Two days after the Japanese tsunami, after the waves had left their destruction, as rescue workers searched the ruins, news came of an almost surreal survival: Miles out at sea, a man was found, alone, riding on nothing but the roof of his house. Below, a brief section from his astonishing tale, as told by GQ’s Michael Paterniti:
So it is that you slide out into this nothingness. Tendrils of smoke rise from the country at your back; fires dot the coast. The slim chances of survival and the utter, certain loss of everything you call home makes you delirious, almost slaphappy. Hard to imagine that at 2:46 P.M. you were at the lumberyard, cutting boards, looking forward to your midafternoon break, and now at the hour when you’d normally be flying your pigeons, you’re instead being pulled out into some watery oblivion under a low ceiling of gray cloud, a disconcerting smell of diesel on the air. Your body thrums with such adrenaline you feel nothing now. No thirst or pain, no fatigue or cold, though you’ve just been thrown in the ocean in March and are now exposed to near zero temperatures.
Your first thoughts turn to Yuko, how you’re certain she’s alive and certain she’s dead, too, how your mind continues to hold these opposing ideas with the same fervor. On the one hand, in some myth, you’d like to believe she’s become a mermaid. Or she was gently lifted and placed onshore, where she awaits your return like a seafarer’s wife. On the other, doomed from the start, she was struck by a concrete pillar and went tumbling with the others. Or the watery hand held her down until she was motionless. And even as you play these scenarios, you’re also imagining your parents, and how you’re going to explain this to them, explain how, in the end, you happened to live while she disappeared, all because you didn’t heed the tsunami warning—and their warning, too!
This line of thinking may kill you. It’s vital to empty your mind of memory and remorse—the birds, the house, her—the might-have-beens (…fingers loosening, then raking your body as she was swept away), because you’re an amnesiac speck who survives by the grace of some force you suspect may be circling to crush you. Be ready.