It’s funny how announcing that you’re going to visit someplace desirable brings everybody out of the woodwork with stories about how their aunt’s neighbor’s penpal went there once too! By the time my first Hawaii visit arrived I was all set with a long list of things to see and do, and yet I had no clue of what to expect. I’d done my fair share of research in books and on the internet, but you never really know a place until you get there. I’d been to South Carolina many times with my family, and I think I expected Honolulu to be a bit like that. Very laid back, tropical, and everybody in beach attire. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I was very far from right.
I’d managed to book a direct flight from Cincinnati to Honolulu, which ended up being the longest flight I’d ever taken, and nearly drove me insane. I’ve flown constantly since I was 11, when my father moved to Florida, and I’ve even taken some killer road trips, but there’s something very unique and maddening about being stuck on an airplane for a long period of time. The close quarters, the dry air, the fact that you absolutely cannot leave until the flight is over. It’s something I’ve still not gotten used to.
As soon as I stepped off the plane I knew Hawaii was nothing like I’d expected. There’s this quality to it that’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Nothing spiritual, nothing significant, just the way the air is, the feel, the light. Hawaii is yellow. In my mind, when I close my eyes, Hawaii is yellow, and smells of hibiscus, and such warmth.
My Aunt was waiting for me at baggage claim. I hadn’t expected her — I’d been told my cousin would be picking me up — and when I spotted her, I stared for a while, with the surreal realization that here was my Aunt whom I hadn’t seen in so many years, and yet she looked exactly like my mother, and thus must look exactly like me. And this realization that there was a piece of me in a place I’d never been, like losing something and finding it in a place that makes no sense.
And she drove me home, my home for the next two weeks, a house behind a house surrounded by mango trees, and she showed me my bedroom, with relics of my cousin still hanging from the walls, old posters and photos and five-year-olds’ drawings. And at night glow-in-the dark stars shone from the ceiling, and in the mornings the light would stream through the windows, yellow, accompanied by that smell of hibiscus.
And every morning we would pick mangos for breakfast, and dinner would be plate lunch, fish Uncle had caught that morning, kalua pig and cabbage, real Chinese takeout, and some nights we’d get malasadas, or walk down the street for ice cream. I tried lychee and ahi poke, and once at the beach my cousin pried a shell off a rock, dug out the insides and invited me to eat it. It was good.
And we went to the swap meet, and the lantern floating festival, and a friend’s labor day picnic where I was persuaded to try all manner of foods, and a rocky beach hidden behind an industrial plant, and another beach past where the road ends.
And I met so much family I didn’t even know I had, cousins upon cousins, and everyone was Auntie or Uncle even if they weren’t related, to the point where I gave up trying to tell the difference.
And at night, relaxing, my cousin said to me, “You should move here, you should go to school here.” And I laughed, because my mother had said similar before I’d left, she’d warned me “Don’t fall in love or you’ll want to live there.” And I’d laughed, because Hawaii is not me, it’s so much sun and nature and I’m a pale city girl.
And then I went into the city, and saw the skyscrapers, metal shining and reflecting the oceans, the mountains. And somehow that felt right.
Two weeks drew to an end, after they’d barely begun, and I said goodbye to these strangers-who-were-family, who were now so much more, who had grown up without me and would continue to grow beyond me.
And on that long flight home, Honolulu to Atlanta to Cincinnati, I had time to think.