~Journal of the day the Japan Tsunami hit~
May 11, 2011 started like any normal day, but I remember all the details perfectly unlike any other. I’d biked to school with my older brother, Yuuto. It was beautiful out and the cherry blossoms were still in bloom, which was unusual for that time of year. I wasn’t very interested in the trees though. I’d raced inside ahead of Yuuto, slowing down once in the hall and walking to my locker looking around for Sumire, my best friend. I wanted to tell her about my birthday that was coming up and how my parents had said we could have a sleepover. I changed my shoes to my school slippers and bounced on my toes, then I saw her. She bounded through the front doors grinning and clenching her sticker book. She waved it over her head as she charged over to me, her short black hair bouncing around her face.
“Look!” She’d shouted at me, shoving the book in my hand and flipping it to a new page. She always made the pages decorative and usually placed a photo, a note, or a pressed flower in it. This particular page featured a picture of a girl, about a year old, in a Kimono.
Cho is Sumire’s cousin and the absolute cutest thing. Several other girls came over and squealed “Kawai” with me.
Sumire giggled and stuffed the book into her locker with her shoes rather than put it in her backpack. “I can’t wait to see her next week.”
As we walked to our homeroom, I told her about my birthday plans. Then, for the next few hours, the normal day’s activities commenced…. until the room began shaking.
Earthquakes, they never cease to terrify me, even more so now. This is the only moment I don’t remember clearly as I was frozen in fear. I’d never been in an earthquake so strong before. I suppose someone told us to get under our desks because Sumire grabbed my arm and dragged me to the ground. It didn’t stop shaking. Someone screamed and several girls cried. I thought it would never end. Then it finally stopped. I continued clutching the legs of my desk until I heard someone say it was alright.
When I stood, I noticed a huge crack in the ceiling. Dust was already sprinkling from it.
Sumire tapped my shoulder and pulled me into the evacuation line. We moved smoothly out onto the park where we all stood anxiously. I observed the other buildings nearby noticing one that had fallen, its red tile roof slanted in and scattered across the street. I looked around for Yuuto, but I couldn’t see him.
I’ve never been so afraid in my life as I was March 11th. Sumire tried calling her mom and dad and I texted my grandpa, but we never got to check for replies in all the running that came after. More earthquakes took place as we were led in an orderly but prompt fashion to higher ground, a nearby shrine. As we hiked up to the temple, other people from the town started joining us and parents began searching for their kids.
At the top, Sumire and I huddled together near a stone sculpture of a komainu and watched the other kids huddle into groups of friends. I finally spotted Yuuto who was running toward me. The ground rumbled again, shaking petals from the trees recklessly, just as he reached me. We stood there, looking over the city for several minutes and watching the stairs as people climbed up them. We noticed many houses were already caving and it looked like some power lines had fallen. Off in the distance there was smoke. I couldn’t have felt more suffocated with fear than if I’d been standing in that smoke myself.
It was some relief to see Sumire’s mom appear in the train of people. All three of us ran up to her. Many parents argued with teachers about whether to stay here or drive away.
I asked Yuuto if we were high enough. He promised we were. I watched Sumire and her mother leave and get into their car; it was then that I noticed it: houses disappearing in a blackish-brown haze in the distance. Silence came quickly among us at the shrine as more noticed it rushing toward us. Rushing isn’t even the right word for how it moved. It wiped houses flat in mere seconds as it hurtled closer.
I looked down at the road where cars were being scooped up and rolled amongst its debris like clothing in a washing machine, except it wasn’t cleaning. I looked desperately for Sumire’s car. I saw it. I saw it… right as the wave swallowed it. I screamed, but it didn’t stop. It leapt its way up toward us. Its muddy mass foamed like a rabid beast flicking its claws upward, it devoured everything… and roared as it did so.
Yuuto pulled me away as the water reached where we were, sweeping at out feet. We ran further up into the shrine; I saw some people lose their footing and they were sucked into the dark mass.
Yuuto and I huddled together under the bell amongst hundreds of others as the water swept beneath us dragging wood, rent metal, bodies… I closed my eyes and sobbed as I held onto Yuuto. He hugged me close, but I could still hear it. It sounded like the monster it appeared to be.
The water receded for a bit, but we didn’t consider ourselves safe. Everyone climbed higher up. I didn’t watch when a second wave rushed over, sweeping away the shrine. People were not silent anymore. I heard kids screaming and crying, calling for their parents. I heard mothers singing softly trying to keep their own horror from their voice. I heard teachers calling out names frantically, trying to make sure all the kids were still there. I heard the sound of the bell from the shrine being left by the wave, clanging against itself and the ground. I wished I couldn’t hear.
We stayed there for hours. It was cold. It smelled terrible, like salt and sewage. When we finally were told it was safe to go down, I was terrified. Yuuto kept his hand over my shoulder and I kept both arms wrapped around him as we went down the soggy slopes with our classes. When we made it back to the school, it was clear it could not be used for a shelter. Large sections had collapsed. Buildings in the area had seemingly vanished leaving only wood and mud and warped metal, many that still stood looked ready to collapse, some houses looked as if they had been turned upside down, and some burned. I wondered how they could possibly burn when they’d been pounded by the ocean.
I pulled out my phone and noticed there had been a message from grandpa before the tsunami hit. I wondered if he had made it to higher ground like he said he was heading to. I tried to message but there was no service. Yuuto squeezed me tight and when I looked up at him I could see the same fear written on his face that I saw in the other people around me. Some were covered in mud, bleeding, holding broken limbs, crying. Many held phones trying to call people but finding themselves out of luck just as I had.
Yuuto and I sat on a soggy mattress that had been swept into the schoolyard, if that was indeed what it was. One wouldn’t know by the piles of trash that had been caught by the fence. A car that was bent in two lied beside a uprooted tree as if the roots had been the vise like paws of an enormous creature. I saw a hand hanging from the car’s shattered window. I swallowed hard and wondered if it was possible that Sumire and her mother had survived. I wondered if we would ever see grandpa again. I wondered where we would go. I wondered how so much could change… It had been just a normal day.
I wonder if all disasters start like that.
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