Place in time

As told to Glenn Busch by Pamela 'Judy' Ross as part of the Christchurch documentary project, Place in Time.

COWLISHAW STREET: I took it out on him. He wasn't even here to take it out on, but I'd go out to the cemetery and I'd curse and swear at him and say why aren't you here to help me get through this. To cuddle me. I'm by myself and trying to do it all alone. I used to get so angry.

I lived my first nineteen years in Invercargill, and then I moved up here to Christchurch. That’s when I met him and I knew I’d be here for good. We had three children. Our first was a son who passed away when he was only three months old. That was…that was so terribly hard.

Then we had our two daughters and we bought our home and everything was good for a time until the arthritis came. Rheumatoid arthritis, I got it real cruel, and it’s been with me now for more than thirty years. Not being able to get down on the floor and play with them, change their nappies…you wanted to be involved like any mother but that was the beginning and it only got worse.

First it was my knees, they didn’t want to replace them because they said I was too young but in end they had to be replaced and then it was the hips and then it was the shoulders. In the past ten years I’ve had nine replacements. At the moment I’m waiting to have my toe amputated. When I go through a detector at the airport they’re groping me straight away, I’ve got so much metal in me. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist, you’ve only got to look at me. I’ve got a letter about it all but nothing stops them.

The noise when it came was quite a shock. I was in bed and only had a moment to wonder what it was. Then it started, the whole house shaking and shaking. There wasn’t much I could do about it by then except stay where I was. I just pulled the blankets over my head and told myself it’s got to stop sooner or later. Trouble was it seemed to go on forever. Finally it did stop but inside myself I kept going like mad. I could feel my heart racing. Of course there was no power, no torch, nothing. Finally I managed to get myself out of bed and into the front room, sat on my chair there. Every time there was an aftershock I got myself over to the doorframe and stood under it.

My neighbours from next door arrived shortly after and God it was good to see them. I felt so relieved when they came through the door. At first I’d felt like I was just on my own, you know, and that’s really hard. Like I was saying before, hard not to be angry, even when it’s nobody’s fault. That’s just being human I guess, the things we feel. Anyway, we got into the wardrobe then and found my old phone, which worked, not like those useless new ones. So that gave me something. Then some previous neighbours of mine came round and took me back to their place for a few hours.

The rest of that day was a bit unreal. You wouldn’t believe it but I had a wedding to go to that day. I actually thought the wedding would have been cancelled but no, they carried on. Everyone tried really hard to focus on the bride and groom and not to talk about the earthquake. Actually it was a lovely wedding. They couldn’t use the hall they’d booked but everyone went back to the bride’s parents place and we had a feast. Finally we all came home. I mean everybody was just so tired. I came back to reality then. No power still and the cracks in the road… I found that all a bit difficult and eventually I took off. Went down to Invercargill and spent some time with my family there.

I WAS A bit scared coming back to Christchurch. After having that time with my family and friends, I felt the loneliness of it and, yes, to be honest, I was also a little afraid. There wasn’t much choice anyway, I had to be here for my rheumatologist and this is where my partner is. I mean he’s in the cemetery so it’s not going to worry him, but for me it’s another story. I’d never want to leave him.

The second [earthquake] when it happened was really awful. I couldn’t get up. I was in a bank and had been thrown from one side of the room to the other. The whole side of my body was bruised and I’m lying there a bit dazed and it’s all so random until suddenly it hits me, where’s Marley? Where is she? 

It was lovely, she had come from Australia to be here on her birthday and she was due to fly out on 23 February. And on the twenty-second I had just dropped her off in town to do a few things. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, ‘I’ll either walk home or get the bus.’ So off I went, headed back home until I remembered I had some things to do at the bank. I’d been putting this job off and I thought, stop procrastinating, just go and do it. So I there was, at the Eastgate Mall, when it happened.

I knew my other daughter, Jade, would be all right. She works in early childhood and I knew where she’d be. That she’d have to focus on the kids, put all her energy into that, and so I felt she would be all right. But I didn’t have a clue where Marley was. People were screaming, people were being carried across the road to the Medical Centre there. I tried to get her on my phone but they had all crashed. Then, as I got to my feet, I watched the whole side of The Warehouse building fall down. Everything was so much dust and rubble.

I wasn’t allowed to go back to my car. I had to leave it there. In the end I managed to get a ride with a lady from the bank. She used to live round the corner from me. She got me as far as the Dallington bridge, then it was walk. Well, I couldn’t do it. I had jandals and tights on and I got halfway up Retreat Road and there was another big aftershock. I grabbed this fence and I was screaming and screaming and this lovely lady came out and yells to me, ‘Just hang on, just hang on.’ And when it stopped she said, ‘Where are you going?’

