Monday, June 27, 2011

Living As We Can - A Year in Fukushima #11

The narrow passageway inside the front door showed a familiar scene. On the table, a miniature camel from Morocco and my son’s last paper and crayon pre-school project. On the opposite wall, pictures from Vietnam in the Spring and Christmas in New Jersey. The recycling still sat in plastic bags over in the corner under the stairs. That dirty soccer ball was still there too.

Only the staleness of the air was new. That and the fact that this was now where we used to live.

Exactly three months had passed since we locked up and left. It was cloudier then, drops of rain poetic in foretelling the heavier storms to come. Today the sky bore bright patches of blue, with nary a rain cloud in sight. Yet it seemed a blanket now lay draped over the town, a dank invisible veil that fell over the streets and houses and floated right through the walls, not settling on our material world so much as invading our learned concept of existence.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


A buddy of mine was relating to me recently the story of his friend, a girl born in Southeast Asia. ‘Thirty-something years ago her family had to take off,’ he said. ‘There was all sorts of fighting going on, people being killed, and they had to sneak through the woods for days to get away, basically with nothing to their name.’ Eventually they made it all the way to America and managed, in circumstances I couldn’t imagine, to create a new life for themselves. ‘She was really young at the time, I don’t know how well she even remembers it all. But I’ll tell you what, she is one tough girl. We go running, biking, whatever, and she refuses to not keep up with me. And she’s only like this big.’ He stuck his hand sideways against my arm, just below my shoulder. ‘Dude, she’s amazing.’

I told my friend that I envied her in a way. It wasn’t that I wished I’d had her childhood instead of mine. And yet, part of me wished I did. ‘We grow up in a nice, safe place, all comfortable and fortunate,’ I said. My friend listened, staring back at me, eyes brimming with his own brand of intensity. ‘And we have no concept of what it means to be tough, you know? That idea, that understanding of what it is to have to survive…literally.’

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Home No More - A Year in Fukushima #10

Last October I decided to document some of the facets of a year of life in my adopted home of Fukushima. Three months ago that life as it was ended, replaced by something I am only beginning to come to grips with.

My mother in law was there waiting for us last night, hazards blinking, fuel-efficient car parked neatly along the curb of the mostly empty street. Fukushima City seemed unusually dark and desolate for 8:30 on a Monday night. As our bus lurched to a stop I wondered if maybe it had always looked this way.

There were nine people on our bus, four of them me and my family. Three had gotten off at Koriyama. The Tokyo-Fukushima Highway Line, I was sure, had never been this empty. The recorded messages – We are now arriving in Fukushima, Thank you for riding with us, Please make sure you don’t leave anything behind – were the same as always, which somehow made them sound odd.