Men must’ve been walking on the roof, and I said as much. “What are they doing up there?” I asked when the building moved.

The night before the earthquake D and I were driving back up to L.A. from Newport Beach after spending Sunday and Monday in the O.C. with best friend L and her boyfriend JT. Saturday night offered a birthday party at D’s house up in the Hollywood hills for a roommate; spending the night at JT’s aunt’s home — a big-whig CBS person; a Sunday brunch with JT’s sister and brother-in-law — a studying architect and a cinematographer; a Sunday afternoon lounging on JT’s grandma’s deck in the Newport Bay while watching JT windsurf; a Sunday night snuggling on the couch to the romantic-est of romantic movies, American Psycho; a Monday driving around Newport in a 1970s convertible Volkswagen, license plate similar to but not exactly THE THING, with a surf board sticking out the back; and a Sunday early evening watching JT, L, and D surf (and attempt to surf) in our very own little section of the ocean.

In the car, on the drive home, we were tired. And satisfied. We love our friends. In the quiet satisfaction of the drive, I sang aloud the song that has been stuck in my head for days and days now, Natalie Merchant’s “San Andreas Fault,” a song I put on a mix CD for D before we started dating. It is off the album Tiger Lily, an album that has been somewhere in my head since I was 14. I know every lyric on it. When I was 14, I almost wished I had a broken heart so the song “Seven Years” could be true of me. It was that lovely and tragic, and I was that masochistic. Still, “San Andreas Fault” is my favorite on the album:

Go west
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there

You’ll be the brightest star
The world has ever seen
Sun-baked slender heroine
Of film and magazine

Go west
Paradise is there
You’ll have all that you can eat
Of milk and honey over there

You’ll be the brightest light
The world has ever seen
The dizzy height of a jet-set life
You could never dream

Your pale blue eyes
Strawberry hair
Lips so sweet
Skin so fair

Your future bright
Beyond compare
It’s rags to riches
Over there

San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Earth divided
Plates collided
Such an awful sound

San Andreas Fault
Moved its fingers
Through the ground
Terra cotta shattered
And the walls came
Tumbling down

O, promised land
O, wicked ground
Build a dream
Tear it down

O, promised land
What a wicked ground
Build a dream
Watch it all fall down

For as long as we’ve known it, the West has beckoned people with dreams; first those literal gold-diggers with their shovels and pans, those unsinkable Molly Browns. Then Hollywood boasted gold, a Golden Era where riches dwelt not in rocks but in pictures. It is that gold that people come with their pick-axes to claim now-days. There are so many people here, so many, many people who are fighting for that gold, like Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in A Star is Born. One must wonder if this role resonated a little too deeply with Frances Ethel Gumm/Judy Garland when she played it. Like me, she was born in Minnesota. She crossed the fault line into Hollywood. Perhaps she wouldn’t have died of a drug overdose or attempted all those suicides without all those insecurities about her appearance, exacerbated by studio execs pushing her to be a skinny woman. She might’ve had a long and happy life in Minnesota. Perhaps there really is no place like home.

Sad songs are always the best songs, and I never really understood “San Andreas Fault” until I moved to the wrong side of the actual one. At 14 I didn’t know much about youth even though I possessed it in abundance. Now that youth is ticking away, it has become a precious commodity, more precious than the number in any bank account — even William Randolph Hearst, circa 1928. I moved here not for a dream of wealth, but for a dream of youth. I came here to spend my years of sweet lips and fair skin in a land of water and seemingly endless sun.

You would think that a City of Dreams would offer its residents lovely neighbors, that the opportunities would abound like the pigeons, and all the people would drown in gold and get grills for their teeth. But maybe L.A. is called the City of Dreams and not the City of Successes because so may come here with a dream and leave without it. It doesn’t slip through just any old crack. It slips in the San Andreas Fault. That’s why we have earthquakes: All those orphan dreams are rolling around down there.

When the earthquake happened I stood up. Others I know dove to the floor. Apparently the plastic electrical plates burst off the walls in office buildings close to the origin of the quake. D’s sister E had an awkward moment with her boss under a desk. In my office, we stood in the hallway, each in a respective doorway, watching the juice our company manufactures slosh in the bottles to see if the building was still swaying and that it wasn’t just our scared little knees. A California-native hugged me. This was my first quake, wasn’t it? Was I scared?

Scared? No. So thrilled I felt it through my whole body? Yes.

