We received the message:
Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This is not a drill.
Could it be true? My husband and I checked our sources. Nothing on Google except Hawai’i re-implementing an emergency system because of North Korean threats. That was months ago. Could it be that this was the one? Nothing on Facebook. Nothing on Twitter. Our local host knew nothing. She scoffed at the idea and spoke of love and light. My head was full of Trump saying stupid shit. And then our son. Our six year-old son.
I asked my husband, “Where can we seek shelter?” We were in a wood-frame house on the lava fields. There are no basements here. The Cave of Refuge where Hawaiians sought shelter was miles away. Did I want my last minutes of life to be spent in a rental car?
“Let’s put down our phones,” my husband said. We sat together on a bench in a small hollow outside a wooden storage hut. The black lava around us had hardened into swirls years before. Even so, the lava fields are tenuous, and the land is cheap there. A confirmed lava junkie showed us pictures of his house burning down within the past few years. That’s how I felt in the moment. Would our world be burning soon?
How do you prepare for the last 15 minutes of your life? My husband grabbed his hat. I grabbed a banana. In the last 15 minutes of life, who would want to be hungry? We were in disbelief. How did we know it wasn’t a drill? How did we know it wasn’t Trump distracting us from more stupidity? That he hadn’t pulled another foolish “button” tweet?
We sat together, and I recalled the first time I had met my husband. What a dork. He was in a costume going around at a Valentine’s Day party acting like Cupid, poking people with arrows. His long limbs had flailed around like an awkward 12-year-old boy while he was dancing and jabbing. And then there was in the time in Pai, Thailand, when we had both gotten food poisoning. I’ll spare those details. And our son. Our vibrant six-year-old son Phoenix who had risen from the ashes of a complicated miscarriage. What would his life be like without his parents? Our estate plan was on the table upstairs, awaiting our completion.
I rested my head on my husband’s chest. His heart fluttered like a hummingbird. I imagined our deaths to be quick, painless. Outside my head, the mosquitoes buzzed and bit. I wasn’t trying to be brave as I sobbed. I couldn’t send any goodbye messages. All I could do was sit with the fear, the warmth of my body and my husband’s next to me. I thought of all the challenges we were working through. Maybe we would never work through those now. Of all the people to die with, I was grateful it was my husband. Coupled with a deep love, I fundamentally like the guy. He is incredible company. I had never figured he would be company on this last journey.
And then more news tumbled in. It was a mistake. A big fucking mistake. People began to emerge from lava tubes and laundry rooms. We felt our bodies on the earth, and I read the Washington Post. More political mudslinging. More research about the actual impact of a ballistic missile, how far the destruction would go, which was both comforting (I live close to San Francisco – a supposed target – but not in San Francisco), but not comforting (beloved friends live in San Francisco).
We finally received a message saying the previous message was false. False. Not a mistake, but false. I messaged Tulsi Gabbard. This was unacceptable.
And then we got down to the business of making breakfast. There is breakfast when you are hungry. Then, there’s breakfast when you have survived a false ballistic missile threat. The latter is the one where you savor every bite of eggs scrambled with sun-dried tomato chevre, the juiciness of ripe papaya, and the crunch of green salad accompanied with smooth Kona coffee. Moments of chewing were punctuated with soft touch and remnants of tears. When we were done, I turned to my husband and said, “So what do you want to do with the first day of the rest of your life?” While I normally hate such platitudes, this one rang true for the first time in my life. We sat together in the moments of stillness shot through with the realization that we are alive, gloriously alive.
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