Suzanne Tobias

Earth-shaking events are best when shared with family

I grew up in hurricane country, moved to Tornado Alley and spent last Saturday night like many Kansans, marveling at the rumbling, shifting, surprising power of my first earthquake.

Now I definitely know which I prefer. And it’s not the latter.

Normally I’m all for go-with-the-flow surprises. In fact, I relish them.

I love when after-dinner drinks on the patio evolve into an impromptu block party, when everyone checks their pantries and fridges for munchies and you end up with a smorgasbord of crushed taco shells, apple slices, frozen waffles and string cheese. That’s festive.

I like getting a text from my husband at lunchtime on a weekday that says, “Coffee at the Perk. Wanna join me?” That’s romantic.

I love sifting through a DVD clearance bin and finding timeless treasures like “Spinal Tap” or “So I Married an Axe Murderer.” That’s serendipity.

What I don’t appreciate is sitting on my couch in the drowsy darkness of late evening, trying to figure out why my house suddenly feels like it’s located alongside the Chicago El.

When the front door rattled, I thought an intruder was trying to get in.

Then I figured it was just the wind. Or a C-130 passing overhead. Maybe a tree falling. But where?

My husband and I sat there on the sofa, our eyes darting outside and around the room, then back at each other. It’s amazing how little time it takes to brainstorm and catalog all the possibilities – the ones that make sense, anyway, including paranormal activity and wicked acid reflux – before finally acknowledging the preposterous:

“Is this … an earthquake?”

It was.

As we sat there, staring wide-eyed at each other with nervous half-smiles, all I could think was, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

I gripped the sofa cushion as if riding a wave on my dad’s old Army-issue air mattress. That’s exactly how it felt, I realized later, like hanging on in the ocean, in a dream, anxious, excited, unsettled.


“What do we do?” I said, my voice barely above a whisper.

“What do you mean?” Randy answered, chuckling. “We don’t do anything.”

It felt so strange to be so helpless. You can’t board up the windows or run to the basement. It happened without warning and was over in seconds, leaving behind only adrenaline, text messages and a parade of Facebook updates.

Randy trotted to our daughter’s room, where both kids had fallen asleep a few hours before, on the pretense of making sure they were all right.

Truth is, we wanted desperately to share the experience, to nudge them awake the way they nudge us on Christmas morning or after a nightmare: “Hey, guess what? We just felt an earthquake! For real!”

Not surprisingly, they slept right through. Even our dogs seemed unaffected. We’d just have to tell them in the morning.

We did, and they looked skeptical until we offered a news story as proof. Serves us right, I suppose. Next time I’ll wake them, even if the earthquake doesn’t.