I was in my second year at Berkeley crossing a square on the Berkeley campus by Etcheverry Hall when suddenly it felt as if a Giant had gathered up the pavement I was walking on in two huge hands and violently pulled it backwards like a rug. I fell forward and nearly landed face down, but somehow managed to throw my right leg forward and stop the momentum.
I don't know what this says about my state of mind back then, but my immediate thought, for an agonizing split second, was that I had a brain aneurysm that had just burst and destroyed the part of the brain that regulates balance. A sort of molten explosion of terror burst in my chest at this thought. It was the first time I had ever been in an earthquake and there is no way to understand what it’s like until you experience it. Believing all your life in the solidity and immovability of the Earth the way you believe the sun will come up tomorrow, then feeling it move violently under you changes your concept of the physics of the world in less than a second.
It was so mentally incomprehensible that I hit upon what seemed like the most logical explanation, that something had gone suddenly and irrevocably wrong with my brain. Seeing everyone around me freaking out and looking around was a profound relief. Of course, I was still saddened and horrified by the loss of lives that I learned about later that day, and I remember huddling with some friends in a living room watching the TV coverage in shock.