Up Front by Emma Hart

60

One

So it's been a year. Doesn't feel like it, but then when you think about it, what does a year feel like? Seven thousand earthquakes?

 This anniversary is odd for a number of reasons. Probably the most obvious is that the commemoration should be February. I can't even remember September any more, not without going back and reading what we wrote: Jolisa, Russell, David and I. There for all to see forever, and just as bloody well, because memory is a tricky bugger. For all of us here, the scale of the destruction and death and the actual violence of the shake in February eclipsed September. To me, it doesn't seem as bad now as it actually was.

Here's the word from Christchurch: five days of this shit. Cut us some fucking slack already, plate tectonics.

 Yeah. There was a discernable aftershock this morning. First one since yesterday.

For our family personally, last year wasn't even our most difficult September. A year before that, I was in hospital recovering from brain surgery. Once I got home, David and Jennifer brought us simply insane amounts of food. A year later, they camped in our lounge because we had cellphone-charging laptop-running electrickery and stable foundations.

On an even more personal note, even February's quake wasn't the worst thing that happened to me in the last year. We have these seismic experiences that in some ways bind us all together down here, and yet I have this grief that sets me apart. So many others also have these private pains that make us fit every so slightly less well in this public commemoration.

They twine together, the way the parts of your life always do. The February earthquake damaged our gazebatory. After waiting four months for a glazier to come and do an emergency repair, we had a friend demolish and remove it. (For those who loved the gazebatory, it's alright. It's gone to live on a farm, and be a greenhouse.) And last week, we spent some of my inheritance from my mother on building a new deck. Today, I planted my mother's favourite rose next to it, right by the sunny sitting spot. She would love it. And while they were there, the builders replaced our bathroom ceiling, after we gave up on waiting for someone from EQC to come and look at it. I filed the claim in December. We had no trouble getting a builder either: they're all sitting around waiting to start working as soon as the Insurance Situation is resolved.

What have we learned, in the last year? What will stay with us? Listen to Peter Hyde. Listen to the tone of his voice. These things are so obvious to us. When we had the big aftershocks in June, who organised the response? Who carried out the clean-up? The same people who did it in September. And December. And February. Ten months later, it was still volunteers, students and farmers, self-organised. You know those Civil Defence ads Peter Elliot does? I do wonder if the tag line should be, "Be prepared. No fucker is ever coming to help."

I know, that doesn't sound particularly Little Plucky Battler. Our anger, our helplessness, our fear and our stress and the limits of our coping, still don't belong in the story. The abuse people in Christchurch get from people outside – and people in the East get from people in the West – is sparse, but it does happen. You only have to look at the comments on any Stuff earthquake article. People don't want to know.

And honestly? If you haven't seen it, you don't know. That's how it was for me, anyway, when we hiked to David's house in September, when we went a block from our house in February, when we finally peered through the fences into the Red Zone. We'd seen the photos and the film, but until you stand there and you look and you realise that you loved Knox Church, that you're never going to drink in the Dux again, it just isn't real.

That's what I tell my friends who have lived here, and moved away. This experience is a limited-time thing. The longer you leave it, the more of the city becomes desolate and bare. This is, we can all hope, the most significant thing that will happen to your country in your lifetime. If you suspect you might give even the tiniest fuck, come and see. Before it's all erased.

     Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.
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