When my smart phone chimed at 3 a.m. a week ago Friday in Ontario, bringing news of a massive eathquake in Japan, I woke Hiromi. She muttered something about calling her parents in Miyagi in the morning, and went back to sleep. We’d spoken to her dad via video Skype only a few hours ago. It could wait.
Morning came, and with TV images of cars washing under a bridge like ice floes on a spring river, fishing boats perched atop buildings, entire villages reduced to mud-covered rubble. We called and called to no avail.
We knew Oji-san would have been at home in Wakayanagi, far enough inland to be safe from the deadly waves, but Oba-san was supposed to go into Sendai to attend a lecture that afternoon.
The barrage of calls from family and friends began almost at once with my parents offering to cut short their southern vacation. No need, we told them, there’s nothing to be done but wait.
I went to work long enough to fill in my boss and was sent home to wait. Hour after hour, we watched the news channels hideous pageant of the damned, like rabbits on the highway at night, unable to look away from the oncoming headlights of doom. But for us that doom would never arrive, only constantly approach. All we could do was wait, chained by distance, helpless to act.
Dozens called and emailed to express concern, sympathy, horror and support. Was there anything they could do? Did we need anything? No, there was nothing. Only to wait.
Hours of anxiety stretched into days. The kids were fed at intervals and otherwise left in the care of Nintendo and Walt Disney. I cooked, monitored the news and answered the phone while Hiromi sat glued to NHK’s Internet feed and kept up the hourly ritual of dialing through to a recording in Japan telling us our call could not be put through. Appetitie and sleep became a distant memory. I’d give in to nervous exhaustion and medicinal vodka and doze fitfully for a few hours, rising to find her still maintaining her vigil the while the 24-hour cable news drumbeat of despair rolled on.
I stumbled through work, so preoccupied I could barely string a coherent sentence together. Wednesday came and went without contact, the constant worry and not-knowing like a trapped rat trying to gnaw its way out of your terrified soul. We did our best to stay composed, knowing that the least breach of the emotional dam would mean a flood of panic.
Returning from the office early Thurday, I sat down to try to work and noticed the cold grey lemon of my father-in-law’s Skype icon had turned to bright, friendly green. His computer was back online. They had electricity. I hollered to Hiromi and she dashed to the phone.
We called, and at long last, they answered.
The waiting was over.