I was in my final year of high school in 2010. Like everyone else, I lived through September 4th, and the aftermath. My school had areas that were damaged, but nothing significant. Then. After February, though, I found out that the department I had spent the majority of my five high school years in was to be demolished and is now gone, which was particularly hard. Also my nearby church, a central part of my life since I was a very young child was quite badly damaged and possibly may not be able to be rebuilt on the same site.
But life after September continued, as it does. With a geologist for a father, he assured me that in all likelihood the worst was behind us and, because of the evidence in other cases, the aftershocks would eventually dissipate, getting weaker and weaker. Our house was miraculously fine, and so were we. Everyone was tentatively hopeful, and happy we’d all got through this alive.
Fast forward to February 21st. I had just arrived at my new University of Victoria hostel. I was meeting new people and engaged in beginning my tertiary studies, having almost completely overcome a serious (incurable) disease that had finally been diagnosed towards the end of 2010. Stress was one of the factors in my wellbeing and this disease, and I was glad I could move on and away from that and the aftershocks. As I hugged my father goodbye as he left for Christchurch again, I had no thoughts that I might fear for his life less than twenty-four hours later.
I was in the middle of my first introductory lecture when I got a tweet from a Christchurch friend. It was a comment on a ‘big’ aftershock. Everyone gets of Facebook and Twitter to talk about the aftershocks and debate how big they were, so I ignored it. I had more important things to think about.
I was just about to turn off my phone when I got a text from my father.
“Big quake. Lots of deaths. I was in town and buildings collapsed around me.”
I couldn’t get in contact with the rest of my family for the next five-and-a-half hours. Now, I’m not the sort of person who usually is prone to emotional outbursts, especially not in public with people I don’t know, but I instantly burst into tears. I knew my father was in the central city and that my mother and brothers were who knows where else. I had no idea how widespread the destruction was, or even how big the quake was. I was terrified.
I ran out, and up the hill to my hall as fast as I could. I tried, but I couldn’t stop crying. True, I tend to horriblize, but for all I knew, my entire city, my entire family was gone. It’s how I felt right then.
Luckily, when I arrived at the hall, they had set up a separate TV room for Canterbury people only that was showing the news as it unfolded. There were plenty of tissues, and by the time my friends and family had started replying to my texts I had calmed down.
Logically, I knew that I had—and have—everything to be grateful for. Compared to others, I have lost comparatively little—important places, yes, but neither immediate family or friends, nor my house. Hell, I wasn’t even IN Christchurch when the “big one” hit—I don’t carry all that trauma, which I even feel guilty for, and churlish for mourning the only city I’ve ever truly called home. I guess that’s some form of survivor’s guilt.
As it turns out, I’ve come back to Christchurch to live. I miss the city I grew up in terribly. I didn’t know that it was possibly to mourn something so much, something that wasn’t a person or alive. But really, Christchurch was and is a living thing. We make it so. I want to tenaciously cling to the memories I have and, hopefully form some new ones that will help stitch up the ache that comes when I think about what Christchurch once was.