I used to live on an island vibrant with color, vivacious with life, and tucked safely in a watery cocoon of blue serenity and green bliss. I used to stare out at the greenish blues of the ocean all around me and feel comfort and peace, safety in remoteness, and a certain removal from the cliche mundane-ness of the daily grind. I was happy here. I felt safe from both petty crimes and “normal” life. I was comfortable.
The day started as many of our Saturdays do. Our children awoke first and played in their room, occasionally bringing us pretend coffee or plastic eggs from their little kitchen. The dogs paced by the door, waiting to be let out. HPR came on with the Saturday morning lineup. Me ignoring the Emergency Broadcast Alert on my phone because it usually meant high waves or flash floods, neither of which affect us much. After buzzing consistently and annoyingly, I finally reached over to check the alert, scanning it before closing it down. When I didn’t see what I expected to see, I bolted up, grabbed my glasses, and read the message again, this time out loud for my husband to hear.
I read that over and over, still not believing it was real. My husband jumped up and immediately went into action, filling the bath tubs and gathering our stockpile of emergency supplies. I jumped up too, threw on clothes, and started shutting windows and doors, screaming for the girls to come to me. They sensed our panic and cooperated, asking questions while I dressed them in leggings and shirts. I gathered them and the dogs into our designated safe space and started contacting people to get more information. I texted “Is this real???” to a few friends, and one responded “Yes,” because they were on one of the bases. The base shut down and they were told to leave and go north. I couldn’t believe this was happening. It was actually happening. We were being attacked…on a beautiful, Saturday morning.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
We waited, trying not to panic, in our space, pacing. The girls kept asking why would anyone want to fire bomb us and why were there bad people in the world. I knew we only had about 15 minutes before the missile would hit. I waited for it. I mentally and emotionally braced for the destruction that I believed in earnest was coming. After 15 minutes, no boom. I still waited, very much on edge, but now wondering. Nothing. I was screaming inside, thinking of my children, of all the families downtown, terrified. Would the missile miss and hit us on the hillside? Would it hit into the ocean, causing a tsunami? The journalist in me made a lousy attempt to persuade me to go outside and look down the hill towards Diamond Head, but the mother in me won without any real contest, and I stayed put in the safe place with my family.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
We continued to text friends to try to get real information. After 30 minutes of nothing, including no Big Voice siren and nothing on national news (we still had HPR playing), we were hopefully suspicious that it wasn’t real. Soon, Twitter confirmed our suspicions, but we waited in our safe place until we had official confirmation from local authorities.
As I stared out at the ocean during dinner that night, it didn’t look the same to me. The colors were off…not as vibrant as they used to be. It was like a thin, gauzy film danced delicately between my window and my view. Instead of feeling calmed by the seclusion, I felt trapped. The afternoon chirp of birds and geckos sounded mumbled, as if they too had shifted slightly in their comfort level. The once zesty oranges, fuchsias, and mauve of the sunset reminded more of detonating explosions and my heart lurched just remembering how I felt when I read THIS IS NOT A DRILL, having ignored it for precious, life-saving minutes. The romance of the island was quickly dying for me, morphing into a bewitching cage.
If someone had really launched a missile at us, we would have had no where to go, especially not in 15 minutes. All those people…so many people. Some people save their whole lives to take a vacation here. Honeymooners. Weddings. 50-year anniversary. Birthdays. People from all over the world come here to celebrate life. And that celebration of life was stolen from them, from all of us, on Saturday, by a careless mistake.
I’m afraid, though, that much more was stolen from me. I’m not sure I will be able to recover from this. Losing my family is one of my greatest fears, and I was not prepared. How can you ever be prepared for that? Some people say that this was a good “wake-up call” for people to get their emergency supplies together, but in reality, was it? We had our emergency supplies together along with a solid plan that we immediately activated. But our plan was for tsunamis or hurricanes, not ballistic missiles.
This was a wake-up call, though. It was a wake-up call that being attacked is not out of the realm of possibility, and if it happened, we would be entirely cut off from the rest of the country and the world. Isolated in our devastation. I thought I could live here forever, but now the gauzy veil of anticipated destruction is muting the colors. The Spirit of Aloha…is it still here? I can’t feel it. I only feel like I’ve been a fool to think that I could keep my family safe and out of international problems by living here. I try not to think about all the families, hard-working people, good, honest people, who were collateral damage in world conflicts. But I do think about them. I thought my family was special, different…but truly, what makes us exempt from being collateral damage? Saturday’s false alarm has provided me with one of the most consequential perspective shifts I’ve ever encountered, and I can’t predict how this will influence the rest of my life.