Hawaii Missile Warnings, Bathtubs And Mortality
“Near death changes nothing, only death does.” I don’t remember where I heard that before, but twice in my life I’ve been told I’m lucky to be alive, but I don’t think of those moments often.
This morning I was opening the curtains to my lanai, from which you can see Pearl Harbor in the distance, thinking it’s another gorgeous day in Hawaii and then at 8:07am an emergency alert jumped onto my screen while my phone made an awful noise that I associated with drills and flood warnings. In ominous capital letters: BALLISTIC MISSILE INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
My stomach dropped and I looked outside, everything seemed so peaceful. I started calling a friend who lived nearby and always knew what to do one emergency situations (once dragging my visiting grandmother and young brother to base during a tsunami warning, and during other warnings, assuring me he would let me know if it turned serious). No answer.
Called again. No answer. Pulled up CNN, nothing about it. Facebook? No news, but people posting screenshots of the same alert, asking if it was real. Called again, no answer.
Walked into my bathroom, my silky terrier anxiously following me around, feeding off of my energy. Bathtubs. Isn’t there a thing about bathtubs? Fill them with water so you don’t die I think, or was it tornados when you get in them and put a mattress over you? Oh yeah, that doesn’t matter right now.
Hawaii had been going through months of warning alerts and siren drills, because of mounting tensions with North Korea. The real shitty part was that all the preparedness articles said you have 10-15 minutes and you had to get underground or in a bunker. Well, no bunkers here. I’m on the side of a hill, I am sure as hell not getting anywhere in 10 minutes. Called again, no answer. Again, no answer. Phone started fighting me and my calls wouldn’t go through right away.
I called my sister, T'sha, who lives in Alaska. She had worry in her voice when I filled her in. I was calm, I think... I think I even made a joke. I love you. She told me to get off the phone with her and to try to get answers as soon as possible. Heather, Charlie, other friends... maybe I can go be with them? I couldn’t go anywhere, 10 minutes had passed already. Time was up.
At this point two things went through my head in rapid succession. First was, when impending doom happens, does anyone take the warnings seriously? Probably not. This may be it. I’m here, with my dog and we might die in a goddamn nuclear blast. I said this to my dog, and asked him, “Should we start calling loved ones and saying goodbye?”
My second thought was, maybe we won’t die. No sirens were going off, and Tulsi Gabbard, our Congresswoman, had just tweeted it was a false alarm. Damn girl, thanks for letting us know because I can’t be the only person terrified and literally making peace with death.
I finally heard from my friend a moment later, and was assured it was a false alarm. I cried for a moment out of relief, but those were the only tears of the morning.
My Nespresso bravely made my coffee and then my dog and I sat on the couch, cuddled together answering worried texts that I had gotten and not even seen in the past half hour. 8:45am another alert sounded, not in capital letters, “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.”
The rest of the day I’ve felt in a haze. Important work suddenly was not so important and I just needed to be still. Process. Nearly 12 hours later I write this because I want to remember tomorrow and maybe in a few days or in a few years.
No business accomplishments or material things crossed my mind in those 38 minutes, only people. People I love, whose voiced I wanted to hear. I genuinely hope I remember that tomorrow and call those I love a little more often.