(I will need to add a photo to this post later - all my pics of Toshi are at home)
Hubby and I moved from SC to NY December of 1999 (Christmas Day in fact). Shortly after we arrived here, my former employer in SC asked me if I would do some freelance work here arranging a program for a language immersion/home stay for an individual from Japan as part of a corporate training program.
And so Toshi came into our lives. Toshi was my client, and my student, but various circumstances also led him to become my little brother and my co-worker, as he lived with my in-laws and did volunteer work at my office. Toshi helped us move after we bought our new house, learned how to strip woodwork, helped us down a can of Reddi Whip one evening, and became a Survivor addict (first season, I think).
Toshi's stay here was only 6 months long - and on September 10th, 2001 we celebrated Toshi's birthday and got ready to say goodbye, as he was flying to Detroit on the 16th for a final group session as part of the program, and then returning to Japan.
I don't remember if Toshi was at work with me on September 11th or if he was at home. I remember hearing from our receptionist something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, and calling my husband, who works for a TV station, for more information. "I can't talk now," he said. "A second plane just hit." I found out from him later that not only were they seeing things a bit before the rest of us, as the raw feed came in and then was sent back out again, but that he also saw much much more on that raw feed than was ever broadcast. He still does not like to talk about it.
The TV at work was instantly moved into a conference room, and although we all tried to work you would see people frequently wandering down the hall, and then back again. I stood in a darkened empty conference room, alone, and watched the second tower collapse. And all I wanted to do at that point was go home.
Although my thoughts were on the victims and the families, I was also instantly wondering what this meant for Toshi, and for his travel to Detroit, and then on to Japan. So many things were uncertain, airports were closed, and I was concerned for his safety. I was responsible for his safety.
As more information came out, and things started to become clearer, we began to receive communication from Toshi's employer, and the coordinating company for the immersion program, on what we should do. At first we were told to stay put, and then once the airports began to open again we were told to send them on to Detroit if their flights were running.
Ultimately, Toshi's flight did fly that day - but without him on it. He and I talked it over, and although he said that he felt confident enough to fly, I realized that he was listening and watching all this coverage that was not in his native language and although his grasp of English had improved immensely, I wanted to be sure he was fully informed. We spoke about it in Japanese for a while, and he ultimately said it was my decision.
And I could not put him on a plane.
I knew the risk was pretty much past, and that he would be on a little plane from a small non-hub airport, but I still could not do it.
Luckily the family that he was to stay with in Detroit was very understanding. They offered to drive and meet us halfway. So my SIL, Toshi and I piled into my car on a sunny September day and road-tripped to Cleveland, to a Bob Evans just south of the city, where we met up with his next hosts. Nearly four hours there, and four hours back.
Four hours to say goodbye.
Airports are easier. This was like peeling a bandage off - really really slowly.
Every 9/11 I think of Toshi. He has not been back to visit since then, and I have not been over to Japan. Letters are sporadic and short, and I often wonder how his memories of 9/11 affect his memories of his entire stay here.