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Two years ago, the earth shook in Japan and changed many lives forever. Geordie and I were lucky in that we lived far enough away from the epicenter of the Tohoku Earthquake to suffer too much damage. I wrote about the actual earthquake more than a year ago, and I keep meaning to finish writing about that day and the one that followed. Well, here’s a bit more of the story. Not all of it – it’s a bit too long to post all at once. I’ll write what I can manage now and try to write more later. Hopefully, the next installment won’t take another year to get done.
If you haven’t already, you should probably read the Earthquake (I) first.
Though the worst of the earthquake was over, the aftershocks came steadily. I never really felt balanced the rest of that day. I put on my work clothes as quickly as I could, and I left to go to Loc City, the mall where my branch of Nova was located. I had no idea what to expect on the 10-minute walk. I tried calling Geordie again, and that got me nowhere. I wondered how big the earthquake had been, where it had originated. I had lived through weather-related natural disasters before, but nothing had prepared me for an earthquake like this.
My walk to work was usually a quiet one, but it was especially so that afternoon. Cars were still on the roads, but there were very few of them, and they went slowly. I too went slowly – the ground still moved uneasily. And at one point, I passed a car dealership that had lost a panel of glass during the quake; it had shattered all over the sidewalk. Just beyond that was a liquor store that smelled strongly of alcohol. Likewise, the 7-11 was a mess, and the three workers inside looked at a loss for what to do as the aftershocks kept coming.
A street behind the businesses ran parallel to the main road, and it had mostly houses along it, all eerily quiet. I saw only two women, neighbors, who stood clinging to the supports of their carports, calling to each other. I walked by them – there was a gap between two buildings where you could see the houses – just as a large aftershock hit. They both shrieked and held on; I had to read out and steady myself on another carport. It took nearly a minute for that aftershock to pass. One of the ladies saw me and shouted at me to be careful; I said thank you and moved on.
Loc City has a large parking lot that covers three sides of the mall. There were cars parked on the side I always used to enter the mall, and there was also a handful of people sitting a good distance away from the building. They looked like store employees. Since Nova was on the opposite side of the mall, I decided to walk around to it and see what was happening there. There were cars on that side too, and a lot more people. Most of them were sitting at the far end of the parking lot, as far away from the mall building as possible. I started walking in that direction, and it didn’t take me long to pick out my manager in the crowd, sitting on a parking bumper and looking forlornly at her phone. She looked almost relieved to see me.
Unfortunately, she knew as much (or, rather, as little) as I did. Loc City had been evacuated during the earthquake, and nobody could go back in until it was declared safe. She didn’t think it would be any time soon because of the near-continuous aftershocks. The worst for her was that she couldn’t get in contact with any of the branch’s higher-ups, and considering she’d only been working at Nova for about five months, she had no idea what to do. So we did the only thing we could do: we waited.
About thirty minutes later, we were allowed back into the mall – employees only, of course. Not that there were any customers hanging around; I’m sure they did what all sane people would do and get themselves home immediately to find out what happened. The mall had held together pretty well: a few broken glass panels and some toppled-over displays were the worst I saw. Nova sustained little damage, but then we occupied a pretty small corner of the mall and had nothing much to make a mess of. The power was on, which was the most important thing. I logged onto the computer to find out what had happened, while the manager attacked the phone and started calling whoever she thought might be able to tell her what to do.
By this time, the tsunami warnings had been issued, and I tried to wrap my head around how strong this earthquake had actually been. It was nothing I could have imagined. Even worse, I knew Geordie was both closer to the earthquake epicenter and closer to the coast, and so must have had a worse experience than I’d had. Somehow, he’d been able to post to Facebook that he was okay, and I had the feeling that was the only thing I was going to hear from him for a while. I did the same, knowing that our families back in the States would be waking up to the news and need some reassurances.
An announcement from Loc City came over the speakers, which the manager translated for me: the mall was not going to re-open and it would be closing even to employees at dusk. The manager still hadn’t made contact with her boss, so to kill time, she settled in to start calling students to tell them that classes had been canceled. She told me I could go home, but I wasn’t in any hurry to do so, so I told her I’d stay with her a little while longer. Again, she seemed a little relieved.
