Friday, August 13, 2010

Flashback Friday: the Earthquake Nightmare

When I was in elementary school, we experienced a really big earthquake. This was the "big one" in 1987 and for the first time, our school had to actually give thought to the annual earthquake drill. Not just as an assignment "ooh... earthquake. Duck under your desks! Ok that's enough, let's get back to the math quiz."

I was pretty bothered by the earthquake on a few different levels. Sure, the ground beneath you is shifting and buildings in cities you know actually cracked and crumbled, but mostly because it sort of hit home for the first time. The quake caused a crack in the cement slab under our house and ruptured a water pipe. The den was flooded and we ended up having to have all of the carpets replaced, which meant that as the installers went room by room, we'd have to sleep in the living room. Which wasn't as much fun as it could be. It was like a crappy camping trip, except I was supposed to "go to bed" at 8pm while mom and dad watched TV 3 feet away. My whole family was also terribly sick and this was also coinciding with the after-hours Disneyland party that we were going to go to (my aunt worked for the phone company who did an annual buyout of the park after hours). So I was bummed about missing that, scared of the earth trying to eat me, and debilitatingly sick.

Once I was well enough to go back to school, I found out that the school had planned another earthquake drill. Usually, we didn't even leave our classrooms - it was just the duck and cover bit - but this time it was going to be a simulation. We were going to act as if an earthquake had demolished the school and conduct business outside. It was cold and I still wasn't feeling great and I was not up for this adventure. Everyone else was all smiles about school being outside, but I couldn't get enthused about it. About an hour into the day, the teachers started figuring out how they were going to teach lessons outside - which meant that the classrooms had to be separated along the giant grass area in the back of the school. Of course, my class was the furthest in the corner which was ok, except I needed to use the bathroom. I'd barely gotten over a major stomach flu and I was still a little rumbly in my tummy. The teacher excused me to make the long trek across the field toward the bathrooms, when I was stopped.

The teacher's aide who was 'on duty' told me that no one was allowed to go near the buildings. They were crushed in the imaginary earthquake. I pleaded my case, that sometimes diarrhea just won't wait and she told me "well, you just have to hold it until you get home." Mind you, this is something like 9:30am and I'm already experiencing what Aunt Karen called the UPCs (urgent poop cramps). I explain again that I cannot wait that long and the woman makes me wait on the edge of the field while she tracks down the principal to ask for advice. This is well before cell phones and our school wasn't even prepared enough to have walkie talkies, so this was a literal "tracking down." She had to hunt high and low and after she was gone 5 minutes, I just went in and used the toilet. I couldn't wait a second more.

She eventually returned and scolded me for using the bathroom without permission. There could have been falling beams or crumbling walls! I could have been killed! Clearly, this woman had convinced herself that the apocalypse had happened already and I was some unruly child who insisted on sitting on the charred remains of the toilet seats. She even brought the principal over to consult. I explained my stomach condition and that I could not wait until I was home and he scratched his head. He called in a coven of teachers to discuss restroom facilities. Apparently, not a single person had considered that children need to pee during the school day. Eventually, they decided that I would be granted special restroom priviledges for that day only and I would be the only one allowed to use the toilets, so I would have to sneak in to use them. I learned then that this "outdoor drill" was planned to continue for 3 more days, and I immediately got knots in my stomach and ran back to the restroom.

Later, the teacher's aide informed me that they had a solution for the restroom problem. In the event of an actual emergency, a hole would be dug for students to use. This was probably the exact birth moment of my restroom anxiety issues. I had this vivid picture of a giant hole - maybe 20 feet across and 5 feet deep, where students would have to squat and hang their bums over the edges and poop. Right there in public. With the entire school watching. It was virtually every nightmare ever invented, being planned out by the authority figures in my life. I was stunned.

After a (literal) panic attack, I requested that my mother be called to pick me up. Fortunately, she complied and I got to spend the rest of the afternoon - and subsequent 3 days - in her office building, where there were restrooms galore. Tidy cubicles with actual locks on the doors (unlike school, where there were none) that were cleaned daily. There were rows of them, too. And separate ladies rooms for the first and second floor! It was the exact opposite of the Lord of the Flies episode my schoolmates were living. I was voluntarily fetching snacks for anyone who wanted them (from an actual vending machine! With candy inside!) and filling up coffee cups, wiping down white boards and delivering memos throughout the building. My new mail clerk gig was awesome but the best part was the access to bathrooms. Glorious bathrooms. And the earthquake procedure here (mom was a manager, so she actually had to deliver a session on procedure) was to go to a safe place - door frame, under a desk, etc. - and once the shaking was done, get back to work. There would be no toilet trenches here.

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