Dan dubbed it the Panquake — for “pandemic” and “earthquake.” He joked that we should make Panquakes for breakfast – make them all jagged and broken up, and served with syrup squirted from a bottle of hand sanitizer.
In situations like this, you have to either laugh or cry (and I did plenty of both).
The first words out of my mouth when I woke up at 7:14am to our room shaking, were “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It honestly felt like the universe was just playing a joke on us. I don’t remember feeling any fear or panic. Just absolute incredulity. It was the early height of the pandemic, and no one had settled into the rhythm of shutdowns and masks and social distancing yet. It was scary to even go outside of the apartment, with reports of cases and deaths constantly rising and no clear consensus on exactly how it was spreading.
And now we were having an earthquake. It was too much. Dan and I tried to ride it out in our bed for a few moments, clutching hands. When the shaking didn’t stop, we jumped up and ran into the other room. I don’t know why, other than having the sense that we should do something. We stumbled in the dark from room to room, debating if we should go outside (no. We shouldn’t have.) or if we should get under the table (Definitely a better option). It was a good lesson in how utterly unprepared we were for a major earthquake.
All we accomplished was to go from being confused in our bed to being confused in our living room, and watching a few things go crashing to the floor in our kitchen.
The shaking finally stopped. The stillness was abrupt, punctuated by the wind-chime-clang of pots and pans in our kitchen still swinging back and forth.
Dan tried to go back to bed. I couldn’t. I fixated on how unprepared we’d been. We didn’t have any water stored, and if the earthquake had knocked out utilities, we’d have been in trouble. That thought became my anchor through the second and then third aftershocks. Because, really, what I felt was that the entire world was coming apart at the seams, and I couldn’t do anything about it. But I could make sure we had water. I started obsessively filling up every empty water container I could find. I knew it was a little bit crazy, as the nalgenes and camelbaks and our big 6 gallon camping jug started to pile up in our gear room. Dan stopped me when I tried to add stock pots of water to the mix. We already had enough to get through a week, and we had at least half a dozen ways of treating water to make it safe to drink if we had to last beyond that point.
There were multiple aftershocks that first day. The worst one was during the afternoon, after I’d gone for a walk to clear my head. It hadn’t worked. It was one of the first times I’d left the apartment since the shut downs, and I was terrified of being within six feet of anyone. Even that seemed much to close. The eerily empty park near our apartment had a distinctly apocalyptic feel to it that only left me more unsettled.
I got home and unraveled the garden hose to water my recently-planted seeds in the tiny garden plot right against our window, and then heard a rumble like the old brick house was coming down on top of me. I jumped back, dropped the hose, and stood there helpless while the building shook and water sprayed out all over the driveway.
There were rumors that the earthquake had caused a dangerous gas leak out at Kennecott mines, which could force evacuations of some of the surrounding communities. We got a small lucky break as the wind carried the toxic gasses north over the Great Salt Lake, instead of east into populated areas.
Some people talked about hearing an approaching rumble before the aftershocks. I only heard that when I was outside. In our apartment, they always seemed to start with a crack of floor boards shifting above us. It sounded exactly like our upstairs neighbors had just started walking around. Which meant that every time the upstairs neighbors did start walking around, my body intuitively braced itself for everything to start moving again.
Every aftershock would also end with a deluge of texts from friends, confirming that we’d all felt it, confirming that everyone was alright (physically, we always were. Mentally was a different story, but well beyond the ability of a single text thread to do anything about).
There were entire days when I couldn’t stop feeling an eerie sense that everything was moving, constantly. Like being on a very large boat in calm seas. The movements are so subtle you usually don’t notice them consciously, but something deep in your gut knows that you’re not on stable ground. I thought I was losing my mind. I’d constantly check the earthquake tracker to see if there had been a recent aftershock. Sometimes there was, but usually there wasn’t. Usually, it was just my equilibrium being completely out of whack. Almost everyone I texted or talked to about it felt the same way. Unsettled. Physically unstable. Unsure if you could trust your senses or even the ground beneath your feet. All the time. For nearly a month.
And at the same time, I lived with the mounting stress of possible layoffs at work, stress which turned out to be totally valid as the company laid off nearly a third of its staff, including me and the bulk of the content team. And the aftershocks kept coming.
I’m writing this nearly two months after the last noticeable aftershock, and that feeling has finally started to fade. I don’t brace myself when I hear neighbors walking around upstairs anymore, or when the garbage truck rumbles by. But the feeling that the illusion of stability can break at any moment has lingered. It has been a fairly large driving factor in us getting motivated to finally start taking some steps to make our dream of living more self-sufficiently a reality.