Shaken

How do you even start writing about something like that? I know what it means to me, but it seems wrong to even begin to express it. What happened here was really nothing in comparison. I feel like I’m being disrespectful to the tens of thousands of people who died.

Dr. Suess doesn’t have a clever reader for me to fall back on, a la Happy Birthday to You, or Oh, The Places You’ll Go.

But I guess I have to go there at some time or another; it may as well be now.

March 11, 2011 at the Hamakko house started sometime around midnight. Me First’s fever was peaking at 40.4C. That’s like 105F. At the time it seemed like about a trillion.4. When the thermometer beeped, I rubbed my eyes, thinking (hoping) I was seeing it wrong. Of course I had no idea, in the literal heat of the moment, that this was the peak. My first instinct was to cry for my mother. That panicky sh!t won’t fly, though, when you’re the only adult in the house with a very sick child and a healthy one besides. So I pulled it together somehow, considered my options. Shave his head? Ice bath? These were extreme fever reducing measures I’d heard of somewhere. Ended up consulting Dr. Google, stripping the boy down and giving him a sponge bath until his fever dipped slightly, then inserting a fever reducer torpedo in the back door.

He was so sick he didn’t protest very much. This was good. I could no longer hold him down, and that medicine had to go in or it would mean another ambulance ride.

We spent the morning at the doctor. I dropped off his prescription at the pharmacy on the way home, telling them I’d be back later to pick it up. We had lunch. Me First fell asleep on the baby futon I’d laid out in the living room, where it was warmer. Sister was watching a video. “Now’s my chance,” I thought, and dashed out the door, ran down three flights of stairs, and flew as fast as my feet would carry me the fifty or so meters to the pharmacy. I was gone maybe two minutes. I came home.

2:30.

“I should take the garbage out,” I thought. But then I figured I’d already pushed my luck by running out of the house like that unnoticed once that day. By now both children were dozing in the living room. I laid down in a sunny spot in the bedroom just behind them, and picked up a book.

It had been such a miserable week, full of sick and fever and more sick. I wanted to relish one peaceful moment before I had to go back to the trenches of snacks and dinners and medicines and arguments and “I had it first!”

Funny how you remember this stuff. Normal details, memorable only because they proceeded what was next.

Around 2:45, the house started to sway. Earthquakes are common. I wasn’t alarmed at first. I put down my book, assessing the need to take action and risk waking my (finally!) napping children. It wasn’t much of a shaker. I picked up my book again. About ten seconds later, though, I thought, “Man, this is long.” I got up to go the living room, but as soon as I took a step the house began to lurch and shudder beneath my feet. I couldn’t stand. The children woke up and began to whimper. I walked/crawled into the living room, calling for them to come get under the low table we keep there. There was a box with art supplies underneath it that I pushed out of the way.

I keep it clear there now.

The kids got under the table just as things began falling off shelves. The TV and computer screen looked like someone was doing that “rubber pencil” trick with them. Only it wasn’t very funny. I ran to open and stop the front door. I closed the doors leading to the kitchen, hoping to prevent broken glass from preventing our escape.

At some point while the house was still shaking, my mother-in-law ran in, all panic.

NOT helpful.

The ground gave a final shudder and a sigh, and things were still. We turned on the TV, cause that’s what you do here. A few seconds later we felt the first aftershock. The rest of the day was a mess of running between pushing the children under the table and checking the news. I heard the words “tsunami” and “magnitude nine,” but honestly all I could see from the rolling news tape at the bottom of the screen was “Tokyo Bay-0.5-1m.”

That was a lot for Tokyo Bay. But not enough for us to be in any danger.

The earthquake had flipped a safety switch on the gas. I realized at the same time both that it wouldn’t come on, and that I didn’t know how to reset it. No gas meant no heat, no cooking, and no hot water. It was a cold night; that wouldn’t do. I ran next door to ask my neighbor (kids were with MIL. I was NOT considering leaving them now, even for a second.) Her husband came and turned it back on for me. Turns out I also needed to turn off all the gas connections inside the house to reset the main meter. I didn’t know where they were, as they were not in plain site. Stupid thing not to know. How 1950s girly of me.

About this time I happened to look out the window. The twilight sky was brown and dusty from stirred up earth and debris, etched by smoke in the distance. I closed the curtains, as much for myself as for the children and MIL.

She went home to wait for her son and husband. They didn’t make it home that night. Trains weren’t running, and BIL gave up walking to southern Yokohama from Shinbashi sometime around Shibuya, I think. Ironic that his grandfather managed to make the same walk in 1923, home from a different office after a different earthquake. FIL was playing golf in Chiba. What should have been a three hour trip ended up taking him a whole day, piecing together buses, taxis, and trains when he could, hoofing it on 68 year-old feet when he couldn’t. When he finally got home, he went straight to bed and slept for twenty-four hours straight.

HRH was in California. Always late to the party.

I don’t think anyone in Eastern Japan got any sleep that first night. After an hour or two, I felt like I was seasick. I’d heard of aftershocks before, and I understood the mechanism behind them well enough I guess, but I hadn’t realized that they would be so strong and damn near constant.

It wasn’t until I saw the news the next morning that I realized there had been such a big tsunami. I don’t think I’ve completely realized the scope of the disaster even now. I’ve been caught up in the minutiae.

Now I see I can’t finish this in one post, and that I can’t write it all without kind of disconnecting from it. I’ll write more tomorrow. Right now I need a beer.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kym
    Mar 11, 2012 @ 21:10:43

    Yokohama kept power? It was off pretty much straight away in Kamakura. What a horrible time. And through it all I felt guilty about being so panicky, when people up North were putting up with much worse.

    Reply

    • hamakkomommy
      Mar 11, 2012 @ 22:26:35

      The guilt, right? I felt it, too, and it’s made me reluctant to talk about any of this. Our neighborhood in Yokohama had power. Other places were not so lucky.

      Reply

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