Up Front by Emma Hart


One, Redux

In polite conversation the other day, I discovered my counsellor was in the CTV building on the 22nd of February last year. Suddenly I felt like I shouldn't really be bothering her. She had, as it turns out, only just started work again. 

Just after Christmas I had a nice chat with a friend I hadn't seen for a while – not since she moved to Sydney and a life featuring a lot more sleep and less medication than she was having here. She'd only come back for Christmas – and Christchurch greeted her with a massive aftershock that closed the airport. 

And it was good that we got that barbeque at a friend's house in before his block's sewage system packed up yet again and they were back on the chemical toilets. 

Yes, it seems odd to be commemorating the anniversary of something that's still happening. We should all be coming together, but this isn't that sort of party. Today, we'll all find our own paths. The only wrong attitude is not to understand that. Some will go to the official commemoration in the Park. For many, that will be too much. Some will avoid the news. For others it's a sign we haven't been forgotten. There will be flowers, in rivers and traffic cones. Many will observe the silence. For others, there has been too much silence. I will make words on virtual paper, because that's what I do. 

And sometimes I wonder why. I can't speak for the People of Christchurch: no-one can. I'm grateful no-one asks me to, and I can do my grieving in private without censure. I can only tell my story, and those of my friends. Those who left, those who stayed. Those who screamed at every after-shock, those who stood firm until they ended up in counselling a year later. Those whose properties were almost untouched, those who have found the battle with EQC and insurance companies more stressful than a vertical acceleration of 2.1gs and hundreds of discernable after-shocks. 

To speak only for myself, to not use the camouflaging "we", makes me feel intensely vulnerable. For me, there have been things more stressful than the earthquakes in the last year, but every one of those things has been aggravated by plate tectonics. Some, I honestly believe, would not have happened without the February Quake, and so it has changed my life forever. And I still have my house – rotted-out kitchen floor aside – and my family. What I don't have is the person I used to be. That's not, of course, necessarily a bad thing. 

In September, I urged people to come down and See. I said it was time-limited. That time is up. We don't have a re-build, we have a knock-down. Christchurch-that-was is gone. Nothing is yet-to-be. I want my city to rise again, and I want it done properly, with a central city and proper infrastructure. You can draw all the pretty plans you like, but with no strong leadership and too much in the hands of private landlords and insurance companies, and government departments signing long-term leases in the suburbs, it isn't going to happen. I don't want one craft-beer bar in Woolston and the next one in Addington. I don't want to live, no offense, in a tiny little Auckland. I want to live in a Wellington where the weather isn't shit. No offense. 

Maybe I'm wrong. I'd like to be wrong. I'd also like my thirteen-month-old contents claim settled, and someone to come and look at my rotted-out kitchen floor. No, that's not true, I'd like someone to come and do a refreshingly competent job of replacing it. I'd like the school run not to take an hour and twenty minutes. (See above, re: Auckland.) I'd like to be unable to credit the rumour that the least-damaged houses are being fixed first, in order to make the numbers look good. I'd like to be able to go for a walk without constantly watching my feet on the broken footpaths and dodging around fencing and shipping containers. We all want things we can't have, some of us more viscerally than others. 

Such pessimism feels like bad manners. It's not that bad. We've been lucky. People are worse off. Things will get better. And today would be the perfect time to reflect on how lucky we've been. I can only speak for me, and I'm going to have a cigarette.

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