8 am. My phone rings. My alarm is set for 9, and everybody knows there’s no use calling me before 10. It’s not my usual ringtone. Ben.
“I’ve been in a car accident. I’m okay. The other driver is okay. The airbags went off. We were merging onto 395 when it happened, so we pulled over onto a side street. She had just dropped her daughter off at daycare, so she was the only one in her car.”
Two weeks ago, he took the Civic in for a oil change, and the hood wouldn’t open. We took it over to the dealership, figuring if anyone could get the hood open, they’d know how. $700 later, it was open and the oil was changed, but they also found a whole list of things wrong with the car, starting with a check engine light for the catalytic converter to a missing engine mount. Total estimate: $3740. Current blue book of the car: less than $2200. So we’d been car shopping over the weekend, which was exhausting and exciting. After test driving a Versa, a Yaris, a Mazda2, and of course, my Fit, Ben fell in love with the Mazda2. I would call it the only serious competitor to the Fit, and its handling fits Ben’s driving style better than mine. We were on the hunt for a green one, which are nearly impossible to find. The dealership told us there are currently none on the east coast anywhere, and they’d just brought a blue one down from New York for a woman, so they really were checking a large area. We asked about getting a blue one instead, and it sounded like that would be possible. We were supposed to sign papers on Tuesday night. In the meantime, we’re down to one car, so Ben was driving the Fit back and forth to work. Which is what put him on 395 at 8 am.
There was a police officer there, who he needed to go speak with. I sent him a photo of my AAA card, since I had a plus membership and his was only a regular, so we could get it towed back up to Laurel somewhere. We got off the phone so he could start dealing with things. I paced the living room for a few minutes. I had to talk with someone, and the cats are terrible at listening. 8:15am. Dad would be awake, so I called.
Dad was just about to leave for work; I’d caught him just in time. He suggested he drive down to my house and I could drive him to work, so I’d have use of his car for the day. He’d be here in twenty minutes. I fed a pair of very confused cats, got dressed, and tried to sit down in the living room. I switched chairs. Still couldn’t sit still. Switched again. Ben called back. He was having problems with AAA: I needed to be present to use my car. Okay, use yours and have them tow it somewhere close. I’ll drive down and get it towed up here. He calls back; his membership expired at the end of July. Okay, we’ll add you to my plan today and see what happens. Dad arrived and I caught him up on the latest details. We got Ben added to the plan. Plus membership doesn’t take effect for 10 days. Okay, fine. Back to Plan B.
I am clearly a mess. Dad calls the office and tells them he’s going to stick around until I get this all settled. I call the insurance company and get that ball rolling. Liberty Mutual is great. They are a wonder to work with. We get the details squared away to get the car towed to a shop up here. They’ll even cover the towing. I have rental insurance, too, so we arrange for a rental car, pickup around noon. Ben is still waiting with the car for the tow truck to arrive. His plan is to head in to work as soon as the truck gets the car, and I’ll pick him up at 3, the end of the day.
Noon. Dad and I head over to the rental facility, which is inside the VW dealership. I’m supposed to be getting a call from the Mazda dealership about the status of our blue 2. I tell Dad I don’t even know what to say to them at this point. “You buy the car. You still need it.” Oh. Right. That was obvious. We get the paperwork sorted for the rental and are told it will be a little while before the car will arrive from their other facility, so Dad and I went to look at the showroom. When a salesman walks over, I tell him the cars are lovely, but I can guarantee he doesn’t have anything in our price range (I did my homework, you see). He assures me that I’m wrong, and they certainly do. I tell him our price range. He suggests a pared down Jetta. I tell him we need a hatchback. “Oh. Yeah, we don’t have anything for you.”
1:00 pm. Our rental car arrives, and it’s a Chevy HHR. I think that stands for Huge Hulking Roadobject. It has the tiniest windshield I’ve ever seen. I feel like this is some sort of assault vehicle, trying to minimize the vulnerable glass areas to protect against attacks. It’s half again as long as my car and ugly as sin. When I take a left out of the parking lot, I whacked my elbow on the door. Oh yeah, we’ll do well together, this car and me. Dad heads off to work, and I head home to grab some lunch before I need to run down to Arlington to pick up Ben at work. I call my grandparents while fixing some food, then call Mom. I sort of picked at my food; my stomach was feeling off. 1:50. I need to be out the door at 2 to get there in time, and I’m running behind. I’ll get directions upstairs, go see Ben, and finally this damned day will have a breath of normalcy. I will be able to relax, to finally breathe. Still on the phone with Mom, I ran upstairs to load up a map. I turn on the computer and sit down. Nimitz comes dashing into the room like her tail is on fire (Nimitz is 10 months old. This is considered normal behavior), then runs behind the guest bed, which she only does when she’s terrified. I hear a rumbling outside, like a big truck idling. Perfectly normal sounds, with our thin walls. Then I feel a vibration in the floor. That part is not normal. I stood up and looked around. The vibration gets stronger, shaking.
“Mom, my house is shaking.”
This can’t be an earthquake. We’re in Maryland. We don’t have earthquakes here. I’m having a rough day and losing my mind. There’s a perfectly logical explanation. Mom will know what this actually is.
No, that can’t be right. The shaking is getting worse. Somewhere in all this, I’ve moved and am standing in the doorway, although I don’t remember moving. Everything in the house is rattling. It’s so loud. The ceiling fans are all shaking, the railing to the stairs. It’s getting worse, and I don’t know when it will stop. Should I be downstairs in a doorway there? We don’t have earthquakes. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do! Lilit is in the hallway, standing in the bedroom door. Brilliant kitty, even she knows you’re supposed to be in a doorway! I think. Is that even right? This is not on my list of natural disasters to prepare for! Fifteen seconds, twenty seconds, an eternity later it all stops.
I think it stopped. “I’m shaking so hard I can’t tell. Is it still shaking, or is it just me?”
“It’s just you,” Mom says, “It’s stopped here.”
I have to go get Ben. The neighbors are all outside, and I have this irrepressible need to be face to face with people. I talk with the neighbors. I get my things together, including my phone charger, since now my poor battery is dead. I’ve been on the phone all day, it seems. The drive down to Arlington is long, but thankfully uneventful. The radio is full of confusion, and phone calls getting through are sporadic. A lot of texts fail, but most get through. At stop lights, I send off quick replies.
Ben and I look at the traffic maps and decide since it’s going to take us four hours to get home anyways, we ought to call Amanda and see if she wants to grab dinner. She suggests a fabulous Chinese restaurant, where we have a lovely meal despite flickering power problems. Ben and I get home around 7:45. The phone lines are clear enough we can check in with everyone we haven’t already checked in with. We talk until there are no more words to be said, and then we just sit in silence together. A day like this makes everything so clear, what’s important, what isn’t. I finally crawl into bed, Ben on one side of me, Lilit pressed against the other, and I close my eyes.
We had a historically huge earthquake hit our region today, and that was the small event for me.