Survivor’s Guilt, by Stacey Uykimpang

They called us the flyjin
The foreigners who flew away back to their home countries
the lucky ones who could escape the pain of
daily aftershocks
nuclear meltdown worries
sensational news stories
the worry of not knowing who to believe
and being caught in the middle of a world natural disaster.

But some of us stayed anyway
to live the same fate as many of the good Japanese people
who didn’t deserve what happened
to try to regain normalcy
in a country that we had committed to making our home.

I was not one of them.

I stole away in a taxi cab at midnight
with three other foreigners
one week after the earthquake
following the example of many others like us.

We drove to Akita Airport in the worst snow I’ve ever seen in my life
and I cramped in fear in the backseat
my eyes bleary from crying all day, unable to sleep
I’ve never felt so tense in my life
our very few things
stuffed into the back
and on our laps.

I wondered if the driver had a family to come home to
and why did he take on such a job for so little money
sacrificing his life out there on these windy roads
for these goddamn flyjin
that have the luxury to leave in a time like this?

When we arrived at 3 in the morning
and we found out the airport didn’t even open until 6 am
he stayed with us and left the car running so we wouldn’t freeze
even though gas at the time was such a scarce commodity.

He did all of this without the slightest bit of hesitation
listened to our indecipherable tired talk for all of that time
took the occasional cigarette break
and when the airport finally opened
he didn’t even want to accept the generous tip
we forcibly pressed into his hands.

This is the kind of thing
I ran away from.

I’m pretty sure I’m a bad person
to feel relieved that I didn’t lose
any family members
for having to only worry about MYSELF
that I’ve ever known in life
now in shambles in the sea.

I’m pretty sure I’m a bad person to feel relieved
that I still had a place to come home to
and to think how incredibly convenient it was
that I was not really from there.

Life is quite unfair for a whole lot of good people
but what else can I do except enjoy the quiet California sun
and remember Japan in March as a dream
something that is no longer my problem
while many people still suffer every day.

Stacey Uykimpang is a native southern Californian, who recently came back from teaching English in Japan.

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