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Monday, March 7, 2011

'I am frightened all the time' - Vicki Anderson

I am frightened all the time

VICKI ANDERSON
Last updated 11:43 08/03/2011
 
 
''I never understood how man could dare to watch a city shaken to the ground, to feel the tremors, hear the tragic sound of houses twisting, crashing everywhere, and not be conquered by a sick despair. Although his buildings crumble to a mound of worthless ruins, man has always found the urge to build a stronger city there. Within my soul I made my towers high. They lie in ruins, yet I have begun to build again, now planning to restore what life has shaken to the earth; and I, in faith shall build my tower toward the sun, a stronger city than was before.''

The above is from a plaque in Napier. The line that gets me is: ''within my soul I made my towers high. They lie in ruins''.

It's exactly how I feel right now. I'm trying to keep a smile plastered on my face but inside I feel like a wreck. I'm frightened all the time. I'm not ashamed to admit that fear hits me when I least expect it. A car backfires and I'm jumping. One of the kids kicks the couch and I'm paralysed with fear.

''What was that?'' I say in a high-pitched voice. My bloke sighs, and says ''nothing''.

On the television I've just watched Mayor Bob Parker demonstrating Port-a-loos in our munted city. Surreal. And I thought nothing could make me laugh right now.

A duplicate of Parker's infamous parka jacket is being auctioned on Trade Me with the early bidding at $1,200.

The Antarctic New Zealand jacket was designed in partnership with Earth Sea Sky, a small Christchurch-based family company. Bidding closes on Sunday.

Questions on the auction include one would-be bidder, Metalkid, asking about the high-visibility strip across the shoulders: ''Is there an option for extra hi-visibility and do you think the parka will stand up to the hostile West Australian winter mining conditions? Has there been any kind of testing done in this field for this garment? With the current cyclones also doing the rounds; do you think I could wear this outside in a catagory 3-5?''

While another bidder, whose mother was killed in the Erebus air crash, wonders if the company could make one to remember the memorial flight taken to the scene of the crash recently and, thus, mum.

Unfortunately the answer is that there are only two jackets outside of Antarctic New Zealand, one presented to Prime Minister John Key and the other to Parker so, no, the bidder will have to remember mum in other ways.

Bidder Metalkid appears to have decided against battling cyclones in Western Australia and, instead, wonders: ''If I were skiing on Mount Everest and tripped over, is it likely the XTR two-way stretch nylon outer would tear or rip?''
Turns out there are repair kits for such occasions.

It's a shame there isn't a repair kit large enough to fix Cantabrians.

I keep remembering friends and acquaintances who were in the central city on that day. I am relentless in my search to find them, talk to them, make sure they are OK. Desperate to ensure these traces of my former life, for that is surely what they are now, still exist.

On Monday mornings I liked to go into the Theatre Royal hairdressers for a coffee and a chat and a straighten if I had $20 to spare. Renee and the girls were friends. I saw them more often than I saw my own brother. Renee finds me through Facebook, phones me and we talk for over an hour. They all got out and now her salon is in her home, well, now she's cleaned out the silt.

The man in the dairy on the corner of Gloucester Street where I always bought a can of Red Bull every morning before I changed to Up&Go for the sake of my kidneys at his urging, is he OK? I find out he is.

Sadly the man in the fish and chip shop around the corner is not. My record store haunt, where I spent my lunchbreaks, is gone. The kindred music souls behind the counter would share a rollie during their smoko break with me out the back. Sometimes Jesse would even make me a cuppa to go with it.

The homeless guy who slept under the archway of The Press at night, I'd give him a paper and a hot cup of coffee when I was leaving last thing at night. He would read the paper and then use it as extra bedding. He loved Saturday papers and would never accept any money I tried to give him. I wonder where he is?

It is so strange to be detached from these strands of people who wove in and out of my regular day-to-day existence. The people who knew my first name, who I passed time with, bantered with, never really knowing much about each other's lives but knowing each other all the same. I ache for the familiarity and comfort I know now they gave me.

The lady in the parking building who would laughingly move the cone for us. I didn't know her name but I knew she was just about to lose her job because the parking building was becoming automated. I knew she had cancer. I wonder how her life is right now?

