The afternoon of Oct. 17, 1989, is marked for me by one of those brief and intense visual recollections that tend to define childhood memories: A pair of goldfish hovering in the air above their bowl.
I was nine years old when the Quake of '89 hit. I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, and like any native Californian, I'd lived through plenty of earthquakes. Loma Prieta was something else entirely. I was home alone with the family mutt, an affable and deeply loyal terrier mix named Lucy, when the shaking started. My brain didn't immediately register earthquake
, as it might have during the several-second episodes of jostling that I'd come to associate with that word.
Something in the world was unmoored. The wall-and-ceiling-framed scene in my family's TV room lurched in every direction; it was as though a giant had taken the house in his hands like a shoebox and was violently shaking it. Then I saw the goldfish. The force of the quake had caused the water to slosh up the sides of their glass bowl and rise skyward. I remember their small orange bodies suspended in the air.
During elementary-school disaster drills they had taught us to crouch under our desks or stand in a door-frame, then proceed calmly outside once the earthquake was over. That always seemed crazy to me, so I scooped Lucy up in my arms and ran out the front door into the street.
After the shaking subsided, I stayed out there for a while. My mom and sister, who had been running errands, promptly arrived home. They'd been driving when the quake hit, and, amazingly, hadn't felt anything -- but my mother saw a set of traffic lights swaying wildly, deduced what was happening, and beat a quick path back to our house.
Oddly enough, none of us can remember what happened to the goldfish.
Photo | jblyberg