The stories of people in Hawaii who lived through yesterday’s “Big Oops” accidental ballistic missile alert are starting to be shared. 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.
My story is probably one of the least exciting.
For me, yesterday morning 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 with my husband under the covers 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 that 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 answered. “Did you get that alert on your phone?” He asked. I didn’t. I rushed upstairs so he could repeat what the alert had said and I quickly changed from my nightgown. He had already changed so, strangely, he stopped to make the bed.
What followed was confusion and a frantic attempt to verify the alert via computer or television. We couldn’t find anything. “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.
But before I could, the phone rang as our daughter called from her workplace at a center for homeless families in downtown Waikiki. She had received the same alert and was hoping her Dad had something to reassure her. I remember telling 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. Somehow 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 was the crawl space under the stairs so we decided to clear it out and wait there. We then began to frantically 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 up there began grabbing blankets out of the linen closet to take under the stairs with us.
Downstairs again, I looked around at the mess of boxes in my husband’s office and 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. My phone rang again and my other daughter reported she hadn’t heard the alert because she was vacuuming and I shared I couldn’t get my calls to her to go through. I told her she needed to get the kids into the bathroom since it was the only windowless room in her home. Her husband had just returned home from his shift as a Federal Fire Fighter and I was comforted by the fact he was in full alert mode.
As I hung up, my husband simply said, “It should have hit by now.” Running to the window, I looked out over the ocean towards Diamond Head, unsure of what I was even looking for. My phone dinged with a new email from our neighborhood watch sharing a twitter report that it was all a mistake. Finally, our local news television station corroborated this and the pieces of what had happened began to come together. Thirty eight of the longest minutes of our lives.
And just like that, it was over.
Our relief turned into laughter as my daughter shared about her “last meal of hot Cheetos” on Facebook. I realized in all the confusion, 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 am curious about my own reaction to the perceived crisis. I didn’t cry or fall apart but rather slipped into an action mode of trying to find out what was going on and then take steps to protect my family. 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 strongly of toothpaste, 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 the world is difficult for even the most learned to grasp. We really do live with the possiblity everything we know and love could be gone in less than twenty minutes. The people of Hawaii experienced this firsthand yesterday. But most of the time we are simply focusing on doing the best we can to take care of ourselves and those we love.
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.
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!