I don't wish to generalise but it appears as if women are more psychologically unnerved by the quake then men, or maybe it's just that men hide it better?

A friend living in the inner city cordon got chatting to an army bloke, as you do. He said that when they go into houses checking if people are OK, they always go to the cupboards and wardrobes and check there. It's not uncommon to find someone still hiding there days after a big quake. And more often than not that someone is a woman.

And when I start to feel sorry for myself that I'm of no fixed abode I feel guilty - I'm lucky I'm still shuffling around this mortal coil, not like those whose loved ones went off to work, or for a bit of lunch or a harmless shopping expedition, never to return.

It's the brush with death, isn't it, that scares you so. The larger-than-life reminder that your number can be up anytime, anywhere. Of course we all know that our time is finite, but when you get such a potent reminder as we did it is easy to be consumed by it.

The split-second choices made that saved lives: not going to the bank; changing that Tuesday appointment to Thursday; the random decisions that conspired against some and which saved others.

I know people who don't want their kids playing in the park without them or who refuse to let them sleep in their own rooms - they want them close so they can guard them constantly. It's that need to control something you can't control - fate, destiny, call it what you will.

We have moved into a converted barn/garage on the outskirts of Christchurch. The woman who runs the place, who lives next door, Sue, and her mum, are the kindest people.

I knew the minute I looked in Sue's eyes that we would be good there. She just has natural demeanour that country folk have - straight talking, kind and decent. And her mum's like that but 10 times so.

The children love  the ''farm house'' as they've taken to calling it. There's a cute little dog called Ollie to pat, a sweet white pony called Pammy the Pony (capitals justified) and lots of farm implements that Sue doesn't mind if the twins use in their continuing attempt to become three-year-old Bob the Builder(s).

I slept right through the night last night. In fact my back is so used to sleeping rough that my shoulder hurt when I woke up. It's not used to comfort in the form of a bed.

I feel lucky but unlucky at the same time. Strangers came to my aid. One missionary man I'd never met who read of my hunt for a house was prepared to move out of his own house for my family. A work colleague offered his house while his family went to Melbourne for a holiday.

I rang the accommodation helpline and used the word that is supposed to describe my situation right now - ''displaced'' - synonyms of which are deranged, disarranged, disturbed, misplaced, moved, shifted, transposed, all of which sum up how I feel.

There are many forms to fill in when you are displaced. Many of them require your current address which just serves to add salt to the displaced wound.

Tensions and emotions run high in homes throughout Canterbury. My partner Matt and I actually had a fight on Sunday over recyclable blue shopping bags which contain what constitutes our worldly possessions.

A normally easygoing, mild-mannered friend rang me in tears after throwing a set of car keys at her husband and shattering a window instead. ''Normally my aim is much better,'' she said through hiccuping tears.

On Saturday daughter Lily, 11, and me walked to the dairy to get some panadol because she wasn't feeling well. I couldn't persuade her to stay home in bed - she refuses to leave my side. She vomited about four times on the grass verge down Memorial Ave.

We stop at Burnside High School so she can vomit there in relative comfort. Around us are families, Aussie cops and interpreters waiting with families who are still waiting to hear about those still missing in the city.

Snatches of conversation are overheard. Big-hearted Aussie cops confided in each other ''there's been another body identified, that's the family over there. I'll go and tell them, you've already had enough today''.

A woman I've never met tells me of her earthquake experience beside the door to some toilets. ''I had to break a glass window with a chair to get out of the building. I thought my husband had got out ahead of me but when I got out I couldn't see him. I still haven't found him.''

The despair on her face is palpable. I hug her tight and tears streamed down my face. She doesn't cry. I think she wants to cry but can't.

There is an awkward moment where we both just look at each other. Words fail me but I know she knew what I wanted to say. Lily emerges from the toilets and proclaims herself to be feeling a little better. One of the Aussie cops gives her a Roses chocolate from the table next to the mountain of paperwork they have and makes a joke which eases the atmosphere.

Outside we stopped to bathe in the sunshine for a minute. In slow motion a heart-breaking scene plays out in front of my eyes.

Beside me, the woman waiting desperately for her husband to come home, stares vacant-eyed across the road at the church where a man and woman, freshly married, throw confetti in celebration.

Displaced was written across her face.

- The Press

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