The are many stories of people in Hawaii who lived through the “Big Oops” accidental ballistic missile alert. Stories of sheer panic as children were lowered into manholes and families rushed to find shelter. Stories of tears and prayers and frantic calls to tell loved ones goodbye. Even humorous accounts of those who spent their “last” minutes eating pizza and watching the game or choosing to make that last hole since there simply was no time to leave the golf course for safety (but not without posting a quick video on social media).
And of course, there is blame and politics and anger and conspiracy theories; but none of that matters.
For me, the day dawned exactly like every Saturday. I am the early riser at my house and would gladly trade an hour of sleep for quiet time with my Mac and a cup of coffee. Our seven-year-old knows he has to stay upstairs until at least 7:30 on the weekends because that’s the rule. Upstairs, I could hear his shrieks of delight while playing under the covers pretend game with my husband as they took their weekly trip to the moon. Then quiet and footsteps above me signaling the game was over. And then my husband’s voice as he called to me while I was finishing an email.
My guess was we were out of toilet paper or the cat had killed something during the night and he was reporting the remains.
I walked to the base of the stairs and he asked. “Did you get that alert on your phone?” I didn’t. I rushed upstairs so he could repeat what the alert had said. “This is not a drill.” Surely that couldn’t be right.
What followed was confusion and a frantic attempt to verify the alert via computer or television. We couldn’t find anything. No reports at all. Surely if there was a missile headed our way every network would be covering it. Maybe it was a hack or a mistake? I looked to him for reassurance that it had to be. But he wasn’t sure and simply said I should wake up our son who had worked late the night before. He continued to look for information via his government connections while I headed upstairs.
The phone rang as our daughter called from her workplace at a center for homeless families in Kakaako. She had received the same alert and was hoping her Dad had something to reassure her. I told her we didn’t know anything more than she did, but it looked like it was real. She asked what she should do and I replied there really wasn’t anything other than stay indoors. Slowly she responded, “I guess I need to start waking people up then.” I tried to call my other daughter but multiple attempts to connect with her failed.
The only place in our home we could think that was the least bit secure from the effects of a nuclear attack (but not really) was the crawl space under the stairs. We began to quickly grab boxes. Our seven-year-old jumped right in, always our little helper, and began to pull out the myriad of stored Christmas decorations as quickly as he could. Realizing I hadn’t woken up our son yet, I rushed to do so and since I was upstairs began grabbing blankets out of the linen closet.
Downstairs again, one frantic glance at the mess of boxes in my husband’s office and I realized there simply wasn’t time to clear out the rest of the storage so three adults, a child, two dogs, three cats and a parrot cold huddle together for safety under the stairs. Feeling for the first time the futility of our efforts, my previously suppressed anxiety began to rise.
My phone rang again again and my other daughter reported she hadn’t heard the alert because she was vacuuming and had just looked at her phone. I told her she needed to get the kids into the bathroom since it was the only windowless room in her home. Her husband then walked in from his shift as a Federal Fire Fighter and I was comforted by the fact he there and in full alert mode.
As I hung up, my husband simply said, “It should have hit by now.” He was right. Too much time had passed. Running to the window, I looked out over the ocean towards Diamond Head, unsure of what I was even looking for.
Then my phone dinged with a new email from our neighborhood watch sharing a twitter report that it was all a mistake and then the local news stations. And just like that, it was over.
Thirty-eight of the longest minutes of my life.
Relief turned into laughter as my daughter shared about her oddly appropriate “last meal of hot Cheetos.” and I realized I hadn’t told a single member of my immediate family I loved them, so laughingly, I made that my first priority. Then I texted my brother and best friend; neither of whom were even aware of our eminent demise and made sure they knew how important they were to me. They were both shocked to hear what had happened.
Looking back, I was curious and a little perplexed about my own reaction to the crisis. Why didn’t I cry or fall apart? Was that even normal?
The excitement over, I redirected my efforts and spent the rest of the day reorganizing the laundry room as a better choice for future shelter, if ever needed.
My husband chose to continue his previously started project of combing through the boxes of stored stuff in his office closet and subsequently spent the rest of the day texting photos of funny notes he had received over the years from our kids to our family group text messaging. The irony of this was not lost on me.
Later, we headed out to grab some dinner and stopped to pick up a few storage bins for my laundry room project making a point to be home by our seven-year old’s bedtime. Sitting with him in his pajamas, smelling wonderfully of toothpaste and fabric softener, he snuggled with me before bed and said, “Gigi, did you know, I really did think today would be our last day together.” A seven-year old’s perspective of the terror we all had felt.
The reality of our world is difficult for even the most learned to grasp. We really do live with the possibility everything we know and love could be gone in less than twenty minutes. The people of Hawaii experienced this firsthand yesterday. And I’m pretty sure the majority did exactly as I did and simply focused on doing the best they could to take care of the ones they love, knowing there just wasn’t that much they could do. And maybe that’s the whole point.
My husband said it best during his humorous text message walk down memory lane, “In the end, the only thing that matters is God and family.”
He is absolutely right.
For more info on surviving a nuclear attack in Hawaii check out this video.
This post is an edited version of the post “Living in the Aftermath of the Big Oops.”
Lover of reading, writing, sparkly things and whatever purrs, barks or flies. Former helicopter mom, co-dependent and enabler, I am addicted to walking, my family and my iWatch. Teacher by day and writer by night, I am clearly the one learning the most. Keeping it up until I get it right. Choosing joy one day at a time and sharing my journey so others can see why it might not be found if we don’t look for it. Thanks for stopping by!