INTERVIEWER: Can you describe the events of that morning?
TOMOYASU: I left home with my daughter, Masako. She was on her way to work. I was going to see a friend. An air-raid warning was issued. I told Masako I was going home. She said, “I’m going to the office.” I did chores and waited for the warning to be lifted.
I folded the bedding. I rearranged the closet. I cleaned the windows with a wet rag. There was a flash. My first thought was that it was the flash from a camera. That sounds so ridiculous now. It pierced my eyes. My mind went blank. The glass from the windows was shattering all around me. It sounded like when my mother used to hush me to be quiet.
When I became conscious again, I realized I wasn’t standing. I had been thrown into a different room. The rag was still in my hand, but it was no longer wet. My only thought was to find my daughter. I looked outside the window and saw one of my neighbors standing almost naked. His skin was peeling off all over his body. It was hanging from his fingertips. I asked him what had happened. He was too exhausted to reply. He was looking in every direction, I can only assume for his family. I thought, I must go. I must go and find Masako.
I put my shoes on and took my air-raid hood with me. I made my way to the train station. So many people were marching toward me, away from the city. I smelled something similar to grilled squid. I must have been in shock, because the people looked like squid washing up on the shore.
I saw a young girl coming toward me. Her skin was melting down her. It was like wax. She was muttering, “Mother. Water. Mother. Water.” I thought she might be Masako. But she wasn’t. I didn’t give her any water. I am sorry that I didn’t. But I was trying to find my Masako.
I ran all the way to Hiroshima Station. It was full of people. Some of them were dead. Many of them were lying on the ground. They were calling for their mothers and asking for water. I went to Tokiwa Bridge. I had to cross the bridge to get to my daughter’s office.
INTERVIEWER: Did you see the mushroom cloud?
TOMOYASU: I didn’t see the mushroom cloud. I was trying to find Masako.
INTERVIEWER: But the cloud spread over the city?
TOMOYASU: I was trying to find her. They told me I couldn’t go beyond the bridge. I thought she might be back home, so I turned around. I was at the Nikitsu Shrine when the black rain started falling from the sky. I wondered what it was.
INTERVIEWER: Can you describe the black rain?
TOMOYASU: I waited for her in the house. I opened the windows, even though there was no glass. I stayed awake all night waiting. But she didn’t come back. About 6:30 the next morning, Mr. Ishido came around. His daughter was working at the same office as my daughter. He called out asking for Masako’s house. I ran outside. I called, “It’s here, over here!” Mr. Ishido came up to me. He said, “Quick! Get some clothes and go for her. She is at the bank of the Ota River.”
I ran as fast as I could. Faster than I was able to run. When I reached the Tokiwa Bridge, there were soldiers lying on the ground. Around Hiroshima Station, I saw more people lying dead. There were more on the morning of the seventh than on the sixth. When I reached the riverbank, I couldn’t tell who was who. I kept looking for Masako. I heard someone crying, “Mother!” I recognized her voice. I found her in horrible condition. And she still appears in my dreams that way. She said, “It took you so long.”
I apologized to her. I told her, “I came as fast as I could.”
It was just the two of us. I didn’t know what to do. I was not a nurse. There were maggots in her wounds and a sticky yellow liquid. I tried to clean her up. But her skin was peeling off. The maggots were coming out all over. I couldn’t wipe them off, or I would wipe off her skin and muscle. I had to pick them out. She asked me what I was doing. I told her, “Oh, Masako. It’s nothing.” She nodded. Nine hours later, she died.
INTERVIEWER: You were holding her in your arms all that time?
TOMOYASU: Yes, I held her in my arms. She said, “I don’t want to die.” I told her, “You’re not going to die.” She said, “I promise I won’t die before we get home.” But she was in pain and she kept crying, “Mother.”
INTERVIEWER: It must be hard to talk about these things.
TOMOYASU: When I heard that your organization was recording testimonies, I knew I had to come. She died in my arms, saying, “I don’t want to die.” That is what death is like. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are. I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we would never have war anymore.
Excerpt from “Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer, pages 187-189.
When I got older I decided I wanted to be a real writer. I tried to write about real things. I wanted to describe the world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely.” –Krauss, The History of Love, p. 7
Life is too deep for words, so don’t try to describe it, just live it. –C.S. Lewis
The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for. –Ludwig Wittgenstein
Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon the absolute truth. –Friedrich Nietzsch
I procrastinated listing 10 books that changed me, but this vignette reminded me of it. I own very few books, because what’s the point in paying money to re-read books that I’d have to store, pack, and move when I can just go to the library and get something new every time, for free? There are so many books to read, and so little time; I only re-read my absolute favourites, and I only own ones I’d actually re-read. The five books stacked up are my faves of the faves, and were chosen to stay with me as long as possible, rather than being stashed into storage with the rest of my possessions:
- Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (my mom’s copy, in French)
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau (from Josh)
- The Four Agreements by Miguel Ángel Ruiz (from my dad)
- The Fifth Agreement by Miguel Ángel Ruiz (from my dad)
- The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
To finish up the list:
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
- Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir
P.S. That is my favourite picture of my mother, taken by me in April 2004.
By heart, this is not an expression I use lightly.
