As a Theater Arts major, at 5:04 on that particular day, not unlike other days, I was hanging out in the catwalk of the Barn Theater on campus. A group of us were hanging lights in preparation for an upcoming production. When we felt the rumbling, several folks jumped from the rafters onto the stage (luckily not a very far jump). I remember watching a small oscillating fan start to fall over onto the lighting control board and thinking "Oh, $#!)!, we're in a big wood building and there's going to be an electrical fire!" To my relief, the power went out almost immediately. Those of us who didn√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t already jump scrambled down the ladders and out of the building. While things did shake quite a bit, it seemed to most of us that the excessive motion was primarily caused by being in such a rickety old building. It wasn't until later that we realized the extent of what had happened.
Of course there was no power, no reliable news and little information beyond rumor and misinformation. My parents, who lived in the East Bay at the time, saw the devastation in the Bay Area (the Marina District consumed by fire and the collapse of both the Bay Bridge and Cypress Overpass) and heard that the epicenter was around Santa Cruz. As bad as it was there, they thought the earth had probably swallowed me whole.
At the time, I also happened to be a Community Assistant at Kresge. I felt the need to be responsible and the √¢‚Ç¨≈ìvoice of authority.√¢‚Ç¨¬ù Other students would come to me and ask if it was safe to go back to their apartments to sleep that night. All I could think was, "do I look like a structural engineer?" Most of those folks went out to the fields to sleep that first night.
I spent most of that night sitting on the deck outside one of the residence buildings with another CA consoling a student who decided that since classes had been cancelled it was an excellent time to try hallucinogenic drugs for the first time in her life. Every time the footsteps of a person caused the deck to rattle a little, she thought the next great apocalypse was on its way. Don't know if she ever decided to try that again.
Of course, the real aftershocks were pretty rattling. They had a way of slowly chipping away at your feeling of safety. While there were many lives that were shattered by the initial quake, for me, the worst part came in the days after the quake. The persistent aftershocks wore on my nerves, igniting my fight or flight response time after time and making me wonder if the initial quake was actually a precursor to √¢‚Ç¨≈ìthe big show.√¢‚Ç¨¬ù
Within a couple of days, a group of us went over to Watsonville and volunteered some time to help hand out supplies to folks who were left without reliable sources of food and water. I spent that afternoon playing with children on the playground, distracting them as their parents stood in line to receive supplies. That was a moment that gave me pause. It helped to put things back in perspective, and I remember feeling connected to both my community and the earth. A small outwardly-focused act can do wonders to re-center the soul.