Wednesday, February 20, 2013
What the fuck's happening with the world? I'm watching the source of so much of my inspiration smash the shit out of coastal Japan. Buildings are popping like matchsticks, countless people dying right in the midst of a this could be your life televised event. There is no sense of reality, no scale to the destruction. It looks like a Spielberg epic. I try to hold the tears back. The phone rings. 'Paul, are you guy's okay?' That's a loaded question, given how our own lives have just been tumble-dried by the Christchurch earthquakes: People squashed around me, pancaked by falling buildings in the city centre; luck and random intuition the only difference to which way I dived across the asphalt to avoid being pummeled. Rising to screams and rubble and sirens and dust, I'd never been so afraid. Seeing my wife again hours later was like being reborn. And then this, just weeks afterwards. Amidst momentary panic that the tsunami will reach coastal New Zealand, concerned friends and family call, offering inland or hilly places to escape to, a chance to start over. It's only stuff, they say. Abandon it. There is no escape from this. How do you hide from the whole planet groaning and rolling? How do you escape when the ocean does what it does? 'I'm not leaving without the cats,' Shelley says. We haven't seen them for days. Each new series of aftershocks sends George and Tommy scurrying to well-considered bolt-holes. I wish I could follow; lock myself away from the world and just breathe in the darkness. Our elderly neighbour comes over for a cup of tea. The power's been restored, so there's no need to flare up the gas cooker at least. He just doesn't want to be alone he says, in the kitchen sipping Earl Grey. We move to the lounge and watch televised footage of Japan's horror. It's not because we want to. There's still no running water, and the city's sewerage system is in tatters. We use a hole in the backyard until the council delivers port-a-loos to the street. Effluent from the treatment system pours into the ocean. I cross the road from our home to the water's edge, skirting slurries of shit in the high-tide shore-break. Guys are still surfing. One long boarder from Sumner was taken to hospital the other day, puking a hyper-purge. Warning signs are everywhere but the waves beckon, head-high and almost glassed. Ocean roulette wins. I concentrate on clenching every orifice upon submersion. There's no balance to nature. It ebbs and flows like the tide. And the irony is that we've brought this on ourselves. It's not because of the event – a catastrophe. Rather, it's how reliant we've become on things, how comfortable we try to make ourselves. I'm not saying this is right or wrong, more that the difference is so apparent when basic necessities are suddenly taken away. Human self importance belies our insignificance in the natural scheme of things. The western side of the city – the affluent side – is largely unaffected by the quakes and carrying on like normal. They complain about having to fix minute cracks in their driveways, about everything, as if to make them feel a part of this. Meanwhile, we try to stop the rain getting in, plugging the six inch wide gap torn through the concrete pad of our home with towels. Upstairs leans like a politician. The really poor suburbs nearby are the last to get chemical toilets delivered. I thought this kind of attitude disappeared decades ago. It's like fast forwarding to when there are only rich people, and then the rest of us. Shelley and I start again. We escape, feeling guilty for it because so many others can't. Our house is going to be demolished and we aren't prepared to wait years for a rebuild on our ruptured square of coastal turf. So we head south to Dunedin, cats and surfboards in tow. The moving guys unload our possessions in a rainstorm. But there's north swell. I run down to the beach and surf every day for the first week in our new yet-to-be home. Shelley doesn't mind, even though she has to do the unpacking. She understands what I need better than I do most times. The waves improve through the week. By Sunday, my brain is overloaded with bottom turns and endless trim across the folding surges. Hector's dolphins cruise by in the lulls, their chequered suits clown-like under the surface. Gannets smack arrow-straight into deeper water beyond, wolfing at the little fish. The horizon beckons and falls. Light shimmying through the rising swells has never seemed so...innocent. I meet a couple of locals who smile and call me into set waves. Maybe they can sense my need to escape the edge. It doesn't matter. I paddle back out for another, sit on my board and watch the sun breathe across this sea of mirrors that connects us.