“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”
“Jeff?” My heart froze in my chest spreading and icy chill across my skin. I rose from the couch slowly because, I don’t know, maybe if I moved with caution this wouldn’t be real.
“What’s going on?” I asked watching him come down from the stairs mirroring back my wide eyed stare. He mumbled something inaudible and went back to his phone before walking outside.
I stood in the middle of the room, frozen in confusion, or maybe it was panic. If panic can root you in place while simultaneously swirling nothing through your mind like the howl of the wind, then it was panic.
“Okay guys, we’re going upstairs for a minute,” I turned to my kids and scooped up my son in my arms.
“Why?” My daughter asked. “After Barbie is over.”
“No, no. Now,” I said grabbing a bag from the laundry room, and setting my son down. I mindlessly began filling it with snacks from the pantry; granola bars, fruit pouches, mac n’cheese. I briefly looked down at my bins of hurricane kits, but thought, no. Too big. I can’t carry, Calder. I continued to fill it searching my mind for what we would need for a few hours, or days? Would I need this food for days?
“Mom, what’s going on?” My daughter’s little panicked voice spoke behind me, but I didn’t answer. I hadn’t yet wrapped my own head around what was going on, let alone how to explain to my children that a missile was coming at us. I reached back into the pantry and grabbed a case of olives along with a box of Capri Sun. In the helplessness of it all, I could only get snacks. I couldn’t save my children, I couldn’t promise them safety, I couldn’t explain to them the political mess that had lead us to the moment we would all die together, but I could get them food. So I did.
“Okay, lets go upstairs.” I said to her and picked up my son in one arm. My husband came back in then, still looking just as forlorn as when he’d stepped outside to seek answers.
“Let’s get in my truck.” His keys jingled nervously in his fingers.
Stay inside, my head told me. We haven’t the time to go. “Okay.” I said trusting his judgment. I now know he was going to search out a brick building on base for us, knowing this would be the safest of all, if at all safe.
“Mom?” My daughter started crying behind me as I rushed up the stairs to grab pillows for the closet. They’ll shoot it down, I told myself, they’ll shoot it down before it gets here.
We’re a military family, stationed in Pearl Harbor, my husband, a Nuke. We’ve had countless conversations about the what if’s of this exact moment, and he’s assured me countless times that our military would shoot it down. They’d risk their own lives for ours. I trust him, I trust them. They’ll shoot it down . The words of assurance, hope even, sifted through the fog of my mind.
“Mom! I’m not going in there until you tell me what’s going on!” My daughter pointed to the closet with trembling lips, her eyes wide and dewey with fear.
“A storm is coming.” I told her rubbing my hand across her messy hair from the peaceful sleep she was in just two hours ago. I made the decision to lie. She was only six. She’s always experienced emotions strongly, contained various anxieties, and this truth was too much. “We have to stay away from the windows for a while. That’s all.”
“In the closet? Mom you’re scaring me,” her little voice cracked following me around back and forth from room to room upstairs. I mindlessly gathered towels, pillows, threw the bag of snacks I gathered from the kitchen on a shelf in the closet.
“It’s the safest spot.” I told her before wandering to my bedroom. Some people panic, some act calmly and swiftly, I apparently wander in crisis. I wandered in those five minutes it took to get from warning to closet. I think I was waiting for it to not be real, but it was. It was not a drill.
I called my mom, told her what was happening so she heard it from us before the news. I told her we loved her. I answered a call from my cousin who lives on island and told her to go into a closet until we knew more, told her we loved her.
A knock on our front door broke my mindless march. Opening the screen my neighbor said “It’s not real. I called my boss. It’s a false alarm,” he stood breathing heavy with his hands in the air, nodded, and ran across the street to the next neighbor.
I looked at my husband waiting for his confirmation. He said, “Let’s just go to the closet and wait for official word.” I nodded and felt my knees tremble. Not in the way they do when you’re about to speak in public, or not in the way they jitter when you’re anxiously waiting for a roller coaster, but in a new way. A way that made me feel like I wasn’t even attached to my legs anymore. A slight ghost of a tremble that that disconnected my body from my soul.
We ran upstairs into the closet with my crying daughter just as the sirens began. This is real, I finally let myself think, and stopped it there. What was happening, what was going to happen, I didn’t cross that boundary in my brain.
Sitting in the closet not more than a few minutes I realized our twelve minutes were up. Way up.
Or phones pinged again, messages streaming through effortlessly into our make shift bunker of storage bins and golf clubs. That’s when my husband said with relief in his voice “It’s a false alarm, all these messages. It’s a mistake.” I believed him. I trust him with our lives. I believed him. My own relief, having waited for this, flooded over me, gushing into my extremities leaving me feeling limp and unable to rise from the floor.
“The storm is over, baby,” I said to my daughter, “We’re okay.”
We are okay, but the storm isn’t over. As I sit here now, watching The Polar Express with my son while my daughter and her friend dress their Barbie’s in the other room, I can’t help but think about how lucky we are. That very well could not have been a false alarm.
I’m thankful I was with my family. I’m thankful I chose to spend the day before playing with my son on the beach rather than mopping the floor. I’m regretful that we spent an hour arguing with my daughter over her uneaten dinner the night before and sent her to bed crying rather than snuggling up and reading a story together. I’m regretful that I fell asleep in my son’s bed the night before, and missed out on my nightly Jimmy Fallon watching date with my husband.
At the end of the twelve minutes, the extra twenty pounds I’ve gained in the last six years of being a mother didn’t matter; only that I was a mother did. The car in my driveway, the clothes in my closet, the gadgets scattered around my house, none of it mattered. I didn’t fear losing any of it. I only feared for my people. I only wanted what could never be replaced.