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Shaken Up - Nicole McNulty

JACK TRUITT, HOST: In March of last year, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Salt Lake City. It was the strongest quake to hit the city since the 1800s. It was just one event in a series of unpleasant surprises Nicole McNulty got last spring. In this piece from our commentary series Nicole reflects on how she emerged from a season of disasters with a new and deep appreciation for someone close to her.

NICOLE MCNULTY, BYLINE: On the morning of March 18th last year, I was asleep and dreaming I was on a sailboat rocked by choppy waves. When I opened my eyes, instead of the inside of a cabin, I found myself in my room.

I’m from Colorado. We don’t get earthquake training. So, my instinct was to panic. I burst into the shaking kitchen and grabbed my roommate by the shoulders, and we started running in place. Screaming. After what couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds, the shaking stopped.

Then the aftershocks began, occasionally rocking the house. It felt apocalyptic. The Covid lockdown had just begun and now this. I texted my mom to say that if things got worse in Utah, my roommates and I would be coming to Colorado to camp on her property in the mountains.

My mother is my rock, so I assumed this would be a no-brainer. But she told me not to come. Because she was really, really sick. She thought it might be Covid but wasn’t sure. A week before she was at a conference and had taken at least a few flights. But it was so early in the pandemic...

Her full name is Vandalyn Yvonne McNulty, she goes by Lyn. And she’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. One day when she was 15, she bought a blue Mustang convertible on her way home from school with her baby sitting money. She became an ER nurse. She’s a scuba diver, a sailor, a race car driver.

And she also has chronic asthma. When she got sick, I didn’t realize for a while how bad it really was. We texted a couple times a week as usual, but she wouldn’t answer the phone. I didn’t know she couldn’t get enough air in her lungs to talk. Things weren’t getting better. In fact she thought she might not make it. And she didn’t want me to worry.

Meanwhile, I stayed in Utah, applied for unemployment, did puzzles, watched Tiger King. Celebrated my birthday, and drank mimosas with my roommates.

It wasn’t until I came home in August and saw that most of her expensive wine was gone that I realized just how dire this was. She thought, well if I’m going to die, I might as well drink the good shit. If you know my mom, you know that’s a serious statement. She didn’t want to go to the hospital because she was afraid she would never leave. It dragged on for six weeks, and then, slowly she got better.

Finding out that I almost lost her rattled me so much more than the earthquake did. I’m 27, and objectively an adult, but my mother is still who I turn to in times of crisis - when the world seems shaken up. I can’t seem to grasp the idea that the person who climbed into a tomb in the Egyptian pyramids, who taught me to never sacrifice my own goals for any man, who showed me how strong a person could be, might not be immortal. That I could lose her. And I almost did.

There were so many people who texted their sick parents and didn’t realize it would be their last conversation. Now whenever I talk with my mother I’m aware of how precious the time is, and how lucky I am that she’s still around. And I can’t wait to hug my mom again.

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