8:08 AM “Emergency Alert – BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” …
Let me rewind to three days prior, Wednesday January 10th. Most days by noon my boys are yelling and fighting with each other and I am at my breaking point. This day I was trying my best not to yell at them. I knew I was going to be leaving that night to fly to Oahu and be away from them for a week. I knew even through my frustration of not being packed, having work to complete and trying to get them set for the week, I would miss them tremendously once I was gone. I didn’t want to leave upset at them. I didn’t want the last day they seen me before I was traveling to be dark, because you never know what could happen right?
Saturday, January 13th, 2018 : 8:08 am.
I was sending a message to my friend Ricky (Heart of a Hero) seconds before that message popped up on my phone. I have these ‘feelings’ often that urge me to contact people when I feel like they can use love and good vibes. I had just been chatting with him for a minute when this alert came in. I am not sure how many times I read it before I processed it. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. I screen shot it and first sent it to Stormy, she is the photographer that was holding the workshop I was attending. She replied “Yes, this is real”. I was in the house alone (in the middle of no where on an organic farm in Waianae, Hawaii) so I quickly sent the screen shot to Nino (my husband) and my mom and ran down to the cafe where the rest of the girls were having breakfast. My heart was pounding, Nino was texting me, but all I could say was “I am upset right now I will call you in a minute”. I walked into a room full of people. Some in shock, some crying, some still eating. Then to my left there was a man and woman with two small children huddled down on the floor. The boy was crying and the dad just told him to hold his mother. I tried to hold it together, I still had no idea what was going on. Some of the local woman there called their husbands (military families) and we were told to stay inside, to not face any windows. I didn’t hear any sirens yet, so I tried to tell myself maybe this isn’t really happening; or happening YET. My phone would not stop going off. I couldn’t look at it. Someone told us to call our families, to tell our children we love them ‘just in case’. What, what? I couldn’t call them, I would have lost it, I had not been in panic yet, I was still processing all of this. My mind started to race and I could no longer hear everyone else in the room. What if I call them and I can’t control my fear, I don’t want them to see me upset, I might scare them. How silly would I feel if I called to say I love them and nothing happened? Am I really worried about feeling silly right now? What time is it? Someone said we had 15 minutes to get to shelter. Had it been 15 minutes yet? What if I waited too long and something happens and I never called my family. I could feel my anxiety building up.
The man down on the ground with his family came around the corner and introduced himself as a Marine, he said he was not sure what was going on yet but assured us that ‘they had been preparing for this’ and if this was real, they (who is they? Korea? what the hell is going on!) they were going to be sorry. I think that’s what he said, maybe that’s what I wished he had said. Everything was so messy in my head by this point. I still held it together (on the outside). As we started to discuss what this meant, about “being prepared” I was envisioning a huge missile coming in and being intercepted in the sky, which would still cause a lot fo damage. Then what? Were we at war? Would I be stuck in Hawaii, Nino was supposed to be flying in that next morning. I had never felt so lost and ignorant all at the same time. A few of us started getting texts from family saying that they read on Twitter is was an accident. Twitter? Are you serious? Why have we not heard anything ourselves, is that a fake message, is something really coming still?
8:57 am “Emergency Alert – There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.”
I felt the blood rush to every limb on my body. I honestly still am not completely sure what emotion to use to describe what I felt at that moment, but I was definitely not okay. After this text we found out the Marine and his family were actually the models for that morning and it was definitely no coincidence because that man restored a little hope in us when some of us were at the edge of our seats. Just a little. His son was 8, Devyn’s age. He was still crying (understandably) and shaking. This is when I couldn’t hold it in anymore, I walked back to the house alone and cried. Relief, empathy, grateful that my boys were not here with me on the island; everything in between. We continued our work after this but the mood was still heavy. I have always captured other people’s emotions while shooting, but this morning, I captured not just theirs, but what my emotions were drawn to. I learned a great deal about perspective, and how everyone deals with fear differently. Some joked and laughed, some were quiet and stayed behind the scenes and some of us were crying and still trying to process what had just happened. What didn’t happen. What could have happened.
By the time most of the people I knew on the mainland heard the news of a false alert, it was just that, news of a false alert. They had no idea that everyone in Hawaii, especially those of us without TV or radio had no idea this was false for 49 minutes. Let that sink in. I held my phone in both hands and asked myself what I was going to say to my kids the last time they ever got to hear my voice. I can barely get through this sentence, I have actually stopped three times.
I avoided talking to anyone about it until I was home, I wanted to enjoy the gift we were all given and be present the rest of my time there. I still had four more days on that island. When I got home, I watched my kids from every corner of my house, and I cried a few times. They had no idea that their lives could have been changed forever. I guess we all live like that don’t we? I even questioned if I should write about it, because I am a writer, but would I be viewed as dramatic? Was it selfish to write about because so many horrible events have happened to people and so many lives have been lost and those were not false alerts. But after a few days of hearing everyone say they heard ‘something about it’ but brushed it off as an accidental ‘text’ I knew I had to share this from my perspective this day. I am sure there are a million stories, people who walked out of their business’s to rush home to their families, people in cars, or on the beach, out on the land, with no shelter. I am sure that this story can be told a million times from so many perspectives, but this was mine.
I have sat in my home and watched or read stories about things happening to other people and I have said more times then I can count “I can’t even imagine…” I have cried trying to imagine. This was not a feeling I was every prepared to face. I do not wish that anyone, has to decide what they want their children to remember last about them. My heart is still trying to heal from the reality that so many people do face this, and worse.
I captured some images of the hour after this longest 49 minutes of my life. A marine, a dad, on the phone with him family, watching his wife and children dance; relief. A military wife with a brave face but our motherly bond could feel the weight on her heart. Friends thousands of miles away from their families like me and for the first time in my life, all of the things I was stressed about when I left home, meant absolutely nothing. I didn’t follow the crowd of other photographers’ working that day, I followed my heart, I captured what I needed to remember; humbled. I comforted the few I knew needed it and I was aware of the island beneath my feet.
You can’t imagine, trust me, I can compare the two now.
I took off my wedding ring and placed in on the window seal. The island light flooded in and out of the trees outside the window, and I must have stared at it for an hour. I wanted my husband. More then I have ever wanted him before. I wanted to bury my face in his neck and breathe him. I missed my boys, I wanted to hear their voices.
I am eternally grateful for the blessing and the lessons that the island gave me. Some people go their whole lives never feeling the earth beneath their feet like I do.
Mahalo Kari and your family for sharing your vulnerability and your love with us.