It isn’t really the San Andreas Fault that scares me, even though my new homeland will supposedly someday fall into the ocean. My own faults scare me much more… faults like financial irresponsibility, worrying so much about my life that I fail to live it, the ways that I take my anger out on the people I love, the inability to figure out what I’m really doing with my life, my tendency toward depression. Meanwhile, youth ticks away. My birthday is next month. My twenties are more than halfway over.

The earthquake didn’t really scare me because the ground did not jump or shake here like I expected it to. I expected it to shake us like pennies in a jar. Instead it moved like the L.A. traffic does when you watch it from the Hollywood Hills at night. All those lights snake up the hills, in a choreography of curves and different sounds. Sometimes when I’m driving home I listen to the classical music station because its like we’re in an orchestra. Enter Ford F150 with your booming tympani; come gently little old Volkswagen Beetle with your flighty piccolo; El Diablo, bring your classical guitar; don’t forget your French Horn, Mercedes Benz. When you’re in it, it can feel jerky and unpracticed — some people play the wrong notes. But when you look above and see it happen with a different perspective, all of it works together. You see the beginning, and you see the end and all the lights and buildings and hills in between.

And when those faults do act up as they inevitably do — the Angelinos have been expecting The Big One for years now and are relieved this small one came to relieve some pressure — perhaps it truly is the best idea to run to the first doorway and stand in it until the swaying stops, and on scared little knees, take a new step.

This post was supposed to be about my own abyss of staggering, suctioning desolation. It was supposed to be about my struggle with anxiety, including dripping references to Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath and how all great writers eventually asphyxiate themselves.

This post was supposed to be gushing and emotive and altogether moving; a post in which everything the heroine says or does resonates within the reader, until the reader bursts out shouting: “Yes, dear writer, your plight has been my plight, and your life, my life! I love you for brilliantly expressing what I, as a mere reader, cannot express! You are the voice of humanity and all that is poetry!”

While writing said post, I had a fit of writing-hating: hating myself via hating my writing. I called Best Friend L in San Francisco and gushed to her about all my irrational fears and my struggle with anxiety these past few days and how I have no idea what I’m doing with my life, and (sob) I miss Francis the Cat.

Then L told me that when she was in Peru a few weeks ago, she got sick one day and vomited, and right after she vomited there was an 6.5 earthquake while she was naked.

And lo, I laughed. L laughed too; she said, “I’m so glad you reacted that way. No one laughs when I tell them.”

“What, do they say, ‘Oh no, you threw up, I’m so sorry?’”

“Yes, but I wish they would laugh. It’s really funny.”

And lo, lo, I laughed, heartily.

And then I told her… I told her all the irrational things I’ve been anxious about… virgin pregnancy being the forerunner.

“See?! See how irrational it is?” I asked. “I’ve never even had sex, but suddenly I gain weight and my breasts get swollen from PMS, and I’m all panicked that I’m giving birth to a deity and asking D if he’s had any prophetic dreams lately.” I didn’t tell her about the fears that the bank is stealing all my money (“This girl has $2000 in her checking account and $30,000 in school debt… she looks like she wouldn’t notice if we took a grand here and there…”); or my fears about my feet growing really, really wide; or my fears about my eyelashes falling out. You laugh. You just go ahead and laugh, but seriously, guys…

What if this happened?

And then I told her about how D and I were kissing the other day, glorious, healthy kissing in the purest way possible, and I actually started crying. Not because the moment was so romantic and emotive and meaningful that I couldn’t help myself. I started crying because I imagined what it would be like if we broke up. And suddenly, that Worst Case Scenario became my reality instead of the real reality – the attractive young man beside me who likes me so much that he lets me place my mushy, saliva-covered lips on his.

And then L said, “Give yourself a break!” She named off all the tough things I’ve done lately, dating all the way back to the moment of the big move to California in December. “Seriously,” she said. “Give yourself a break. We need to start making this our mantra whenever anything is scary: ‘At least I’m not pregnant.’”

And that was just what I needed to hear, just what writing a million gushing posts could not cure. Well, it was what L said AND D’s earlier affirmation that the bank is not stealing my money, and even if they were stealing my money, I would not die.

That’s the nice thing about having so little money. There isn’t a whole lot to lose. And really, the best thing about all of it is that even if the bank were stealing my money, the bank could not make me pregnant…

…right?