Well, last night my husband and I were abruptly awoken by an earthquake. I reached out for his hand and he reached for mine. We lay still and prayed silently as the building shook.

And as I was praying I thought, “Wow, this feels exactly like the earthquake exhibit at the Academy of Sciences we went to a couple of weeks ago, exactly the same. They did a good job with that exhibit.”

This is my third earthquake.

The second one I barely felt. It happened when we were living in Vacaville. That was the big Bay Area quake of ’89 that collapsed the Bay Bridge. Our next door neighbor commuted across that bridge every day. When he got home, in the time before cell phones, his wife was near hysteria. He had seen the bridge collapse in his rearview mirror.

The first one, when I was eight in southern California, scared me to pieces. I was in my room before leaving for school and there was a sudden jolting shake. All Mrs. Graves’ second-grade earthquake drills were fresh in my memory and I crouched under my desk with my back to the window.

It was very scary, debilitating even. There were a lot of big aftershocks. I slept in the door frame of my parents’ room for weeks after.

And I remember pulling out the atlas, quite decided to move somewhere when I grew up where there were no natural disasters, and definitely no earthquakes. I was NEVER going to move to San Francisco, EVER. But I couldn’t find any place in the contiguous United States free from fear. I shut the atlas.

And now here we are.

Our friends in Napa got the worst of it. According to the map we only got the weak shocks. It wasn’t sharp, but a steady roll around, back and again. It seemed to last for a very long time.

The building creaked and swayed a bit, but then, as my husband reminded me, it does that when the kids run around, so, that’s nothing new. I heard some things rattle. I thought I heard something fall.

When it was over I got up to check on the kids.

My eldest had woken up. He took a drink of water and flopped back down before he saw me. The other two were still sleeping. I never found the thing that I thought I heard fall.

And then we went back to bed. I was awake for a while. I wondered if I should tiptoe through the building in my pajama shorts and smell for gas leaks or something. I lay in bed determined to stay awake for a while sniffing, just in case.

It was tempting to return to the fear. I remembered being eight and looking through that atlas. And I remembered that there is no place free from fear. Our safety is internal and eternal, the safety of a retrofitted soul.

I let the fear pass by. I sniffed for gas and vowed to buy some emergency water in the morning. I really should probably have some stashed under the bed or something.

And then I fell asleep.

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