My legs felt flattened, though I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to feel like. The actual sensation was more one of pulping, but as I couldn’t see them it was all just speculation. The space under the table was dim, almost but not quite pitch dark, and swirled with dust knocked loose by the earthquake.

They had taught us to get under a table if the tremors were violent enough. Living in Japan for as long as I had, I’d gotten used to the little ones and knew when the shaking was bad enough to get worried. A few minutes ago, the horizon outside my dining room window had jumped straight up and down. It’s usually back and forth and even when those are bad, they’re never serious enough to cause widespread panic. It’s when the ground takes a leap, spilling things from shelves and rupturing plumbing, that it’s time to freak out, to duck and cover.

I’d done just that and scrambled under the heavy wooden dining table. The top of it was as thick as a fist and made of solid oak. It had wide legs that should have provided protective support. Two of them had snapped when the ceiling had caved in and dropped half of the table on my legs under the weight of unknown tons of second- and third-floor debris.

I couldn’t tell if I was bleeding, and realized how important it was to verify such things visually. All I could imagine was a tangled mass of blood and bone and snapped muscle where my once-whole legs had been, now laid bare like mangled raw chicken breast. I wasn’t in pain, so at least that was something.

The air smelled like burned wood and mothballs, and it was almost too thick to breathe. I had an overpowering thirst, and my tongue felt oversized and woolen in my mouth.

I wasn’t yet wondering if I was going to die, but I’d always been something of a stubborn optimist.

2014.12.19 – 2023.07.21

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