I said, ‘I’ve got to get home. I’ve got to get to Cowlishaw Street. I don’t know where my daughter is.’

‘Okay, okay,’ she said, ‘I’ll go and put my gumboots on and I’ll take you.’

If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have…well, I wouldn’t have made it. She was marvellous. And when I got home my daughter was there. She’d already got home and couldn’t find me. I was so pleased to see her. She’d been in Cashel Mall where all those people died. That shook me, that really shook me. Someone must have been watching over her.

AGAIN THERE WAS no power and the place was trashed. Absolutely trashed. Some kind people from the neighbourhood had come around on pushbikes looking for me. That was nice. The truth was I was feeling pretty confused. I just sat on the chair out there and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wasn’t thinking straight at all. So when an old friend that lives out by Oxford rang up and said ‘I’m on my way, I’m coming to get you,’ I was more than happy to go. We went out there and stayed for three days until finally I flew back to Invercargill once more.

When I got back we were still on generated power. Hell, they’ve only just taken the portaloo away and they weren’t much fun. It wasn’t just the toilet situation; it was the weather as well. We had snow and every other thing you can think of. Well because of my arthritis I can’t fit into shoes, and snow and jandals are not the greatest combination. I ended up having to use a bucket.

I had some counselling after that. That wasn’t an easy time, total devastation really. Total grief. Like I was saying before, when my partner passed away it took forever to get my head around it, the loss of him. Then it took ages to get around losing my family home. It took forever to get used to this place and I know there’s people a lot worse off than me. People lost their lives. Others have lost their homes and their businesses. I know all that, but I did need that counselling and it helped me. Helped me a lot.

Then June happened. Two [quakes] in one day and that threw me back again. The first one wasn’t so bad. I managed to stay calm. The doctor had said to me, if you’re sitting down and there’s a shake, stay there, don’t try and get out because you could fall over. ‘You don’t want that,’ she’d said to me.

Well, after, I did go outside and I thought, I coped, you know, I coped with that one. Later I was talking to a lady walking past with her dog. ‘That’s the big one for the day,’ she said. I was standing by the front garden there and just as she left my sister sent me a text asking how I was. I was trying to text her back when the next one came and knocked me over. I got caught up in the rose bush there and because my skin’s really thin it was just ripping off like tissue paper. A young guy down the road came running over and rescued me. Got me untangled but I was a bit of a mess.

I came back inside to another shambles. Outside too, bricks had fallen off the wall. If I’d been around that side of the house, I don’t know what would have happened. It made me feel sick to think about it.

I’VE BEEN HERE two years now, I’ve managed to settle into it and I thought, this is where I’m going to be. This is my place. But will it be now? The hardest thing is not knowing anything at all. What will happen to me? Will I be zoned green and have my home be fixed up. That is what I’m praying for. Not that I believe in praying too much but that’s what I would really love to happen.

Anyway, nothing is going to happen overnight. It’s going to take years and years and years. I don’t know that I’ll still be alive when it’s finally all sorted but I’m alive now and so I’ll go along and make the best I can of it.

Mental well being, that’s what we need and yeah, these earthquakes have given it a bit of a kicking. I’m getting a lot better now but in the beginning no, it wasn’t good. At night, when it was time to pull the drapes, I didn’t like that. I wouldn’t get into my pyjamas. I wouldn’t even go to bed. I’d sit in that chair all night fully dressed. I’d have my emergency bag and my medications and I’d never lock the door. I was too scared to lock the door. I’d be awake looking at the clock, 4am, that’s okay. Then it would be 5am. Oh well, if we have a shake now there will be people up and around. Six o’clock was even better. Then it would be 7am and I’d got through another night.

When I finally got the counselling it helped to knock that sort of thing on the head. I get to bed now and have a night’s sleep. I still miss having someone to wake up to. To know that whatever comes I’d have someone to help deal with it, that would be good. But I’m trying not to let those things pull me down. I’ve already been down a road to hell and back. Now I want to get over this thing and get back to where I was. If I wake up with a shitty feeling I open the window and say out loud, ‘You can just bugger off, get out of here.’ Sometimes life can seem cruel, or at least a bit unfair. But look, while I may be going to have my toe off, I’ve still got two legs. I’m not in a wheelchair. I can still drive my car. I’ve still got a voice. Just to be able to have my wee house. To keep my independence and have my own wee home here… that’s all I’d ask for. I hope I can have that.


A short time later Judy’s home was relegated to the red zone. It will be demolished.

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