All the while, the aftershocks kept coming, some of them fairly strong. About 4:30pm, another announcement was made: Loc City was closing at once, right now. We had no choice but to leave. I still hadn’t got hold of Geordie, and I had no idea if he was on his way or was stuck in Hitachi or what. I told the manager I’d walk to the station with her; I was curious to see what was going on there.
As it turned out, nothing was happening. The trains were shut down indefinitely. Neither the manager nor myself were that surprised. Much of the Tsukuba Express is elevated, while most of the rest of it travels underground. While it would have been nice to find them running, I can only imagine how dangerous it would have been. The local line was also stopped. The station was in the throes of controlled chaos. Nobody seemed to know what to do. Buses were still running, but the lines for them stretched longer than they’d ever been. At least thirty people were standing in line at the taxi pick-up, even though there were no taxis to be seen at all. Across the street, Moriya’s only hotel had a line out the door.
“What are you going to do?” I asked the manager.
She took a deep breath and said, “I will try to call my boyfriend. He is in Kashiwa.” She normally took the train to work, just two stops on the Tsukuba Express. Not so far, but now it seemed like a long way away. Still, he was closer than Geordie was. And he had a car. If she got hold of him, he could come and pick her up.
“That’s good,” I said. “I’ll go home too. I’ll see you on Monday.”
“Okay,” she replied. We waved goodbye, and that was the last time I saw her.
I don’t mean that in an ominous way. I heard nothing from Nova over the weekend, so Geordie and I walked by Loc City on Monday. It was closed. Tuesday was supposed to be my final day teaching, the only day of work at Nova that I had actually looked forward to. There were a lot of students I hadn’t been able to say a proper goodbye to. Loc City was open on Tuesday, but Nova was not. Even though I had come to hate my job at Nova, there were still many students I enjoyed teaching and talking to, and I wish I’d had one more opportunity to tell them so. It was not how I wanted to leave the company, but there was nothing I could do about it.
(to be continued)
As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I want to stick to a writing schedule. Just to change things up (so I don’t get bored writing the same thing every day and decide I hate what I’m writing), I thought I’d take Sundays to write from a journaling prompt. They’ll probably be a bit rambly, since I’m just looking at my list of prompts and picking one and not really thinking about it before hand. But I’m hoping it’ll give me a focus, as well as a chance to do something besides story-telling. So, I’ve gathered a few prompts, and I’m starting now.
prompt: If I could live anywhere in the world . . .
[from The Writer's Devotional, Amy Peters]
Look, I don’t have to be subtle about this, do I? It’s Japan. It’s always Japan.
It’s not that I’m unpatriotic. It’s just that I love Japan. I loved living in Japan. I loved working in Japan. I loved merely existing in Japan. No, I didn’t have all the little luxuries and conveniences I’d gotten used to in the States, and sometimes the language barrier was larger than I would have liked, but I loved Japan. I would not have minded one bit raising our daughter in Japan. It was what I wanted.
How can I explain how much I loved Japan? I loved it despite its downsides, its infuriating bureaucracies, its set way of thinking. I would be seen first as a tourist, and sometimes only as a tourist, and if people knew I lived there, they would assume it was only temporary. Even though I knew, within six weeks of living in Japan, that I wanted to stay as long as I could. They asked me if I was homesick, and the answer was always no. I did not miss the States. Not once. For so many reasons.
Maybe it was the independence that caused me to love Japan so much. For the first time in my life, I had a job that I loved and that paid all my bills. I lived comfortably on my own, with enough money and vacation time to travel when I wanted. The only limit was my own curiosity and adventurousness, which never waned when I traveled. I did not let my lack of Japanese language skills stop me, and most people appreciated that. Living in Japan taught me to seek out my boundaries and test them, to push myself to accept and explore places and ideas I’d never dreamed of when I lived in the States.
