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Frozen in Fear

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I turned the key in the car door and smiled. It wasn't that I hated my students or wished to never return, I was just excited for the weekend. I hadn't played Magic in over a month, and I had a whole weekend of the game I love staring me in the face on this particular Friday afternoon. All I had to do was drive home, pack up, and make the usual trip into Tokyo. I wish it had been that easy.

I threw my school bag on the floor and booted up the computer. I knew I was going to have to pack fairly quickly, but as my fiancé still hadn't said what time she was getting off work, I could delay a few minutes and check the results of my Flyers. Besides, I had built all of my decks during the week, and they lay next to my bag ready to go.

Awesome! The Flyers had won, keeping them in first place of their conference and restoring a bit of confidence after their horrible four-game losing streak—to non-playoff teams, no less! Of course, my aging laptop decided to freeze on me as I attempted to watch the highlights—typical. I rebooted with a sigh and went to grab a glass of water. That's when the world shook.

As my laptop came back to life, my house began to shake. At first, it was just a little rocking, nothing out of the ordinary for a country hit by more earthquakes than any other in the world. But it gained strength quickly, soon making me unable to stand still. I grabbed my cell phone and stumbled to the front door. With my shoes half on, I dove into the sunlit outdoors.

It was surreal. The world seemed unfazed. Trees were blowing in the wind, and nothing seemed to be moving out of the ordinary, but I couldn't stand! My body knew something was very wrong, but the world refused to provide my eyes with proof.

After a minute or two, my legs suggested that things were once again restored to normalcy. I returned to my apartment, which no longer made noises that belong solely in Hollywood. I messaged my fiancé with our usual confirmation of situation after any quake, then went back to the laptop. Damn . . . the charge light wasn't on. Guess the quake knocked out the electricity.

I packed my bags and readied myself for the trip up to Tokyo. That may have been the biggest quake I had experienced in my three years here, but there was no way I was missing my Magic weekend. Packing time was perfect, and I set off for the train station immediately.

"The trains aren't running," said the station master.

"Well, do you know when they'll start up again?"

"No idea, they haven't given a time," he replied. Damn . . . this was going to be annoying. I sat down outside of the station to wait alongside the tourists from Tokyo who had come to see the stone Buddha in my town.

After checking with the stationmaster multiple times, returning home for some warmth, and even trying to check out the tsunami—it was too small to discern among the wind-powered waves—I gave up. I'd just have to go up the next morning and head straight to the event. My fiancé would have to wait.

When I returned home with my bag, I realized there was a problem. The power had still not come on, and it was getting dark and cold. I had also never bothered to check if I actually owned batteries for the flashlight in my apartment before that night. I didn't. It was going to be a long and cold night.

I sent a final message to my fiancé, and then curled up in my warm bed to sleep until daylight. The fact that she had never responded to my first message probably should have warned me, but her sister had responded, so I figured things were okay.

When sunlight hit my window at 5:30 a.m., I woke up, energized and ready to play some Magic. I booted up the laptop, grabbed some breakfast, and sat down to relax before catching the 7:00 a.m. train.

I was a bit shocked to find my inbox filled with forty messages from friends back home asking if I was okay. Of course I was okay! It takes more than a simple 5- or 6-magnitude earthquake to take care of me. Then I saw some of the most shocking videos I've seen in my life.

All thoughts of playing Magic drained from my head. It was no longer, "When can I make it to the event?" It became, "Is there anyone I know that who might have been closer to the epicenter?"

Over the course of the next several days, I was attached to the computer and television. Not only did I ingest every video and report of the earthquake, but I began following the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant situation with a religious devotion. The earthquake had done little to harm the area in which I lived, but radiation can travel 300 km if there is enough released.

While I remained safe, things did not feel that way. Family and close friends continually asked about my health and status, wanting to know if I was affected by the quake or nuclear power plant. Their calls for my return home began to eat at me. The electric company announced rolling blackouts, chunks of four hours each day that would help to alleviate the demand. Joy, more unneeded spice in my life! Of course, the Fukushima plant situation continued to deteriorate all the while.

By Tuesday, I was a wreck. I had been so stressed by the possibilities of what might happen and the assumptions of friends and family back home—hearing only sensationalist and misinformed American news companies—that I no longer had a grip on my mental health. I felt horrible, and my body did, too. I barely forced down my dinner that night.

So, what was there to do? I had finally realized that there was something wrong with my current situation, but how could I fix it?

My first thought was Magic. I had not thought of the game for the past four days, but I needed something to relax. With a blackout in effect that night, I easily avoided the computer, Internet, and anything related to the news, and turned to Magic. I began sorting some Mirrodin cards left over from the prerelease and release parties—my most recent events. I then took apart some old decks that I no longer played and put the pieces where I could find them again. Satisfied and tired of sorting by flashlight, I fell asleep.

While my body continued deteriorating, getting incredibly sick in the process, my mind had started the process of healing. I spent the next day entirely with Magic, video games, and books, only using the computer to talk to my parents or look up some difficult FF 13 quests. By the end of the day, my mind was more relaxed than it had been since before the earthquake, and it was clear enough to reassess my situation in a much more level-headed manner.

I'd love to say that I've been able to play Magic against an actual opponent since the quake, but I'm still waiting for the world to return to normal. For now, sorting cards and building decks have given me the peace of mind to face my situation calmly and practically. I consider myself lucky that I still have the health, ability, and means to play the game I love. When the opportunity does come, I'll celebrate by playing Magic the only way I know how—until there is no one left to face.

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