Man: An animal so lost in the contemplation of what he thinks he is that he overlooks what he undoubtedly ought to be
Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Word Book, 1906, aka The Devil's Dictionary, 1911
One month after the Pretty Big One, the general appraisal was that life was on its way back to normal. Not this-is-the-daily-routine normal but at least something like we-make-our-own-decisions normal. The roads were largely open, the power was on, the emergency shelter at the Santa Cruz Civic auditorium was closed and Watsonville had rescheduled the election that would finally bring the Chicano community into the political process. The quick-response teams from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA, whose mission is preserving politicians in the event of nuclear war, though it keeps in practice dealing with more natural disasters) had worked their tails off and left the scene to the desultory attentions of the desk-bound bureaucrats and paper shufflers from the Small Business Administration (SBA, whose mission is making loans to companies that are large, if not enormous). Somehow long lines and a lack of response seemed more like standard government operating procedure than people conducting interviews in motels at ten at night.
President Bush had his photo op in Santa Cruz, making promises no one would keep, and Mick Jagger descended to Watsonville, flinging a half-million-dollar tax-deductible purse of gold from the Rolling Stones. Lesser lights soon followed. Billy Graham, Governor Deukmejian and Marilyn Quayle bracketed the spectrum from God right, and Cesar Chavez marched with farm workers for the left. Bill Graham (the other one, Mr Presents, who had hit up the Stones) raised a million bucks with a concert by Santana and others, and matched it with another million of his own. Local gal Jill Croston (made good as Lacy J. Dalton) came back to sing; the Flying Karamazov Brothers touched down to their sidewalk juggling roots; and Crosby, Stills and Nash reopened the Catalyst stage to a roaring crowd on the very night that Germans danced on the Berlin Wall. The month-long orgy of attention was fine and exciting and over and enough. It was time to go back to work.
Two months later, that is three months after the quake, the prevalent feeling was that the illusions of November were completely absurd. Glorified tents called pavilions had given the downtown merchants of Santa Cruz some kind of Christmas season but what excitement there had been died in the chill of breeding familiarity. Damp in a drought, January muddied the floors even as it promised scarcity for the summer to come. Construction wasn't moving; demolition had scarcely begun. Still, the consensus was that at least there was more of a realistic view: Healing was under way.
After another moon had waxed and waned, the realism of the month before looked suspiciously like psychopathology. Bridges were still out, businesses were still folding, planning was still in process, people were still waking up in the middle of the night and occasionally they still noticed the ground shaking. They told each other about the time they had needed to heal and the process of adaptation and the growth of comprehension and the requirement that they allow the curing to happen, and how relieved they were that at last it was taking place.
Six months after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, it was tax time and thousands ran screaming to their accountants and their therapists as they came to terms with the black and white and red and the deductions and estimates and allowances. Finally, they felt, finally they could come to terms...
By the time the anniversary rolled around, even the most sensitive souls could show visitors the rubble of their city without tears welling in their eyes, most of the time. It was amazing, they recalled, how long it had taken to get a grip on things, how hard it had been, and how at every step of the way you had looked back to see how you had fooled yourself on the stair below. Soon now, they were sure, the plan would be approved and rebuilding would really begin.
Abused children, we are told, often bury their horrors so deep they have no conscious knowledge of the assaults on their bodies and their souls, yet they suffer and know they suffer and know not why.
Survival trick number one: denial.
Coping mechanism: constant revisionism.
This is how it really is, we insist, standing where we do today, because we cannot feel anything more or less.
In the calculus of the heart, as we shiver closer and closer to resonance with the vibrations in which we stand, do we come ever to admit our secrets or will we always let our approximations masquerade finally as truth?