Now, before you read this, I want you to understand this is not made up, not a script, nothing but the events as it happened (again, my memory is not as good as it used to be, but I guarantee the situation is real)…in a million years I would never have believed that such a string of events could be tied together to give me the greatest perspective on the effects of last week on different people, and how lucky I, and so many are, but in the same respect, how many have lost so much. I will not reveal specific details of those in this and will use nom-de-plumes, but I want you to know, this has buoyed me more than anything I will experience in the future, and just made me humble. To RWS, I know you are reading this blog and I mean no disrespect to your situation, after the outpouring you gave me, I hope I do this justice and in dignity; and to SS, I know you will be reading this too, and that hour, or whatever it was shared with her, will certainly stick in my memory for ages to come…
I was going to work from home yesterday. I didn’t want to go to our temp site, face anyone from work, talk to anyone I could avoid. So, out of bed (during a blackout I might add which is not a good feeling in these times) and once normality was restored got into routine; feeding kids, getting them ready for school, making lunches etc etc. Once I had dropped both kids to school and kindy, I was going into Rangiora to The Warehouse for some extra items to put in our ‘survival pack’; get a new tyre and WOF for the Commodore; get some fruit for lunches in the coming days; a couple of new books to read (keep an eye out for their reviews in later posts); and then head home to upload a deal done just before the quake and call another customer about their needs for phones too. This I envisaged would get me through to lunch time and then I could do whatever until school finished.
So, dropped kids off, and went to fuel up the car. I saw a tyre company billboard in Southbrook, and called the number. The guy said he could get me the tyre but it would have to be couriered in and would be about lunchtime. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to do it, but I knew I had to as the WOF had expired, it needed a tyre to pass, so grumbling away, agreed for him to call me when ready.
I went to The Warehouse and did my shopping (read previous post), and received a TXT from SS, a customer asking if I wanted to catch up for a coffee at a cafe out in Cust about 20km away where we catch up now and again to discuss his accounts. I replied saying that I was to be stuck in Rangiora for sometime (due to the tyre) so he was welcome to come in and meet. His reply was “where?”, and my response was one of three places locally and to let me know which…I didn’t think he would choose one of them as he loves good coffee, and I doubted he would choose one of them, but he chose the one I least expected him to. Please bear with me, as this is leading somewhere…
So I went to the library and got some books and then walked down to the agreed place early and had a coffee – the place was really busy, so I sat outside so I could smoke and waited. He came up (late of course) and we went inside and got a couple of coffees, and I quickly chatted to the guy who married me and Katie only a couple of months before, and when SS asked where do you want to sit, my first thought was back outside so I could smoke again, and all the tables were taken, but as it was windy, I noticed two stools against a ‘breakfast bar’ against the window and suggested that. So we sat, and it became clear this wasn’t work, he just wanted to ‘get away’ and have a chat with someone. So the conversation basically went along the lines of the quake, and what we were experiencing, and he said he had seen my blogs and I guess needed to talk about his story;
He was in Auckland for work when it hit, so like Katie’s story, it was the pain of knowing everything but nothing at the same time. His son was at St.Andrew’s and neither him or his wife knew his whereabouts or whether he was fine or otherwise…it was hard to listen to, and so easy as I had this same outpouring of feelings from Katie…and then we went back and forth about that day. SS is a Civil Defence Team Leader in Rangiora, and had been up there ever day since, and had some stories he needed to air, and this in itself was humbling. At one point I elaborated on my trek into the PGG site, and what I faced when I got there. It was at this time a tap on my shoulder had me turning to a woman who looked tired, but had a wonderful smile, who apologised for interrupting, but had overheard me mention PGG and was looking for me to confirm I was there. I sort of explained that afternoon but wary of the stranger (who looked somewhat familiar) about how much to say, in respect of those that survived, and those that were lost. After this, I went back to SS and we chatted some more, and this time the conversation turned towards what I call “Christchurch’s 2 degrees of separation”, how we are all expecting to know someone on the list; maybe not close friends or family, but acquaintances and so on. I mentioned that me and Katie were aware of a man who was still listed as ‘lost’ in PGG, I had met him only a couple of months earlier at the pre-school Xmas BBQ, and that he and his wife had girls on both of out daughter’s classes – Katie knew her better than I did, but we knew them nevertheless.
