The earth’s shaken twice in the last twenty-four hours. The first time I was on my couch and it took me a second to know what was happening. The second time I was on my couch again and I knew right away. I live on the fifth floor, and both times I wondered—should I pick up my feet and lie down in case my building collapses so that, when I fall five floors to the ground, I’ll be stretched out so that my couch can catch as much of me as possible?
And both times, while thinking this, I froze and left my back upright and my feet on the ground while my building swayed.
If you’re going to fall five floors in a collapsing building, would lying down on a couch even help? Or is that just crazy? In my building, the fifth floor is the top floor. But what does my reaction reveal? That I’m fit for a world where buildings never collapse but where everyone sits around frozen in pondering things in the certainty of their safety? Maybe. But actually… Let’s hold on for a second… Can we do a total change of pace here? This piece was going to be about how, after the first earthquake, I looked out my window at downtown Los Angeles to see if any skyscrapers collapsed, and then, seeing that they hadn’t, I looked at Facebook to make sure the earthquake had really happened. (It had, and I took the lengthy chain of comments on Bel Poblador’s post as evidence.) And then, it was going to be about how I was wondering if anybody was dead, because if nobody was, I was going to post on Facebook about these earthquakes gleefully, but if people were dead, then I wasn’t. But let’s do a change of pace because I have some experience with collapse, and discussing it requires a tone unlike the one I’ve been using thus far.
One time I was on a party on a back porch in Chicago. We were on the third floor and it was night. It was one of those wooden porches you see all over the city when you’re riding the El. There were a lot of people there. The party was split between the second and third floors. Soon after we got there, my friend Alex said, “This thing’s going to collapse.” I was standing on the third floor, about five feet from the door to the inside of the apartment. The building was brick. My friend Steelie had just left to go down the wooden stairs to the second floor porch for a beer from the keg. I felt the planks below me crack and I thought to myself, “This is happening. You might die now.”
The third floor crashed through the second floor which crashed through the first floor and went into the basement. I was on the top of the pile, dazed, and in the darkness, I saw a guy motioning to get me off the top of the heap. I don’t remember any sound, and I don’t know if he was saying anything. Just this shadow figure in the dark basement motioning towards me. He helped me off the top of the pile. There was a clear space under the stairway where no debris was, and I turned around and saw a pile of wood and limbs, some moving, some motionless. I started pulling off planks and piling them in the basement in the empty space, and I started gripping people’s hands and feet to tell them somebody was there.
Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.