My brain had a string around my neck. Like a choker chain. And when that moment came – I was asleep, you see – it pulled hard. Harder. Hardest. And my eyes snapped open. Trigger pulled. Flick up the shades; pupils wide in the dark. I’m awake. I’m alive. What is it??
It’s just me in my bed. At 4:28am. A cocoon of black pressing against me. Quiet ticking of time somewhere off to the left and above. But me alone, with my breathing. With the surge of goosebumps, adrenaline, heartbeat under the covers. The awake string trailing from my neck. And silence.
Why the jolt?
There was no danger that morning. There was no need for my eyes to burst into the world, wired. I didn’t need to run, fight or face with good graces the coming of my own death. It was just the dark. And the tiny light. Ah. It was just the tiny blinking light there in the dark. There on my phone, green. A little tongue flick. Blip. Pinprick on the bedside table. Practically microscopic. I see…oh, I see.
Return message. Not life or death. At least, not really. Silly. Ridiculous. Most of absurd of mental choker chains. Get up.
But the jolt was real. Like a predator. The jolt was the same jolt that would have saved me from a saber-toothed tiger. From wild fire. From whatever it is that sneaks in the night and sucks the life out of sleeping throats. The will to live. Wake up. Be alive. Survive. Answer this catastrophe like your soul depends on it, fool. Always.
On January 12, 2010, the deadliest earthquake ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere struck Haiti. I don’t remember that day, personally, or that morning. I don’t remember waking up in the dark with all the blood pounding in my ears a split second before the world started shaking. Tiger coming now; pull the string; wake up. But for millions of other people, this moment in the dark would be life-changing.
The only full-time U.S. journalist stationed in Haiti at the time of the devastating quake, Louisvillian Jonathan Katz can probably recall with eerie detail the flashes of destruction. Using his own first-hand experiences of both the quake and the aftermath, as well as his award-winning reporting insights, Katz tells the story of Haiti’s struggle with his new book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Join him tomorrow, Thursday, February 21st, at Carmichael’s Bookstore as he relates the earthquake, the relief efforts and the sad reality of a country still in tatters despite attempts at reconstruction.
Awarded both the 2010 Medill Medal of Courage in Journalism and the 2012 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award specifically for this new book, journalist Jonathan Katz presents readers with a sharp picture of Haiti’s plights with The Big Truck That Went By. A witness to the earthquake, as well as to the efforts to rescue and rebuild the suffering country, Katz gives front row insight as to why the $15.3 billion raised for relief and the thousands of volunteers from around the globe have ultimately failed to alleviate poverty, build safer homes and empower Haitians against future disasters. Starting at 7pm at the Frankfort Avenue store, guests can hear Katz’s account in person. Copies of The Big Truck That Went By will also be on sale in hardcover for $26.00.
I do not know disaster. Misery. Devastation. I’ve never clutched at the clothes on my back, holding my arms around myself, and known in a moment that this was all I had – and nothing else. My instincts are muddled. The alarm on my phone pokes me like a cattle prod at 6am, and I’m up to do morning stuff with coffee and hairdryers and schedules. They are a slow, chocolate murmur of comforting sameness, these mornings. I don’t remember most.
But sometimes I wake up with a saber-toothed tiger in my room, invisible. And I lay there in the dark, taut, wired, like a spring-loaded rabbit, alone and wait. Silence. Always, silence. But I’m reminded in that moment, curled up there in bed before my alarm, that someday that string around my neck could pull hard. Harder. Hardest. And it could really be life-changing.
Carmichael’s Bookstore has two area locations: 1295 Bardstown Road and 2720 Frankfort Avenue. For more information, visit the event page  or call the Frankfort Avenue store at (502) 896-6950.
Image: Courtesy of Carmichael’s Bookstore website www.carmichaelsbookstore.com