– Governors Bay, Canterbury, New Zealand

February 11th
Almost one year on, more quake journalism highlights the shocking sadness’s the bereaved are suffering. As one person puts it, “time does not heal and if anyone says that to me again, I’ll thump them.” More and more details are being revealed of the horrors of memories people are carrying around with them, like the man who sat on a pile of rubble from a collapsed building talking to his trapped wife. They talked for some hours but she was not able to be rescued.

19th February and in a few days, as we are constantly reminded by the media, it will be one year since the February quake changed our lives. I wept again tonight as I watched TV One’s Sunday and we listened to the first-hand account from survivors of the 2 major building collapses.

The grief of the Japanese parents, so far away and the quiet calm sadness of the school principal of Toyama as he carefully told us of his nightmare, receiving calls from the trapped students, their last communication. And from another building, the bride to be and her work colleague, their miraculous escapes, and now a year later, married and for one of them, pregnant and back working for the company in a new one story office block. These stories of then and now give hope to the viewer and astonishing immediacy to the awful events of a year ago, though they do not allow to see the in-between. How these people got from then, until now, the daily experience of living, within a constantly seismic environment.

I was on my way on Saturday to the birthday celebrations of my granddaughter Lili. She had just turned nine and her birthday party was to be held at Orton Bradley Park on the Peninsular. Cars loaded with children, picnic food and a gorgeous cake, we all headed towards the park. I had four girls in my car and as I drove, I would hear their conversation swing to earthquakes. They were all talking at once, sharing their experiences of February one year ago. I started to listen and made a suggestion. “I would love to hear your stories but one at a time please”, I asked. So for the next 25 minutes of driving I listened and was once again astonished and moved. Two out of the four girls in the car knew children who had lost a parent and this was a significant part of their on-going responses to living with quakes. Change, loss, and shock, these are all spoken about as part of their stories and yet they are still children, bubbling with enthusiasm in their present situation en route to an adventure. One little girl looks at me and says, “You know it might go on for 30 years”. I say, “I’ve heard that. Do you all mind living in a place where there are so many earthquakes,” I ask. Three out of them say, “no, we’re okay,” and a 4th says, “I really don’t like it. I’m so scared.” Then another adds, “well, it is scary, I’ve only just started sleeping in my own bed again.”

As we drove in the gate to the park, they are still recounting stories and I have to bring them back to the present. “Look, we’re here, and I promise on the way back you can tell me more of your stories, but right now, let’s get out of the car and help sort out the picnic and the dress-ups.” They jump out and join the other groups arrived just ahead of us, no more quake stories as they run wild on the wide open space of the park and down to the river; no stories here, just a birthday to celebrate.

22nd February 2012 11.40 pm
One year anniversary.
We’ve done it, we’ve got there through it all. Right now, it is pouring with rain outside the little house where I am just preparing for bed. Mark is up in the main house doing the dishes. Always this mentality prevails, that if we don’t get the dirty dishes sorted and there is another major quake, there will be no power, no water, which equals dishes problems. It’s raining heavily – the dried out garden will love that. During dinner we shared with S & P memories of the times together when they sheltered us and fed us. We are raw tonight. The aspect of today that had the most impact for all of us, was hearing the names of the victims being read aloud – 13 minutes to read the 185 names.

It is quiet now March again but we do not know if it is over. I read a new sign in Lyttelton:
“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long you don’t stop!”

And we just keep going.

This story is an extract from an unpublished manuscript written by Rosie Belton between 4 September 2010-22 February 2012. Read more of Rosie Belton’s writing here

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