The big earthquake hit off the coast of Sendai a month ago yesterday. The resulting tsunami killed thousands and destroyed the lives of countless others. I was home in Tokyo when the world began to shake. I can't begin to imagine how to express the experience in words.
The quake started slowly. Not something talked about much. I had time to think to grab my wallet. The official duration was around four minutes but looking back it seemed much shorter. Around the time it became hard to stand a switch clicked in my head. My only thought was to escape. The neighbors reached that point at the same moment. We left our apartments simultaneously, spared a brief glance at each other which spoke volumes about the situation, and sprinted for the stairwell.
Have you ever heard the sound a building makes when every single piece is being shaken violently? It surrounds you. When I burst out on to the street there was a new noise. One I'd never experienced before, an earthquake siren. It was a slow, repeating drone. A sound that carried an unmistakable tone of danger. Soon it was joined by a steady music of every type emergency vehicle available.
We were lucky. The most damage I could see were some broken wine bottles in the supermarket on the first floor. People went back to their daily tasks as though nothing had happened. After I gathered the courage to go inside once more and turn on the TV I knew that something had happened. Buildings were on fire. Then came the aftershocks. I lost count as to how many times I went outside because of the shaking. There was a hysterical search for my passport as well. That night aftershocks came every few minutes and one could imagine they would never end.
Have you ever gone to the beach? Spent a day swimming in the ocean? You know that feeling afterward, when you go to bed and you can still feel the tide pushing and pulling you? I used to revel in that as a child. Now, however, I can't tell if there is a small earthquake, a large truck passing by, or if it is my own body playing tricks on me. But the true earthquakes are easy to know. My body can't make the overhead lamp sway. Or lift my apartment building an inch off the ground and drop it back with little care.
Every time this happens my pulse rate jumps and my breath quickens. I am scared. Even though I know that scientifically the chance of another big one is low my body remembers. The fight or flight response is getting me ready to run if needed. Many people who were able left the city, sometimes for good sometimes for only a short time. I have not.
Why? A difficult question. Perhaps it is because most of my life is entangled within this city and it would feel like I was abandoning a part of me if I were to leave. I said some hurtful things to a friend who decided to leave for a few days for reasons I can't explain. Except perhaps because I thought he was leaving me. But I can't blame him, I know all too well how stressful it's been here.
But that's all it is. Stress. I am not worried about the radiation. Poison floating through the air can be avoided if given enough time to prepare. I still carry my iodine pills with me. I worry the next quake will bring to us here in Tokyo the same devastation visited upon the poor souls in the north. They had almost no time to prepare. No way of knowing just how terrible the destruction would be. But I can not, will not let fear dominate my actions. Will not let it change my life.
I must carry on if I am to possess a normal life. That is all I can do. There are two parties to go to tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it. It's all I can do.