I can’t claim to understand what people in Oklahoma City are going through right now.

The best I can do is remember the one natural disaster I’ve been in. It was the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the one that happened during the World Series.

My parents, my baby brother and I were in downtown Santa Cruz, 15 miles from the epicenter at the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company, when my mom got a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach and insisted that we go back to our apartment on UCSD campus immediately.

As soon as I walked up the steps towards my room there was a loud roar and everything around me began to shake violently. Things started falling off shelves and the bookshelf next to me began hurling books downstairs. Having just turned seven a few weeks earlier, I had no context for what was happening. I just froze in place as time slowed to a crawl. I remember seeing my dad run upstairs towards me in what struck my seven year old brain as an impossibly heroic act, grab me, and hold onto me in a doorway until it was over.

All of our neighbors seemed to creep out of their apartments at the same time we did. Nobody said anything as we all stared down the hill and watched smoke billow up from the flaming rubble that used to be downtown Santa Cruz. Someone turned on a radio and we heard what news we could. Among the fatalities were several people inside the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. The roof had collapsed on them.

I still don’t know what to make of my mom’s bad feeling. If she hadn’t had it we might have been dead. It makes no sense to me. I’m glad she had it, but I have to believe it was a coincidence. I have so many bad feelings that if I started to think that bad feelings were signs of actual impending disaster, I would never stop freaking out.

We were lucky. Being on top of a hill meant nobody in our neighborhood was injured, but we all had to live outside on a nearby hill until our apartments were safe to live in again.

Before our tents were set up, I remember running into the nearest neighbor’s apartment and trying to poop as fast as I could while the constant aftershocks made me terrified that the whole building would collapse with me in it. I remember the feeling, a feeling I still haven’t been able to shake, that your whole world can be turned upside down in a second. I remember that the shops in downtown Santa Cruz were still operating out of giant grey tents on top of crumbled foundations when we left for San Diego years later.

Most importantly, I remember the whole neighborhood coming together for a common purpose. I remember the university giving out hot meals and the local grocery store distributing jugs of orange juice to everyone. People can come together to turn worlds right side up again. These gestures of goodwill meant the world to us and we were having a much, much better week than a lot of other people were having. I can’t imagine what the help meant to them.

We were also having a much, much better week than a lot of people are having in Oklahoma City right now. There’s a lot of people over there that need a lot more than tents, food, and orange juice, although they certainly need that too. If you want to help them (and you know you want to), here are a few places you can do it:

United Way of Central Oklahoma
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma (text FOOD to 32333 to give a $10 donation)
Red Cross (text REDCROSS to 90999 to give a $10 donation)

Come back on June 5th for the next page!