The once and future city

19:20, Feb 21 2012

In the past week I've been reflecting a lot on the events of the last year, as I imagine many of us have, and I've wondered what I could possibly say about any of it that hasn't been said before and more eloquently by someone else.

But all I can really do is tell you about what it's like for me. Just like I have since that fateful day a year ago. 

When I think about Christchurch it's always either "before the earthquake" or "after the earthquake". The most destructive of our aftershocks may only have lasted 24 seconds but that half a minute? It formed a chasm between the Christchurch of the past and the Christchurch of the now and future. Much of the difficulty and sadness that I've felt in the last 12 months has been caused, I think, by my struggle to reconcile these two vastly different places.

It's an iterative process, trying to get your head around this. It was immediately obvious from the first few minutes that what Christchurch looked like before was not what it was going to look like again. Things were demonstrably NOT going to be the same. But it's an easy thing to understand that intellectually. Getting the rest of your organism to understand it is a whole other thing.

For months I'd have to stop myself from framing things with a "when things get back to normal" mentality. Even now, when I think it's finally sunk in, I'll see some new blank space, realise I'll never walk through that environment again - have a pint on a warm summer evening with friends at a familiar bar that we all took utterly for granted - and I have to feel sad all over again.

It's grief for a city, but grief in small, gradually revealed pieces. I think the worst of it is over but, still, I imagine this will go on for some time yet. Like getting over a broken relationship, you have to let the old one go before you can start afresh. And I do want to start afresh.

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On a personal level I feel more settled now than I used to. My workplace has moved from my couch to temporary offices to something more "permanent". "Permanent" not really having the same meaning that it used to.

Our housing situation is in a limbo of sorts. The house we rent has been assessed by our landlord's insurance company. It's a rebuild rather than a repair. What that means is that the insurance company has estimated that the cost of rebuilding another house will be less than the cost of repairing the one we live in. At some point we'll be moving but I don't know when and it looks as though this charming hundred-year-old cottage, which has damaged foundations (and a sticking front door) might end up another casualty, not of the aftershocks, but of the economics of insurance. 

We could buy a house. I've been saving for the last five years or so and have a decent-sized deposit stashed away...that I have absolutely no idea what to do with now. If we bought a house would we be able to get insurance? The parts of the city I feel most tied to, that I would want to live in, are now "less than desirable" (but not if you read real estate listings, where boasts of "only minutes to the city centre" are not unusual, as if that's anything to skite about these days).

We're in a holding pattern, of sorts. Much like the house I used to live in. The one not far from where I live now, that still stands, empty, the way I left it when I moved the last of my possessions out. No repair work has been done on it. A jungle of grass and weeds surrounds it. Will it go too? If so, when? And what will replace it? Multiply that set of questions by many thousands of times and you have, right there, the internal monologue of much of Christchurch.

And then there's my sense of safety. I still feel uneasy in movie theatres. I went to a movie a few weeks ago with my sister and made a point of drawing her attention to the emergency exit and stating that if bad things happened "I might not wait for you". I was sort of kidding. About half way through the movie I realised I was still clutching my bag on my lap rather than letting it sit on the floor by my feet. Yeah. I don't really feel as relaxed in movie theatres any more.

In the last week or so I've found myself watching a lot of earthquake footage. It's still kind of upsetting. I was a few blocks away from the really bad stuff that happened that day and I'm glad of it. When I see footage I still react physically to it. My heart rate elevates and my skin seems to tighten. Especially when I hear people screaming on footage. Because I was one of those terrified screaming people too. Sometimes it feels as though that was someone else.

In conclusion, I feel that this has been, by far, the longest year of my life. To a certain extent I cannot remember who that pre-22 February me was. I'm glad that I've had this blog to capture some of it though, because those early days, especially, feel as though they're a million miles away. Was that really me digging a hole in the garden to poop in? Hanging on to a door frame so hard that I got bruises on the insides of my thighs? Was that me? Really?

Yeah. It was. And it was a lot of other people too. I can't speak for any of the rest of them but as tough and terrible as it's been, I feel privileged to have been here. I saw the old Christchurch and I've watched it fall away, and I need to see what comes next. Even if it's taking longer for this chapter to come than any of us would like, it's a book I'm committed to reading for some time yet. 

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