Often there's a wind up clock in my thoughts that re-lives the day that I moved from Fukushima. What would've happened if I had decided to go surfing after work that day?
The morning started with strawberries. That is what the memory brings up. Fresh, red, juicy giants that were served in a bowl. It is how I like to remember the day, believing that the many that passed that day were greeted with an endless supply of those fresh strawberries when they moved on from this existence and into the next. It was graduation day for all the students in my town. It was also the first day that my friend Victoria, who was a teacher that lived closest to me, would experience her first graduation. When she had moved to the coast I had felt it of paramount importance that she be introduced to Hirono Drive Inn. Many things had made sense to me when I had opened up the sliding door of that restaurant when I had discovered it and I wanted her to know as well. First, we learn, and then it seems we teach so we can learn again in a different way. Victoria had fallen in love with the restaurant as I had and she had talents which I did not have. By this point in the story, I was eating plant-based and felt quite bad that the "Okasan" couldn't feed me some of the dishes. Victoria, on the other hand, could eat everything and so it made for a perfect situation. We had by this point formed a warm relationship with some of the soccer players and would meet regularly. They were very kind and now I can only wonder where they are currently. Victoria has let me know that they are in touch, but I still hope to meet them someplace crazy in the world. Relationships seem to be built on food sometimes I have found. On the day of March 11th I swung by Victoria's apartment and said hello to her cat and we headed for the restaurant. We were both dressed in graduation attire and were eagerly awaiting the commencement of the ceremonies that would come. It was there that we both feasted on strawberries and were both surprised of the rare bounty that day. The breakfast spread was fantastic as usual and I still long for the breakfast that I was able to enjoy there. We then left but, that was not the last time that I would visit that restaurant.
After a filling breakfast, I dropped Victoria off at the school and drove the coastal road up to my middle school letting the light blue sea blow cool air into a fresh day and put cheery colors to white breakers that sipped into shore. I pulled into the school parking lot to the sound of a Beatles song. Lately, the middle students were being welcomed in by the Beatles. I believe "Yesterday" was playing. Everyone was in high spirits when I arrived. The air was cold and crisp, and the sky was a light blue. I was reminded of the Regina Spector lyric that "The sky was indeed the sweater of the sea" that day. Heaters were needed in the gymnasium where the ceremony would take place. There was a big red carpet that was rolled up to the stage and all the students filed in wearing their clean dark blue graduation attire. The parents gathered in the back and soon everything grew silent and the only sound was the steady drone of the heaters pumping in warm air into a crisp cold room. The teachers such as myself sat on the outside hunched in with a black piano. The songs were always beautiful and each song had a purpose. It seemed that the 2nd years would sing a song to the 3rd year students wishing them luck. It was a big transitory experience. The graduating class would then sing a song back to the students that were preparing to move to being third-year students. It was amazing to me how much responsibility was put onto middle school students. Middle school had been a growth card for me as well, but it could not be compared to the level of maturity that was expected of the students in the middle school that I taught at in Naraha and in Japan in general. School was family for the students and so the transitory periods were seen as having to leave a family. It seemed that for many, parenting was less of a role of the actual parents and more of a responsibility of the educational facilities within the town itself. Although I spent four years working in both middle schools and later high schools in Japan, I felt that I only glimpsed at the governing role that each school represented and strived to fulfill for each student that was in attendance. Was there a genetic influence on the parenting role that new Japanese mainlanders had to face when they immigrated to America in the 1900's? I now can only be quite curious.
The Principal or Kocho Sensei would often stand up in front between songs and present various formalities. I understood some of what he said, but still most of it continued to be a more close observation of body language and physical reaction rather than a thought reaction to the words themselves. Each of the students was called up and various rewards were handed out. In this way, it was quite close to my high school graduation. The kids finished by walking outside the gym following the principal and then they filed out on the road. All the teachers and parents gathered then and paid their respects to one another. Everyone was in very high spirits that day and at that moment.
The next part that I will explain is hard to explain. As I write this, a wind starts up outside my window and I wonder if today I am allowed to get this out on paper and to the readers. There's been many other writers that have written about that day. It was very hard for me to do so. There were so many times that I have been ready with a computer icon blinking and the words did not come. The memory didn't like being shared. I had my video camera in my hand from the graduation ceremony, but for some reason never turned it on until a few days later. Sometimes I wonder if everything actually happened. It would be a moment that let me know in a different way what life was. It was also a moment that had me question "Why me... Why did I survive?" "What decides that life is over for so many?"
