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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : MAKING SENSE : 'I don't understand why anybody would stay.'

January 30, 1994|Teri Greenman | Greenman, 30, of Glendale is an aspiring writer who works in downtown L.A. as an administrative assistant. She moved from New York 2 1/2 years ago and lives in a second-story apartment. She is experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress and plans to move back to the East Coast

I just feel like a sitting duck.

I don't feel like anything is real. I look around at things that I see every single day and they don't look the same. It's odd to see other people going about their lives the way they always have.

I was lucky. I sustained no damage to my apartment building. I lost a lot of stuff that broke all over the place, but I'm not hurt. My boyfriend wasn't killed, I wasn't buried alive for eight hours, my car wasn't crushed and I didn't have to spend any time in a tent.

But I was really, really terrified.

It's just an awful fear that I've never felt before, like utter panic. You know sometimes if you have a really bad nightmare and you try to wake yourself out of it? That's what I was trying to do, only it wasn't working. It seemed like a dream because it was so loud and it was shaking so much and it was so dark that I couldn't even make it to the door. By the time I did, it had stopped.

I felt my heart beating--Oh, God--like never before. I mean I've had butterflies before and my heart pounds a little bit, but this was really terrifying. It felt like my heart was coming out, like it was literally knocking against my chest. It was very hard to breathe and it was going really fast like my beats were sort of tripping over each other.

I was thinking very clearly about some very personal things, and it almost seemed like that part of it was in slow motion. One of the things that I very distinctly remember thinking while it was happening was, "What the hell am I worried about?" And just what haven't I done that I wanted to do?

I saw this candelabra in the living room that someone had given me as a Christmas present. I said to myself, "Oh, it didn't break. I wonder if I remembered to thank her for that." It was very strange.

I felt unfinished.

A couple hours later, I went to my boyfriend's home, about two miles away. He put a bunch of covers on the bed, and I just got under them and I just shook for a while. I'm really not trying to be dramatic, but that's just how it was. I was breathing really fast, and my heart was beating really fast again. Every time I heard an aftershock, it felt like I was losing control.

I didn't go back to my apartment until last weekend, because that's where it happened. When I finally went back Saturday, my boyfriend stayed with me. Sunday was my first night alone.

Now I stay up as late as I can, until I'm so exhausted that I have to go to bed. When I get in bed, I'm wide awake again, so I listen to the Walkman until I just sort of drift off. I sleep with the light on, hoping that maybe for a split second I can see the door at least or maybe the flashlight. I now have shoes all over the apartment because I didn't even think about why I needed the shoes until I saw all the broken glass after the earthquake.

I'm having a lot of muscle spasms that make my bed move. I guess it's the nerves. Sometimes they twitch and I think it's something happening and then my heart starts to race. Or I hear something that startles me. I came to work because I didn't want to be alone in my apartment.

We have an employee assistance program, and the company brought in a counselor for a debriefing session.

The counselor gave us a handout about post-traumatic stress that talks about the different symptoms. I can relate to many symptoms, and I didn't have them before. I have lost my appetite, have sleep disturbances and have what they call hyper-vigilance and startle response. I hear a door slamming and my heart just leaps out.

I have a hard time concentrating. I could be sitting anywhere, just in the middle of a project, and it will happen. Maybe I'll feel something on the ground through my feet or hear a loud noise; maybe I'll just be sitting there and it'll just come and I'll start thinking about it. I have to tell myself not think about it.

Deep down, I don't think that this is going to happen again tomorrow. But I certainly know it's going to happen. It's just a question of when.

I really don't understand why anybody would want to stay here.

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