My heart aches and tears slide down my cheeks. From the minute it happened I knew about it thanks to streaming Internet at work, and I'm a whole other Island away. Scrambling for my phone - pushing the buttons to reach my brother's recorded voice. Try again, don't miss-dial. This time there's a no-connection tone. Try again and again until thirty minutes later he answers (thank God!).
He says he's fine. He says he's talked with Hayley and she's fine. (I've now seen pictures of the building Hayley was in - it doesn't exist anymore - she made it out alive but fine is probably not the right word, though my brother certainly didn't know it in that first half hour.)
"Shit" he says, "that one put me on my arse."
I say, "Shaun, it's a bad one, buildings are down, the Cathedral's down."
"The Cathedral. It's bad, you can't go centre city. I love you. Take care. It's bad."
We say goodbye because we know the phone lines will be overloaded and I only needed to hear his voice. I say I'll contact all the family (mum, dad, sisters, friends) and let them know he's fine. I'm watching the pictures on TV in the office lunchroom and I can't believe what I'm seeing. The reporters haven't said anything about death yet, but I know Christchurch at lunchtime - there are people everywhere, there must have been people in the Cathedral spire, there must have been people walking on the sidewalk...and now they must be under the rubble. Haven't even seen the CTV building yet. This is bad.
Everyone outside of Christchurch knew the scale of the disaster before most Cantabrians knew. And only those in the central business district knew it for real - because pictures on TV don't really tell the story of the dust, the smell, the hysteria and the surreal experience of walking down streets that no longer exist. Streets that echo loss and destruction with each quick footstep. Quick because - what if another one hits and more comes down - get out, get out fast.
Now, every once in a while.
When I stop.
I cry for the lifetimes that will no longer be lived. I cry for the lifetimes that are irrevocably changed, and I cry because a beautiful city, full of beautiful people, has fractured.
It'll never be the same fun loving, carefree city again because, like a child losing a close family member for the first time, there will always be the knowledge - that this life is more fragile than we like to admit - and you can't turn back time to unlearn that knowledge.
Cantabrians will be looking through new, sad eyes - and I mourn the loss of the rose tinted glasses that are lying broken, somewhere in the rubble of Cashel Street.
I send cyber hugs, texts of love, thoughts of strength - and feel impotent because it isn't even close to enough.