October 17, 1989, I was riding my bike home from my Clinical Psychology class at UC Davis, looking forward to watching the Bay Bridge World Series Game 3—San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s—on TV with my boyfriend, when the earthquake struck. The Loma Prieta earthquake.
I didn’t even feel it.
The 5:35 game hadn’t started when the quake hit at 5:04, and so the many TV cameras recording pre-game excitement at Candlestick Park actually televised the earthquake to millions of people. It would, in fact, become the first large earthquake ever to be broadcast live.
Right after the shaking some fans assembled at Candlestick let out a cheer believing it was a sign that the series battle between two teams from the same metropolitan area was now christened by unseen forces but when power went out, murmurs of confusion rippled and within minutes, players were gathering their family from the stands as people were told to leave the park. Only about half the fans were in their seats at the time of the quake and had there been any more seated, their weight on the structure would certainly have made the concrete less able to retain its integrity.
The earthquake hadn’t been centered in San Francisco; it had been centered in the Santa Cruz mountains, where our home was. Or where our home HAD been, before my parents separation. The earthquake had rocked our earthquake-resistant geodesic dome so violently that it had slid off it’s foundation—with my 14 year old sister inside—and lay cockeyed and broken against the slope of the hill it had once stood upon.
My dad had been at the well, and happened to be overlooking the home as it hit, watching it groan and lurch—windows breaking–knowing my sister was inside. He screamed, and tried to run inside but the doors wouldn’t open anymore. Everything had shifted, was twisted in different directions, and not lined up anymore. The door a rectangle, the door frame a rhomboid.
My sister was fine—having found a doorway to get into—but the house was gone.
The smell of the house is what I remember the most. The refrigerator had been slammed forward, tipped and opened, and food—flung out of the fridge— lay rotting. The odor of which was mixed with the smell of my sister’s smashed fish tank—gravel, broken glass, Angel fish—and broken bottles of perfume spread onto walls and carpet, creating an aroma of rot, and fish, and perfume.
The floors were sloping and rising—and almost spongey; like a fun-house floor—and the tilt of everything brought on nausea like an undertow. And the house groaned and creaked as if we (mom, my moms friend Mary, me and my boyfriend Steve) were disturbing it in it’s obvious state of humiliation and distress.
The weirdest thing I saw that day was this baby blue chest of drawers—my younger brother’s old dresser; it had been his changing table—that my parents had put under the deck of the house. The shifting of the house had caused the deck (still mostly attached to the house) to land on top of the dresser, which held steady in a strength beyond rationality, as if asking to be seen as both an emblem of family history as well as the surprise resilience of forgotten ordinariness.