On this day two years ago, my little family of three (and a half; CJ was still cookin’) spent our last day in Hawaii. Our flight to the mainland was scheduled for later that night and would bring us to our new home in southern Illinois. We didn’t have grand plans for our last 12 hours on island. It was supposed to be time enjoying the weather before embarking to winter in the midwest. Time to re-pack our suitcases because we had been living in a hotel for the past 5 days. Time to say to our last “see ya laters” to loved ones. The island had other plans for us.
One of my favorite memories of living in Hawaii was how much time Chris and I spent at the beach. We’d take the short walk from the house down the path to sit on the rock wall with our toes in the sand. In the beginning of our relationship, Chris and I would often spend our evenings talking and getting to know each other at this very spot. In fact, this is the spot where I knew I loved him. As our relationship progressed from dating to marriage to kids, our trips to the beach switched from late nights to early mornings. Watching the sunrise, with coffees in hand, was time together I treasured. It only made sense to watch the sunrise on our last day in Hawaii.
After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to see a few other guests frantically walking around the hallways. I remember Chris asking if everything was ok, thinking a child may have gotten separated from their parents, but we were met with unfathomable news. Hawaii alerted the island that a missile was inbound. A missile.
What happens in the next half hour has become a little bit of a blur over the last two years. I remember turning to social media to see if this was real. It was. The TV screen had turned black with white lettering saying “INBOUND MISSILE. TAKE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. Sirens began to go off in the distance. I remember glancing at the clock on my phone, noting the time. As tensions grew with North Korea over the last few months, the news stations would periodically remind us that it would take under 20 minutes for a missile to hit Oahu. Twenty minutes and life as I knew it could be over.
At some point, I remember being told that the hallway was the “the safest place we could be” and the hotel didn’t have a procedure for a situation like this. Our hotel was on Ford Island, right across from Pearl Harbor, and was an old military hospital during WWII. I huddled in the hallway outside of our door with other guests. Chris brought towels out, giving me instructions on what to do incase this was a chemical attack. A chemical attack. Knowing some of the history of Ford Island, Chris knew there were old WWII bunkers somewhere in the vicinity. With a hug and a kiss, he went out to seek a safer form of shelter for us with other men staying as guests in the hotel. As I sat and waited, hugging my dear boy and rubbing my belly, I remember the song “Ironic” popping into my head. It was our LAST day on island and this is what was happening. I truly, and sometimes still today, cannot believe it.
At this point, we were dangerously close to the twenty minute mark. As time ticked on and nothing happened, I began to wonder if there was anyway it hit the opposite part of Oahu and I didn’t know? Did the missile….miss the island? Questions began to swirl but I never imagined what would come next.
The inbound missile was a mistake. Mistake. To this day, two years later, I still cannot wrap my head around what exactly happened. Sure, reports came out that it was a “miscommunication” and someone “hit the wrong button”. We will probably never really know the truth, but the relief that came over me when the news broke was overwhelming. All of the tears and emotions that I was holding in previously came flooding out at once. I went as far as calling the airline to see if our flight could get moved up to earlier in the afternoon just in case. It couldn’t, but I spent the afternoon calling my family telling them how much I loved them and couldn’t wait to see them.
It was a memorable last day in Hawaii, to say the least. Every now and then this memory creeps forward. It gently reminds me to live each day to the fullest. To appreciate the small things and the precious moments spend with loved ones. To say “yes” to opportunities when they arise, and to not let fear or anxiety hold me back. To simply, live.