I had such a sense of safety while living in Japan. Once, an Australian female friend and I walked the streets of Tokyo after midnight, half-drunk and trying to make it to Ueno to catch the last train to my home station, from whence we walked another 15 minutes before crashing at my apartment. I would never have done that in any city in the States, but in Japan, it did not concern me. I would not have done it alone (mostly because I do not drink alone), but while I lived in that apartment, I regularly got home from work well after 11pm. I was never the only person walking home from work at that time of night, and though I hated it (I later moved closer to work, so that I had a mere 10-minute bicycle ride to travel), I never felt anything less than 100% safe.
There are so many little things I miss about Japan. I miss the toilets that never clogged and the bidets that came with them. I miss the karaoke boxes, where you could abscond with a few close friends and star in your very own concert. I miss the shochu, a distilled beverage that when mixed with carbonated water and some flavoring makes the awesome chuhai, easily my favorite alcoholic beverage ever. I miss the traditional foods made fast and convenient, the huge bowls of ramen, the sushi bars with conveyor belts, the tonkatsu restaurants, the yakitori and the yakinuku. I miss local trains and how easy it was to get from place to place without having to get into a car. I miss the cherry blossoms and the red maple leaves. I miss the sight of Mt. Fuji from my front door. I miss the friends I made, the students I enjoyed teaching.
I miss the innocence I had in Japan. I realize that’s probably a big part of it. I knew so little of grief and bereavement then; I knew nothing of loss. It doesn’t seem to matter that Japan was where Lauren died. It was where she was conceived, where we dreamed of our lives with her in it. It’s no wonder that I associate Japan with happiness and contentment. Since returning to the States, life has been about wanting what we can’t have, about missing our daughter and learning to live life without her. It’s hard to imagine how life in Japan would be now, without her.
It would be nice to go back someday, even if just for a visit. But I get the feeling that, if we went for a visit, we would just want to stay. It would be so hard to resist.
This morning, at approximately 7:05 am, I wrote the 50,000th word of my Nanowrimo project.
It was “and.”
Not a very inspiring or interesting word, but that’s okay. It was the winning word.
To win at Nanowrimo is a simple thing. It just takes 50,000 words. 50,000 words of anything, any story, as long as they were written in the month of November of the current year. That’s all. It doesn’t matter what you write: romance, historical, mainstream, science fiction, mystery, whatever. I’ve known people who wrote 50,000 words of poetry or fan-fiction or memoir. The idea is to write, to write every day, to develop daily writing habits.
For a couple of years, I did write daily. In 2010, I slacked off, a lot. I went whole weeks without writing more than a thousand words. Call it a slump.
I think I’ve broken through that. I hope I have. I intend to at least attempt to make sure that I have. I wrote every day this November. I didn’t always meet the daily goal (1667 words), but I did at least sit down and try to write.
And it felt good. Even though I don’t really like what I’ve got written. I sat down with an idea, and I did a lot of writing this month without knowing what direction I was going. But that’s okay. I think I figured it out along the way. But this story needs a lot more plotting work, a lot more development along the lines of what’s happening when. It’s all a mash right now, a jumble. But at least now I have a murderer for my murder mystery. And other suspects. I’m still not one hundred percent sure on how (accidental homicide? intentional?) but at least I know the why. And I learned a whole lot about my main character, my sleuth. For one thing, she’s several years older than I originally thought, closer to 40 than 30. She’s also got a more interesting history than I had expected. She can be a very complicated woman. I’ve come to like her more this month.
Even so, I’m going to shelve this book for now and go back to its predecessor from my 2009 Nanowrimo project. The first murder mystery featuring this sleuth of mine. A story that now has about 90,000 words to it, not all of them good. It’s got some promise, though, and I’d like to see it make something of itself.
So, I’m going to take a break for the weekend and do some Christmas preparation and maybe get the house a little organized. And then, come Monday, I’ll sit down with that 2009 project and get to editing. It needs a good bout of editing. It also needs a lot more writing done – there are big breaks in the narrative that need to be filled in, and other parts that need a little more research to make them fleshier. The ultimate goal, of course, is to mold it into a workable draft and maybe then into a manuscript, something with real promise to it.
I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, I know. But I rediscovered just how much I love writing this month. I intend to keep it up.
Happy writing, folks! Keep the words flowing.