I returned to my apartment in Alto Hospicio, Chile around 7:30pm, covered in a layer of dust and desperately wanting a shower. I was also quite hungry, but so tired I just sat on the couch for at least thirty minutes, staring at my 5 fish in the 20 gallon tank that was already in the apartment when I rented it. I looked in the fridge and contemplated whether I would enjoy a bottled beer or a Coca Cola. I also looked at my food options: a bowl of tuna left over from lunch the day before, peanut butter and jelly, a variety of vegetables that I could cook with some rice and the hoisin sauce I brought back with me from the US. I eyed the bottles of liquor on the counter and wanted a little rum, but thought without food it might be a little too strong. I was in one of those moods where I was so hungry and tired I just couldn’t decide on anything. I thought maybe a shower would wake me up a bit.
I had a wonderful hot shower and got all the fine dust off my skin and out of my hair. I stepped out, put lotion on my sunburn and started brushing my teeth. The sink made a strange clicking sound as the water was running. I turned off the water to listen, then everything started to shake. The window, the toilet, the shower door. I decided to go to the bedroom to get clothes, but I never made it there. I heard the top of the toilet bounce off the toilet seat and break on the floor. I heard everything fall out of the cabinet in the sink and spill across the tile. It was shaking so hard I had difficulty walking. I changed plan and headed for the kitchen doorway because it seemed the most sturdy. I sat down in the doorway, mostly because standing was impossible. As I sat, the refrigerator grazed my arm as it fell over. All its contents spilled out on the floor. The fridge falling scared me so I moved, now naked with the towel only in my hand, to the dining room table. But as soon as I got under it, the tv fell onto it, and I heard the clang of breaking glass, reminding me that the top is mirrored. Though it’s backed by plywood on the bottom, I decided this move had not been a good idea and crawled back to the kitchen doorway, through a large puddle of fish water, to the kitchen doorway where I sat in a puddle of beer from my now-broken six pack.
Holy fucking shit I muttered as I saw sparks and the shaking continued.
After three minutes that felt more like 10, the shaking stopped and I walked unsteadily, half crying, half laughing to the bedroom to look for clothes in the dark. I found a pair of jeans on the floor and shirt lying on the bed. I didn’t bother with underwear. I grabbed my cellphone, which had been plugged in and walked to the kitchen doorway where I felt for the 5 liter water bottle that had been on the table. A friend made me buy it the week before “in case.” I found my shoes in the middle of the floor, next to the sofa where I had kicked them off while watching the fish. The aquarium still was half full of water and I hoped it meant it was still structurally sound. I grabbed my backpack and joined the steady stream of neighbors walking down the stairs.
“Apurranse!” I kept hearing a mother yell to her children. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, a young boy, about 10 years old, grabbed my arm and called asked “Mamá?” “No soy yo” I had to tell him, but I walked with him until we found his mother in the parking lot. I sat down on the pavement and put my shoes on. I wrote to my mother on Whatsapp. “Mom I’m ok.” I wasn’t sure if the network would go out and I wanted to make sure something got out before a possible collapse.
I saw my neighbor and friend Alex who was leaving to go to his aunt’s house. He told me to come with him, and I, not having much of a plan, went along. I sat in his truck waiting for him to organize the backpack he had with him, and sent another message to my mom. “There was a big earthquake, but I’m out of the building and going to a friend’s. Don’t worry. I’ll write more later.” I answered a few more Whatsapp messages from friends in Iquique asking if I was ok, as we drove downhill towards the rest of the eerily dark city.