The train passed my house at 2:46 am. The closet doors rattled until quiet and sleep filled the bedroom again. The second train passed; I sat up quickly in bed. I didn’t live near a railroad track.
Fog filled my head. My babies slept. A banging began at my front door. I stumbled out of bed, pulled on some sweats, and opened the door.
“Oh my God, are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, sleep still in my voice.
“It’s not safe! You have to get out of the house.”
I looked around and as my eyes began to focus, I noticed a crowd of people in the street. Kids walked barefoot in the October desert air. Women stood talking with one another. Fear, worry, confusion echoed around the block.
“Didn’t you feel it?”
I shook my head, squinted my eyes. “What?”
I righted my shoulders, turned and bounded up the steps two at a time. I grabbed my kids, ages one and four, asleep in my bed, and ran back down the stairs.
My neighbor waited on the sidewalk next to a homemade sign that read: “Marine Wife, Toughest Job in the Corps.” We walked to the others milling about. Women and children, mothers and babies, no men to be seen except the driver of a military police car cruising the street.
On any given night at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, California, only one third of the husbands slept at home. Some were on deployment, some on duty, and some on training missions near and far; in emergencies, the rest went to work securing the base.
On October 16, 1999, the Hector Mine Earthquake registered a 7.1 magnitude and could be felt over 160 miles way. The first of twenty-four aftershocks struck less than a minute later.
My kids roused from their sleep and joined the activities which had begun several minutes before. The moms, all clad in some form of sleep ware sat in the street and listened to the sounds of joy of an unplanned pajama party.
It’s frightening to experience a major earthquake, but if you have to, one on a Marine Corps base in the middle of the Mojave Desert with houses built to federal government standards is the place to be. We wives could have stood around feeling sorry for ourselves. We could have chosen to believe we were abandoned during a time of need. But we were strong, family strong.
Life in the military is not for the faint of heart. Rather, it’s for those with big hearts who love their neighbors, love their families, and love their country. The Marines say never leave a man behind, the spouses say, never leave a neighbor behind.
In my time of need, my husband may not have been home, but my kids and I attended one of the best pajama parties ever, and everyone on the block was invited.