The day my world started shaking

I’ve started and stopped writing this since the beginning of June.  The earthquakes happened on April 14th and 16th… When I think back to those days I still get emotionally caught up in what happened.  I’m almost to the three month mark since the big quake happened and I’m still sleeping on the floor with the light near my door on every night.

I’m hoping talking about it, detailing everything that happened and leaving nothing out will bring me some sort of catharsis.

So, here goes nothing… The day my world started shaking…

It started off the same way every other evening did.  As soon as 9:16 rolls around I head out of work and make my way home.  I work in downtown Kumamoto, so I take the B-Line tram home to Shinmachi.  I headed over to the tram stop, just enough time to get into line when the B-Line tram pulled in.  I hopped up, scanning my monthly pass and taking a seat.  Since the B-Line goes towards North Kumamoto station not many people use it at night.

We headed off for the next stop, Kumamoto Castle and City Hall.  I smiled at the guy sitting across the tram from me as we sat at the Kumamoto Castle stop for what seemed like a long time.  Finally, the conductor said ‘Thank you for waiting, we’re going now’ and this loud rumble echoed through the tram and it began to shake.  At the time, I thought that the tram was broken, but then the shaking got more violent and we were rocking back and forth.  It felt like at one point we were going to tip over.  In the middle of the confusion, with ladies screaming and my heart pounding, my phone started yelling at me.

地震です。地震です。

(Earthquake! Earthquake!)

Little did I know at the time that those words would be my constant companion for the next two days.  As my phone started shouting I rolled my eyes and said to myself, ‘I know.’

As the quake subsided, I sat on the tram with other people, confused, but not too stressed out.  In terms of earthquakes I had experienced before (two baby ones in Fukuoka and one in Osaka) this was clearly larger, but I didn’t realize at the time just how large it was.  We looked around at each other, nervous smiles on our faces, listening to the conductor.  At first, it seemed as if the tram would move soon, so I stayed seated, waiting to head home.  After about five minutes he said the tram wouldn’t be going anywhere and told us all we’d have to get off.  I exchanged another smile with the guy across from me, who reassured me everything was alright as I got off the tram before heading off into the night.

While I was on the tram I started to receive a flurry of messages.  As more and more people messaged me to check in (about 40!) I gradually came to realize that this was a lot worse than what I had first thought.  The earthquake happened at 9:26, by 9:27 my trainer had already messaged me, asking if I was ok.  As countless more messages came in, I felt the worry begin to set in.  I started to move through the city, and saw a ton more people than usual.  Everyone was walking around confused and looking at the damage, trying to figure out a way to get home.  Transportation had stopped, 100+ people were stranded outside the bus center, and hundreds more were on trains and trams and couldn’t go anywhere.

I tried to get in touch with my co-workers, but neither of them have mobile data.  So, I started to walk home, getting more nervous as I walked down the street.

When I saw this picture was when it really hit me that this was a very powerful and damaging earthquake:

The sidewalk trying to pull apart.

The sidewalk was trying to pull apart as the fault lines moved.  There were spots like this all over the city.

I finally got ahold of one of my co-workers and we decided to meet up for a drink because we had experienced our first major earthquake.  She had been at the convenience store, checking out when the quake hit.  She didn’t know what to do, so she held onto the counter, locking eyes with the screaming Lawson employee across from her.  Others in the store darted for the doorway as wine bottles crashed, splintering their sweet nectar all over the floor.  “Not the 赤ワイン” became one of the phrases we used in the coming days, lamenting about all of the spilled wine we saw everywhere.

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Vertigo

It starts with a rumble, in some places a loud boom.  Before you know it, everything around you is violently shaking.

It seems to last for hours, but really it’s only 30-40 seconds.  Dozens of aftershocks follow, strong, but not as big as the first one.

It’s the middle of the night, sleep wants to claim you but the fear keeps you awake.  Socks still settle against the soles of your feet, waiting in case of a midnight dash.

And it happens.

You sit up, phone clutched in your hand as your world begins to tilt.  How strong is it going to be?  Bigger than the one yesterday?

You get to your feet and bam, the whole apartment starts to sway.  Everything is a jumbled mess.  Things you had picked up from the first earthquake are back on the floor, strewn about in a wild mess.

Your head finds the edge of the table, knocking you senseless but not  unconscious.  You can hear everyone’s voices in your head: Get to the table, Get to the door.

Where do you go?  Everything is fuzzy now, all you know is that you need to get out of there.  You make your move to the door, forgetting the bag you packed only an hour before.  Thankfully, the lights are still on.

Everything around you is vibrating, you can’t stay on your feet… Your head hurts so bad you’re sure that it’s bleeding… now you’re just waiting for the blood to drip into your vision.

Somehow, you reach the doorway, but not unscathed.  Days later, you won’t remember the details, everything has a dark haze around it.  You think the bathroom door handle gave you the wicked bruise on your hip.  Maybe it was the box by the doorway that got your foot.  But your arm, with the giant bruise and shredded muscles, that you have absolutely no recollection of.

In the doorway, you dare a glance back into your home.  Everything is moving, you can see the doorway twisting and turning.  Everything is flying around like some sort of Tasmanian devil has entered your apartment.

The lights go out, and you know, more than anything, that darkness terrifies you.  Somehow you manage to grab your shoes, so many people have told you over the last day to get closed toe shoes and to be careful of glass, and race out the door.  The initial quake has stopped, but the ground is already gearing up for a nasty aftershock.  With speed you didn’t know you had, you race to your co-workers door.  You’re screaming and crying, worried about their safety and afraid for your own life.

After what feels like an agonizing wait, he wrenches the door open and throws you under the table.  For the first time since it happened, you feel safe.  But then the reality of the situation hits you.  Everything hurts, the world won’t stop shaking and before it happened, this uncontrollable fear gripped your heart.  If you had listened to it, had gone and stayed with someone else, you wouldn’t have been alone and you probably wouldn’t have gotten injured.  Looking back in hindsight, you’re terrified and angry at yourself for being so vulnerable and unprepared.

Even a week later, you’re still terrified, even though you’re in another city and the aftershocks don’t always reach you here.  But when they do, that terror grips your body and brings back every memory.  You can’t be alone at night.  You have trouble even being alone during the door.  Every time you’re alone, you have to fight back the tears.  You remember the feeling, the shaking, the terror that gripped you and won’t let go, even now.  Sometimes, in the dark of the night, while he slumbers peacefully next to you, the throbbing of your own heart sends you into a fit of terror.  Every thing feels like it’s moving and you wonder if maybe one day every thing will stop, or if this is the new normal.  You’re life is now a constant vertigo.

I wasn’t going to post this here, as you know I have a creative writing blog.  But this is something really important to me.  One day, I’ll post the full story, maybe when it’s not so painful for me to remember, because even now it terrifies me. 

But I was in the Kumamoto Earthquakes 2016.  I did survive.  I was injured and have been dealing with the resulting concussion and the PTSD that it brings afterwards.  I am terrified to go back to the city I had been falling in loving with.  But I will find the courage and strength to go back