My heart is weak and unreliable. When I go it will be my heart. I try to burden it as little as possible. If something is going to have an impact, I direct it elsewhere. My gut for example, or my lungs, which might seize up for a moment but have never yet failed to take another breath. When I pass a mirror and catch a glimpse of myself, or I’m at the bus stop and some kids come up behind me and say, Who smells shit? – small daily humiliations – these I take, generally speaking, in my liver. Other damages I take in other places. The pancreas I reserve for being struck by all that’s been lost. It’s true that there’s so much, and the organ is so small. But. You would be surprised how much it can take, all I feel is a quick sharp pain and then it’s over. Sometimes I imagine my own autopsy. Disappointment in myself: right kidney. Disappointment of others in me: left kidney. Personal failures: kishkes. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’ve made a science of it. It’s not that well thought out. I take it where it comes. It’s just that I notice certain patterns. When the clocks are turned forward and the dark falls before I’m ready, this, for reasons I can’t explain, I feel in my wrists. And when I wake up and my fingers are stiff, almost certainly I was dreaming of my childhood. The field where we used to play, the field in which everything was discovered and everything was possible. (We ran so hard we thought we would spit blood: to me that is the sound of childhood, heavy breathing and shoes scraping the hard earth.) Stiffness of the fingers is the dream of childhood as it’s been refund to me at the end of my life. I have to run them under the hot water, steam clouding the mirror, outside the rustle of pigeons. Yesterday I saw a man kicking a dog and I felt it behind my eyes. I don’t know what to call this, a place before tears. The pain of forgetting: the spine. The pain of remembering: the spine. All the times I have suddenly realized that my parents are dead, even now, it still surprises me, to exist in the world while that which made me has ceased to exist: my knees, it takes half a tube of Ben-Gay and a big production just to bend them. To everything a season, to every time I’ve woken only to make the mistake of believing for a moment that someone was sleeping beside me: a hemorrhoid. Loneliness: there is no organ that can take it all.
(from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, pages 10-11)
I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.
When I was eleven years old I got a skateboard. I never asked for one; it was a guilt gift. Over the years I got quite a few of these big ticket items, usually in conjunction with one of Kate’s episodes. My parents would shower her with all kinds of cool shit whenever she had to have something done to her; and since Anna was usually involved, she got some amazing presents, too, and then a week later my parents would feel bad about the inequality and would buy me some toy to make sure I didn’t feel left out.
Anyway, I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing that skateboard was. It had a skull on the bottom that glowed in the dark, and from the teeth dripped green blood. The wheels were neon yellow and the gritty surface, when you stepped on it in your sneakers, made the sound of a rock star clearing his throat. I skimmed it up and down the driveway, around the sidewalks, learning how to pop wheelies and kickflips and ollies. There was only one rule: I wasn’t supposed to take it into the street, because cars could come around at any minute; kids could get hit in an instant.
Well, I don’t need to tell you that eleven-year-old budding derelicts and house rules are like oil and water. By the end of my first week with this board I thought I’d rather slide down a razor blade into alcohol than tool up and down the sidewalk yet one more time with all the toddlers on their Big Wheels.
I begged my father to take me to the Kmart parking lot, or the school basketball court, or anywhere, really, where I could play around a little. He promised me that on Friday, after Kate had a routine bone marrow aspiration, we could all go out to the school. I could bring my skateboard, Anna could bring her bike, and if Kate felt up to it, she could Rollerblade.
God, was I looking forward to that. I greased the wheels and polished up the bottom of the skateboard and practiced a double helix on the driveway ramp I’d made of old scrap plywood and a fat log. The minute I saw the car – my mom and Kate returning from the hematologist – I ran out to the porch so we wouldn’t waste any time.
My mother, it turned out, was in a huge hurry, too. Because the door to the van slid open and there was Kate, covered with blood. “Get your father,” my mother ordered, holding a wad of tissues up to Kate’s face.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t had nosebleeds before. And my mom was always telling me, when it freaked me out, that the bleeding looked way worse than it actually was. But I got my father, and the two of them hustled Kate into the bathroom and tried to keep her from crying, because it only made everything harder.
“Dad,” I said. “When are we going?”
But he was busy wadding up toilet paper, bunching it up under Kate’s nose.
“Dad?” I repeated.
My father looked right at me, but he didn’t answer. And his eyes were dazed and staring through me, like I was made out of smoke.
This was the first time I thought that maybe I was.
Like I said, I was eleven, so even to this day I can’t tell you how I made my way from our house in Upper Darby to the middle of downtown Providence. I suppose it took me a few hours; I suppose I believed that with my new superhero’s cloak of invisibility, maybe I could just disappear and reappear somewhere else entirely.
I tested myself. I walked through the business district, and sure enough, people passed right by me, their eyes on the cracks of the pavement or staring straight ahead like corporate zombies. I walked by a long wall of mirrored glass on the side of a building, where I could see myself. But no matter how many faces I made, no matter how long I stood there, none of the people funneling around me had anything to say.
I wound up that day at the middle of an intersection, smack under the traffic light, with taxis honking and a car swerving off to the left and a pair of cops running to keep me from getting killed. At the police station, when my dad came to get me, he asked what the hell I’d been thinking.
I hadn’t been thinking, actually, I was just trying to get to a place where I’d be noticed.
-My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, p.244 – 247.
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