The Love Story Series is my journal of the events that led to Eric and I falling in love. You can find all the Love Story chapters here.
I grew up in Hawaii, a haole (which means foreigner but has come to mean white person) among a sea of Pacific Islanders and Asians. I knew that I was different. At football games my parents were the only ones who could pick their child out of our marching band of over two hundred students, since I was the solitary blonde. I also experienced my fair share of racism and knew that I was a minority, something I think really shaped my views on justice and acceptance.
Aside from a few angry locals, for the most part, my experiences as a military child and teen in the 808 state (a nickname given for the one area code that covers the entire state) were positive. I gained a true understanding of ‘ohana, or family, realizing it’s not about blood but about relationships. I could meet someone in line at my favorite plate lunch restaurant and end up joining them at a family cookout that night. There was a warmth and a welcoming spirit that tied my heart to the islands in a way that’s difficult to put into words.
My car troubles give a great picture of the meaning of aloha spirit. Every car I’ve ever owned has been given to me by family or friends, and as incredibly grateful as I always am for this blessing, it’s also meant spending a lot of time broken down on the side of various roads.
Every time my vehicle du jour would shudder and gasp its last desperate breath, a kind stranger immediately pulled up to help me push the car out of the road. Often they would then offer to call their mother’s brother’s wife’s cousin, who happens to be a mechanic and could probably help me get it started again.
When a tire (that I didn’t even realize was so bald there were wires poking out of it) popped on the freeway, a kind man pulled over and insisted on putting the spare on for me, even though I told him I was perfectly capable of changing my own tire. While he worked, he told me about his Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian heritage and then invited me to his wife’s fiftieth birthday party that weekend.
I may have looked different, but I was definitely a local, and had no idea that the way I was growing up was atypical of American life.
Unfortunately, Hawaii also had a dark side that I didn’t truly discover until after high school.
A lot of people move to Hawaii with the idea that it’s paradise and real problems can’t exist there. They pack up their tangible belongings and flee to the islands in a last ditch effort to escape the invisible baggage that they don’t realize is still tied to the them, and will be until the day they finally acknowledge it and seek resolution.
Once they’ve been in a Hawaii a few months or even weeks, their old problems return, or new ones form out of their own dysfunction. Typically, they still aren’t ready to admit something is wrong with them, so they continue to try and run away. Sometimes it’s through seemingly harmless avenues like busyness or exercise. Other times it’s things like drugs, alcohol, partying or unhealthy relationships.
I could recognize these runaways easily. They talked bitterly about home or just didn’t mention it at all, but when they talked about how much better it was in Hawaii, there was a look in their eyes that told me they were trying to convince themselves it was really true.
What I didn’t recognize was that you didn’t have to be from somewhere else in the world to fit into the runaway category.
When my father got stationed in Washington for his last post before retirement, I absolutely knew that I was not going with my family. I was a year out of high school, enmeshed in college life, and insisted, “I’ll never live in Washington, it rains too much.”
While the feeling that Hawaii was my home played a big part of that decision, I think it would be more accurate to say that my family didn’t feel like home. My parents and I fought all the time. I was certain my mother wanted to control my life, my father couldn’t understand me, my sister was the favorite child, and my brother, well. I really couldn’t think a bad thought about my sweet autistic brother, but deep down, even though I felt guilty even thinking it, he was a source of stress and worry. Worry about how he would grow up and who would take care of him one day. Worry that if the seizures which had plagued him as a small child came back and I had to once again try to Heimlich away the food he had been eating, what if I panicked and did it wrong and killed him?
In the back of my mind, I really thought my life would be easier once my family left Hawaii.
What I didn’t realize was that even though my family had its faults and dysfunctions, like every family does, I was just as broken and messed up. My family took a houseful of belongings to Washington, but they didn’t take my baggage.
Soon, without even realizing it was happening, I joined the runaways.