Monthly Archives: August 2013

Quake

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Approx. 2:30pm

I’m chatting with my mom over Facebook, attempting to convince her in the most electronically reassuring tone possible that I am, in fact, very much alive. We did feel the earthquake, but up here in Sapporo, we’re well removed from the ensuing tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown.

My husband and I were eating at a popular second-floor soup curry shop with our Japanese friends when we felt the quake. Derek’s legs jiggled compulsively under our lunch table, so at first it didn’t concern me that my soup was mimicking a scene from Jurassic Park. Not until he said, “Is the whole building shaking?” with a nervous laugh.

Outside, lampposts wavered precariously in the street. Iron fixtures and concrete foundations never felt so unreliable as in the moment Naoki told us that we were experiencing our first Japanese earthquake. He and Yurika were excited for us, taking pictures of our bemused faces. Then they eyed each other and frowned.

“This is lasting too long,” said Yurika, her lower lip puckered out in confusion.

My heart raced and I gulped in deep breaths of air to slow it down. A waiter came out and turned on a small TV mounted to a wall. A multi-colored map of the country lit up the screen, red indicating the greatest damage. The earthquake’s epicenter had reached a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter Scale (the highest being 10.0), and here in Sapporo we’d felt a 3.0.

I’d underestimated the lack of control that an earthquake can elicit. The lack of anywhere to go–whether inside or out, higher up or underground–where you can’t feel the shaking. There’s nothing to grab hold of to steady yourself. Feet are unreliable.

The aftershocks lasted for hours; the first of which we felt from inside a nearby Pachinko Parlor. The cacophony of slot machines cycling thousands of little metal balls through their thick groves of pins, the TVs at full volume declaring public transit closures, and the rumbling echo of exposed heating vents, did little to disguise the reality that dozens of people just lost their balance at the same time.

With an uncharacteristic scowl, Naoki left to catch a train back home to Chitose. The rest of us decided to do the same, boarding a jam-packed shuttle through the city.

In Yurika’s apartment, I sit next to her grieving family as we watch the helmeted news anchors update us on the death toll; thousands are missing, nine hundred (the number growing by the minute) are confirmed dead. Aftershocks will likely continue for months.

An entire country has felt this disaster–in their homes and in their hearts. I suddenly feel as though I’ve overstayed my welcome. It seems inappropriate to be American in this time and place. I can escape; I can cross the ocean to where radiation isn’t an immediate threat to my well-being. Where many people haven’t even heard of the tragedy, let alone succumbed to it.

Derek wants to stay and help with the recovery efforts. But how? And is it practical? At times like this, family matters most; and in their minds the most helpful thing we can do is return to them in safety.

Friday, Mar. 11th, 2011

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Albuquerque to Phoenix

bus-seats

The Greyhound permeates an undefinable smell–a sweaty blend of passengers and stained seats, all in varying states of cleanliness. Some of us have been traveling for four days. My trip should be over in two.

Across the aisle is a longhaired man wearing a borderline-pornographic T-shirt. He’s in his late twenties and clutching the hand of the woman beside him. They don matching track marks and speak to each other in hushed tones.

An hour later I wake from a half-nap to the sound of a low, agonizing moan and the stomping of feet. I look over at the longhaired man whose head now rests in his hands. His knees bounce rhythmically as if propelled by tiny trampolines–the apparent signs of withdrawal–and I hope, for his sake, that his trip is shorter than mine.

July 2007


Bowling and Beyond

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Goleta, CA

It was midnight when we decided to go bowling. The only open alley was over thirty miles away but Scott, Andy, and I were bored enough to make the drive, with or without the guarantee of a lane.

As we pulled into the Zodo’s parking lot, I saw a jagged neon sign, glowing purple and gold with promises of late-night good times. The place was packed. Andy grumbled under his breath, parked the car, and then led the way into the night club-style bowling alley.

Inside, the hip-hop was loud, intoxicating. College students swarmed the bar and tables like flies to fresh road kill. Top-heavy girls wore slinky blouses and short jean skirts. Heels added height. Bracelets: a touch of glam. One twenty-something in a low-cut tank bent in the direction of a tan blonde boy. Everyone was carefree and reckless. These were the best times of their lives.

Scott ordered a drink and slid in between two girls too young to yet understand his game. Andy and I changed our shoes and alternated playing Scott’s turn. Scott won.

More bored than before we arrived, Andy and I peeled Scott off a spray-tanned brunette–him swearing he’d find a ride if only we’d leave him there. He relented after a smoke, and we drove home in silence with our windows open to the arid summer night, each of us defeated by our respective weekend expectations.

June 2006


The Vineyard Owner

New Zealand

Waiheke Island, NZ

The vineyard owner lived under a corrugated tin roof with his young son. Sheet metal and two-by-fours served as their home. Insects scuttled through the three-inch crack between sliding door and wall—where at night, a rusty padlock hung.

Their house resembled a makeshift shed from the outside, and from the inside it looked much the same. The walls and floors were bare. No paint, no rugs. A wooden divider separated the kitchen from the main room where the man and his son sat with their stew dinner watching Pirates of the Caribbean on TV, getting up for seconds during commercials.

They didn’t mind the dirt and spiders in the shower. They didn’t mind waiting for the ferry when supplies ran low. Life was simple, and they were happy.

Jan. 2009