When tragedy strikes, we all have our own story to tell. Growing up my mother often told the story of sitting in her high school class and listening to the announcement over the loudspeaker that President Kennedy had been shot. I was playing 8 track tapes in my basement bedroom when John Lennon was shot. When the first plane flew into the World Trade Center, I was busy trying out for the club tennis team. And when the 9.0 earthquake shook Japan, I was getting the grey out of my hair at Gold Salon in Azabu Juban, a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Tom was on the 31st floor of the JP Morgan building, Hayden was in Chemistry class at ASIJ, Sophie and Annie were under their desks at Tokyo International school not far from the Tokyo Tower. We all have a story to tell. Unfortunately this one is just beginning and will most likely have many different endings.
Gold Salon is on the 6th floor of a small office building, with the street side wall comprised of a sheet of glass. My appointment was for 3pm and I was a few minutes early, hoping to get in and out quickly as the girls and I had tickets to see Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I had on the plastic slicker and was just getting out my kindle when the earthquake hit at 2:46pm. Earthquakes and tremors are the norm in Tokyo and I was waiting for it to end – usually they only last for a few seconds. But this one continued. And it grew in intensity. Shelves came off the walls and hair products went flying. A glass vase with flowers tipped over, Starbucks coffee cups spilled on end. The baby in the lap of the woman next to me started screaming. The six of us in the salon followed Howard the owner, outside to the metal fire escape stairs. At first I didn’t want to move but quickly realized i’d be alone in the salon if I didn’t. We flew down those stairs as fast as possible. I felt bad for the women who had the dye in their hair. The baby continued to scream. I tried calling Tom and Hayden and the girls. Over and over again. No calls would get through. Outside on the ground, there were throngs of people just standing there looking up at the glass building wondering what to do. Traffic was still moving. I thought everyone had lost their minds. Things calmed down a bit and we went back up into the building thinking it was over. The employees started to clean up the mess. And then the first of the aftershocks hit. I ripped off the plastic sheet, grabbed my bag, took off my high heels and dashed back down. I ran through the streets knowing I had to make it back to my apartment. My building was brand new and it was only 4 stories tall. I knew I would be safest there and my kids would come looking for me if they could. I ran in my socks, as people in the street stood there watching me – like I was the crazy one. They just stood there. What were they waiting for? I thought my lungs were going to burst out of my chest I ran so hard. And I made it home, and into my apartment to find…nothing wrong. The only things that had fallen were Hayden’s trophies from his shelf. I turned on the television and started to watch the event unfold. I texted Tom, I face booked Hayden. I emailed Tokyo International School. Pretty quickly I heard from Tom telling me he was all right and made it down 31 flights. Hayden face booked back to say he had been evacuated to the football field and he was fine. No word from Sophie or Annie or their school. I sat on the floor next to my bed and cried. I cried for my children and my husband and my home. I cried for the life I loved and thought forever changed. I knew things would not likely be the same again. About 15 minutes later the door crashed open and Sophie and Annie came running, screaming for me. We hugged and cried and the relief was overwhelming. Not knowing what was coming next, we decided to find our friends in the building and stick together. A few hours later, Tom made it home – he walked. It took him awhile. Hayden’s bus had to take the back roads as they shut the highways down. He got home 7 hours after the bus left the school. We spent a shaky weekend catching our breath between aftershocks and trying to make plans. Should we stay or should we go? It was a really tough decision but when the schools cancelled class for the week, we decided it was a good time to go. Tom stayed behind to deal with the opening of the Tokyo Stock Exchange the Monday morning following the quake. We made our way to Bali a week earlier than we expected. We are safe and together but we are missing Tom. And we are sad for our adopted country and we are wondering what comes next in our story.
Hence the asterisk.
Please consider making a donation to one of these organizations which have been deemed most reliable by The American School in Japan: Japan Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Global Vision, and Global Giving and International Medical Corps.
*Everyone has a story – if you were in Japan during the earthquake please leave yours as a post.