finally responded.
“No, it’s okay, you can go back to bed,” Dad says. “I just didnt want you out riding your bike without checking the news first.”
“OH SURE, DAD. I’ll totally just GO BACK TO BED.”
“You have time, don’t worry.”
So, I had to recheck the data. Sure enough, he was right.
What he meant by “in a few hours” was “11 hours from now.” In my world, “in a few hours you’ll be hit by a Tsunami” means RUNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!! But luckily, I had plenty of time to pack, eat, and go back to sleep.
For the second time in six months I set about packing a bag and contemplating the seriousness of the word “evacuation.” I don’t know if you’ve ever had the word “evacuation” thrown at you in the middle of the night, but for this Northwest girl, it’s a pretty big deal. You see, in the PNW, we don’t have catastrophes. Or the ones we do have are pretty expected like flooding or ice storms. I certainly have never been told to “pack a bag and get to high ground” before this particular journey, that’s for sure.
The strangest thoughts were going my mind. First, I grabbed all my notebooks of writing. Looking around my apartment, I know that I can live without or replace nearly everything – but the writing…the writing can’t be left behind. Next to land in the suitcase was Mr. Peabody, my teddy bear. Now, I know what you’re thinking – a teddy bear?? But, honestly, I’ve had this bear since I was nine years old. He goes with me everywhere – acting as a pillow and a little piece of home. After the irreplaceables, I decided to get some necessities. The question was, though, what do you need in the event of a Tsunami? Having never lived through a major catastrophe, I was thinking either this island would be destroyed or it wouldn’t be hit at all. So, I grabbed the same things I would grab if I were leaving in a hurry for a weekend trip – a few clothes, a pair of shoes, my toothbrush, my cell phone and charger, and my passport.
After my bags were packed and set by the door, I watched the news for a few minutes and decided to go back to bed after all. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any trouble getting back to sleep, but I awoke with that panic that you only get when you have forgotten something important – like a wedding or a death or christmas. Then I remembered – “oh yeah, tsunami.” So, I turned on the computer again only to be reassured that I did, in fact, have several hours before impending doom. I made coffee and waited as riveted as the rest of the world to the fate of Hawai’i. As a major event didn’t come to pass, I began to toggle between panic and calm. I was thinking “either it’s REALLY good or REALLY bad that Hawai’i didn’t get hit. With little else to do I began to rethink my packing. Maybe a carry-on suitcase and a back pack was over kill…maybe just a backpack and my writing. Can I do without Mr. Peabody? Do I really need sneakers too? I condensed my evac pack down to a shoulder bag and a back pack, and then I went back to my post at the computer. As I sat glued to the live feed of CNN and the chats boxes opening up from worried friends and family, I began to think “what if we really DO get hit by this thing…. maybe I should secure more of my belongings…”
Now, I live on the third floor of a concrete building. In all likelihood a major tsunami wouldn’t bring the building down. If anything, it would probably just flood. So, with all of the pictures of flood victims pouring through my mind, I thought “maybe I should just put all my clothes in my suitcases. That way, if the building does get damaged, at least all my clothes will be in one spot.” So, I scampered around my apartment grabbing clothes and putting them in my suitcases. I even decided Mr. Peabody could hang back. Then I realized if I was saving my clothes, maybe I should save my paperwork too. I grabbed the most random books possible and my file folder of bills, etc, and put them in plastic bags and shoved them into the suitcases too. It wasn’t easy lobbing those heavy things on top of my closet…but I managed. With nothing left worth saving, I returned to my couch to sit and wait.
Looking around at my apartment, I realized how little I have that really matters. The items of most concern to me are photos, writings, and of course, Mr. Peabody. I also realized what a helpless feeling this is. Sitting and waiting for impending doom is a pretty ridiculous activity. I mean, I’m on an island in the middle of nowhere without a car or a plan. What exactly am I supposed to do? So, I waited and waited waited. Perhaps I should have been a little more excited by the email from my principal saying “evac cancelled,” but truth be told, I panicked even more. “How is that even possible??” I thought. With nothing more to do, I just kept waiting – waiting for NOAA, the new foundation of my sanity, to tell me not to worry, that everything is going to be okay. Finally, NOAA came through for me.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the people of Samoa or Chile or Haiti. This little drama occurred almost entirely in my head. I really don’t know what I would do if my world ever came crashing down around me. I guess as long as I have my writing and Mr. Peabody and a family that loves me, I’ll always be okay.
I can't remember if you were living on "The Hill" when the fire storms treatened all our homes. It was the same experience, trying to decide where to go that would be safe and what to take. I packed my journals and photos and other mementos. What a strange expereince to sort though what is "most" valuable…
it really is surreal. Even if it doesn't amount to the "big evacuation," it still forces you to put life in perspective…