Then I got a tap on my shoulder again. The same lady wanted more answers about PGG, and I was really unsure about it, and at one point she said her husband was in the building, still missing, and could I tell her if I had seen the ‘left hand side of the building’. I advised I had pretty much seen the lot, in fact had photos. She said, she has not seen the building at all, she had avoided the news, press, anything that might make it real to her, and reluctantly I pulled out my iPhone and pulled up the photos I had taken. I explained where I was at each shot, and this angle, that angle, rescuers up here and in there, and she was turing an ashen grey. She asked of “this side of the building was worse affected than the other?” pointing to a point in the photo…I swallowed, and told her, in no uncertain terms, it was flattened, so bad that rescuers were only trying to come in from the top and the other side as they seemed the only possibilities, if there were any.
It was then I started to click about who I might be talking to…as I answered her questions about where I was when it hit, why did I go in to help, what did I do…I explained how I met the father of the girl in PGG who was marrying later that week and how it turned out we lived not far from each other, and then she asked “Sorry, where do you live?” It was here something clicked in the back of my brain, a strange sixth-sense, I went cold to the bone, and then was acutely aware of what I had said, and what I was no doubt about to reveal. Fuck!
I said I was in Mandeville, my girls at Swannanoa School and pre-school. So did hers…she then said in the most cheery, sunny voice “I know you, you’re from the Ohoka Rugby Club! I was waitressing there!” Now, for those who weren’t there, I made a bit of a scene by asking Richard Loe, guest speaker at our annual rugby club find raiser a question that only I could! We chatted about that a bit, and she remembered that me and Katie had been married just lately, and how our girl Deanna was just so cute (she is the new student liaison for the school), and then I has to ask; “What’s your name?”, only knowing full well who she was but not prepared for it. “RWS…my husband is MS.” – the guy I had just told SS about a couple of minutes earlier! You could have felled me with a feather!
Sometime at this point, we hugged, no real reason, just needed to.
SS at this point had noted something in the conversation and stood next to us as me and RWS chatted like old school chums, about Swannanoa, Ohoka Rugby, our kids, the Xmas party.
But then it turned to MS. She had basically accepted he was dead, even said the body was most likely recovered, but not identified, but I could not help but wonder that for someone going through so much pain, fear, despair, uncertainty, was ever hopeful of a miracle, had faith, wad accepted that sometimes things happen and there is nothing we can do about it except accept it and move on. She kept calling me a hero, something I was uncomfortable with, I didn’t do anything, I did what I thought anyone would do, surely…and even then, I wasn’t up in the rubble with those others, just doing small things down at the street. She didn’t care, I had driven in to a scene whereas so many drove away, and I guessed that made some sense, nevertheless, nothing to it, shouldn’t we all??
She was in the cafe planning her next bike race, it helped her concentrate on things other than, well, that. Her friends had rallied round her, and this is where her connection with SS came in – SS as team Leader at Civil Defence had come up in conversation the other night between RWS and friends who were in the refuge centre, they knew all the same people, had the same friends, yet had never met – these two shared their experiences of the day and as suddenly as that, there was a bond between the three of us. It carried on like this, the more we talked, the more we knew each other closer than we thought…RWS was about to do a challenge with a close friend of hers on one of those new fandangle skateboard things the kids are using now…her and some guy were practising to be able to go from one end of the school’s basketball to the other by the end of the month or something. His name was SM, the guy who owned our house before us and we have dinner parties with! As an aside, SM works for Air NZ, and he was part of a support team to help victims and family on the Pike River tragedy.
So this conversation could have kept going, and going, and going, but it had to stop…I gave her my numbers, inviting her to bring the kids round if she needed a break, and she wanted to read my blog so I gave her that address too. Me and SS went outside, and couldn’t believe it, what was meant to have been a causal release of tension for us, turned into (for me at least) one of the most inspiring and levelling moments I have experienced, and trust me, I have had a few.
As I keep harping on, I am not religious, Jimi Hendrix as close to any God I worship, but I do have a belief in karma, fate, even deja vu. And in retrospect, and as RWS kept saying, we were meant to have met in that cafe today, talked of her husband, get the facts across. Maybe so…I can’t wait to see her again.