After the ceremony, being plant-based meant that I did not eat with the teachers as they had ordered plates that were hard to make vegetarian. I felt bad about this and had felt about it many times previous as well. I felt I was in someway resisting Japanese culture or perhaps not fulfilling my job duty in a way, but I couldn't help it. My values at the time were set. They would still be set in that way today as I write this. I think I would've had to take the same path that day. Later I would see this trait of mine as very Japanese itself and I notice it even now and the discipline it commands for dark or for light, but either way, it comes from an innocent place. The decision comes from logic and bases itself on a concept of a black and white right and wrong, although I am now aware that life is not necessarily logical. I will explain more later.
I headed in my car up to the Thai restaurant near Tomioka, which was about a ten-minute drive and that day the place was in very high spirits as well and they gave me extra servings of the dish I ordered. I then headed back down the road back to the school as they were having a graduation cake in the teachers' office. I wanted to at least be part of that. I showed up and everyone was lively. I was given a piece of cake and everybody started to eat the cake. Enei Sensei had said that I could go home quite early that day. There was my surf board on my car. It was a cold day, but the ocean was calling me. Right before 4pm, I could leave and then a regular Japan earthquake started. They happened all the time on the coast. We would be teaching or sleeping and the ground would shake. I was to play a show that night in Iwaki with Dan too and my guitar was in my car and the car I knew was shaking right along with me at that point. The earthquake continued though and everyone exchanged nervous smiles that slowly turned to silence as the tremors grew larger increasing and not stopping and then everything continued and everyone moved underneath their desks as realms were being pushed that had not been pushed before. The sounds continued and the roof could've fallen. The sky could've fallen for that matter I think. TV's and heavy things fell off their places upstairs and life became my heart at that moment beating over and over and many things were silent despite the fact that there was noise. Each recollection of thought spit out "This is happening" and it did it over again replaying again like a broken record player, a needle darting back and forth measuring the seismic waves of music incorrectly. In some ways, it was very peaceful as all human function could focus on only that. There was no comparing status to others. There were no memories of the past or regrets. "Should I be vegetarian?" was the one that often popped into my thoughts at that time period and it was not there. There was just the fact that life could in the near future end or continue. Everybody was living that adventure at that point in their own way. I doubt anyone was thinking what they were going to have for dinner that evening. That thought was not there. Everyone was in the present for five minutes straight. For that time the shaking continued and then it drew to be less and then it stopped like the end of a thunderstorm with dark clouds slowly moving farther away into a gentle rumble. Then everything was silent. In all actuality, it wasn't. There was a new school going up outside our window and the machinery was still on and beeping and whirring, but in the room everything was quiet and then we all moved out of the school and out onto the street. The pavement was cracked in half and the sea stretched out far below seemingly unawakened. I was given permission to go back to my house and check on my things. School was to resume the next day. I drove home and then opened my door and then closed it. It seemed inhabitable. The smell of spilled food crept in and shards of glass were everywhere. I took a broom and started sweeping glass up from the entry way, but I somehow had the feeling that I would never sleep there again. Fifteen minutes past and then it started to snow. It was a soft snow of flakes that seemed to want to land as gently as possible, to be as kind as possible. "This couldn't have happened any other way" they seemed to speak. I wanted to help or do something or get information. My town at that point was a mystery. I walked down the road to the board of education and a giant crack flowed down the main hall way where a giant bag of rice usually stood. Inside many dials were beeping and all the staff that I usually saw were scrambling around. I wanted to help, but there was nothing to do. At that moment stepping in there seemed to be a hinderance to the system. I got in my car and drove up to the plateau that looked over onto the coast and when I arrived there was many gathered watching waves roll up into the bottom part of the town and take houses away as if they were kids toys. So easily everything was taken, as if sheets of paper were walls and roofs and people. The water advanced almost all the way to the Elementary school, but it did not reach in that far. Some of my students were there with me on the plateau in tears. I looked out and was silent. This was something much larger than an earthquake I suddenly realized. At that moment I got on Skype, which somehow worked at that spot and at that time and dialed my Dad in the U.S. He answered with a tired answer as it was 2:30 am in the morning in Colorado. I told him to turn on his TV and then we were disconnected and I would not reach them for the next 48 hours at least.