Living in a broken city is odd, you get used to the dust, pot holes, containers and traffic cones. It’s only when we go to a fully, functioning town that we realise that our normality is weird. Christchurch had two massive earthquakes and it marked us all. Our beautiful, little pocket city is lying in ruins and our lives have changed forever.
The first earthquake struck at 4.35am, on September 4th measuring a whopping 7.1 on the richter scale. We’d always been warned to be on alert for the ‘Big One’, but in all honesty nothing prepares you when a large earthquake hits. It creeps up and whips the rug from underneath you with breath taking speed. I woke to a roaring noise and scrambled across a floor which was rippling like waves breaking on the shore. My dogs were running up and down in sheer panic and I braced myself in a shaky doorframe, convinced the house was about to collapse. The quake took out the power and I remember feeling very scared in the dark, dead of night huddled round the transformer radio listening to news bulletins like something out of the blitz.
But that was just a test run. It was a shock, there was damage, we were all a bit stunned, but no one died, the city was pretty intact and to all intents and purposes we carried on as normal despite the unnerving aftershocks that carried on for hours, days and months afterwards.
February was different. This one struck with malevolence at lunch time one sunny afternoon catching us all off guard. At 12:51pm it tore into our lives and spat out every piece of normality we knew. In a blink we were living in a surreal hell, a disaster movie that was happening in our streets, our homes, our city. There was no ‘off’ button, no escape, no relief from the sights and sounds of chaos. The quake itself was a 6.3, smaller than the first one but a more dark and evil twin, with a seismic pattern that was more aggressive and destructive than the first. It came swiftly and violently and snatched away 182 lives. The city was destroyed, streets were ripped apart and everywhere there was rubble, twisted metal and spewing water and liquefaction. It was like a war torn scene from the middle east. In the following weeks soldiers patrolled the no go zones and helicopters thundered overhead. We learned to live with horrible uncertainty and rumbling aftershocks.
It took its toll in so many ways, people left, relationships broke down, families split up, people lost jobs, addiction and divorce went up. 4 months later I myself called time on my relationship of 11 years. The experience had made me re-evaluate everything in my life and stop treading water. As Nike says Just Do It, so I took a deep breath and I did.
And now 16 months on I’m back out there dating. And it’s slowly getting better, summer is here and there’s lots of new exciting pubs and bars popping up all over. For a long time there was only a few overcrowded watering holes and people were usually drunk out of their skulls trying to deal with their personal sadness. If you went on a date somewhere that was open it meant going around the barren wasteland of the central city, and inevitably on the date conversation was always about the where and whens of that horrific February day.
But the winds of change are blowing through and bringing new people with them too. Builders are arriving in droves to start the re-build. A lot of the ‘fresh meat’ turning up on the dating sites are construction workers from elsewhere or abroad. Now you can’t tar all builders with the same brush and it’s great if you do need a little help with your DIY, but too much of a good thing can be a bit mundane right? So at the moment I’m trying to steer clear of construction related employees. But if this influx continues, which it will, never mind the post-war baby boom, Christchurch will be having a post-earthquake builder baby boom. There’s definitely no man drought here anymore. So I’m optimistic that the wind might just stir up my little world.