8:29 a.m.

by Katie Stavick

An analog clock at 8:10.

8:05 a.m. I shut off the alarm and lay in my bed, contemplating calling in sick. I mean, seriously, what’s the point? I already submitted my notice, which sucked. “It’s not that we don’t like you or think you could handle the job. We know you could. But the person we hired was already in the district and had experience,” I recall being told.  NO experience? I have a degree in elementary education. I served in the Navy for twenty years. I’m adaptable and used to stress. I thought I was paying my dues by taking any job to get my foot in the door.

The principal never taught in a classroom, yet she has the power to decide that I wasn’t good enough to be in a classroom. To say I am angry is an understatement. The person they hired over me, well she quit after three days, something about it not being easy. HA! So, they hired the playground attendant. I worked hard and made less than the damn playground attendant! After I read that email, I knew it was time to go, even though it hurt. I really liked my job. Sure, it wasn’t as much fun as last school year. The kids that I enjoyed in second grade are now third-grade terrors. 

There are a few of those kids that will stay with me. Gracie with her crazy pink hair, loves ballet and her dirt bike. Last year was rough as her father was jailed for child porn. Her mother is changing their last names so that Gracie can have a future not tied to his crimes. Now her mom is dating, and Gracie’s feeling ignored. I hope the journal I gave her will help her find her voice.

Then there’s Damien, an appropriately named little terror. He is new this year, and I know that he is acting out in order to get attention. The other kids laugh, and he gains a few minutes of notoriety. I’ve tried to reassure him that the kids will like him without his hijinks. I had a breakthrough when he admitted that he doesn’t like that there is a foster baby in his house. “It just cries and cries and cries. All. Night. Long. And they just go to it. It’s not…” Fair. I know that’s what he wanted to say, but he held himself back. 

8:10 a.m. I sigh heavily and heave myself out of bed. The sun hasn’t risen in Alaska, so the room is especially dark. I don’t have another job lined up, so I need to go in. I must be mature when I really want to scream at the top of my lungs at how unfair it is that I was passed over. 

I set up my Pandora to the ‘80s, crank it up, to the irritation of my cat but she gets over it as she continues her methodical cleaning ritual. After a quick shower, I throw on a t-shirt and shorts and try to decide what to wear. It’s Falcon Friday, so we can wear jeans and are encouraged to wear blue, but I’m not feeling it, so instead I grab a black sweater and toss it on the bed. I haphazardly leave my dresser drawer open and return to the bathroom to proceed with my morning routine. 

8: 27 a.m. I look at myself in the mirror, feeling a need to shake things up. I could cut my hair. There’s a way to reboot myself, even though Matt wouldn’t be happy (he likes it long). Before I overthink it, I book an appointment with my girl Claire. Next. 

8:29 a.m. As I move along my morning ritual, one of my crazy cats jump down from our bed and sprints out of the room. “Huh, weird,” I mutter, because that cat doesn’t run for anything but food. I turn back to the mirror, noting that there are more wrinkles coming in, and ugh, the bags under my eyes, man I really should book a fac…………

Suddenly, my thoughts are shattered by a LOUD noise. A rumble unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Is it an explosion? What the f…. then the shaking starts. It’s just another earthquake like the little ones we have all the time, I reassure myself. 

But this, this is different. The rumbling turns into a deafening roar as the noise just goes on and on. The shaking and rattling all around me are getting worse. I hold onto the bathroom door frame, too panicked to move. Then the lights go out and everything is thrown into pitch black. Oh God. Oh my God! Make it stop!

The noise and the darkness send me into unfamiliar ground-terror. I start screaming. And crying. Furniture is being tossed and things are crashing all around and breaking. I crouch down onto my haunches, still screaming. It feels like the Earth is cracking wide open. I can’t think, I can’t focus on anything. It feels like the shaking is never going to stop. 

And just like that, everything slows down and finally comes to a stop. It felt like the longest earthquake ever. I’m still crying as I finally move to get up. The power’s out, but I can just make out the path to my bed, even though there is a huge fallen dresser in my way. As I start to get my bearings together, somewhat, I berate myself for reacting the way I am. I reach for my phone and turn on the little beam of light. I throw on the sweater I laid out earlier and then I do what everyone does, call someone.

I call my husband but no answer, so I leave a jumbled, nonsensical voicemail. I need to know he’s okay. Then I call my school. No answer there either. Hmmm. I text my boss to let her know I’m not coming in, even though I probably could. Nothing has seeped into my brain that it wasn’t just me, that it was an earthquake. I don’t know why that information isn’t registering yet. 

I call my husband again and get through. I order him to get home now. “Shit is destroyed, and I can’t find my cats! I can’t start the generator!” I want my husband home now. He’s on the way home.

I pull myself together enough to grab the flashlights Matt staged around the house, the emergency radio—why is it only playing ancient country music? I need news—and try to make my way to the front door. It’s too cold to go outside, but I throw on my snow boots and head out. The cold air helps calm me, though I continue to shake. Seeing our dogs running in the yard also helps. There is an alarm blaring off in the distance. I look over to our neighbors and we wave to each other, signaling that all souls are fine. I stay out there for a little while and notice that the alarm is quiet. The silence is an eerie blanket over everything. Mother Nature just roared to life, letting us all know she is still here, and just like that she has gone back to her winter slumber. 

8: 35 a.m. As I go back inside, there is another rumble. A 5.7 aftershock. I hold on to the back of the couch as the earth shakes again. Once it stops, I swipe my phone and find a connection to a live feed from the local news and even though the reporter is repeating herself, I keep it on. It feels safer with her talking.  

We just had a 7.0 earthquake, but that number doesn’t register. I find one of the cats behind the washing machine, but the other is MIA. My husband is stuck in traffic. But I can’t think about anything beyond myself. The aftershocks continue to rattle my overwrought nerves. 

’m not sure how long I sit, rocking back and forth on the sofa since my sense of time went out the window with the earthquake. Please make it better. I notice that I haven’t thought about my students or school, which is closed now. The kids are home, not thinking about me. I let them go.

I thought quitting my job would’ve been the thing that opened the Earth up under my feet and swallowed me whole. It was part of my identity; it gave me a purpose. Yet as I sit in the middle of the aftermath of this massive earthquake, it hits me that things like a haircut, a job, or the ground below me can shake me to my core and crumble all around, but just like this mess I’m sitting in, it’ll all come together.

Oh, thank goodness, I can hear my husband’s truck. Deep breath, because now, now things will be better. I even notice that I’m not upset about quitting my job.  I look at my phone – it’s now 10:43 a.m.

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student