May, 1987. I was at the airport with my family, about to fly from what was our home in Georgia to what would be our home in Hawaii. I obediently carried my book- and stuffed animal-filled LLBean backpack and followed along, but I dragged my feet--literally and figuratively.
Months prior, in September 1986, a passenger flight flying from Pakistan to Germany and then ultimately to New York City was hijacked. This was Pan Am Flight 73. The hijackers, members of the Abu Nidal Organization, wanted to use the airplane as a missile to attack the Israeli defense ministry. But soon after the hijackers came on board, they realized that the crew had escaped and couldn't fly the plane for them. They killed twenty passengers during the ordeal--12 Pakistanis and 8 Americans--and over 100 were injured.
In May of 1987, my nine year old logic was...shaky. My nine year old knowledge was...limited. My nine year old ability to discuss probability was...nonexistent.
As a child who never flew, all airplanes were suddenly a whole lot scarier. As a child who never traveled outside the continental U.S., Hawaii seemed like another country, and I thought that terrorists would be able to attack my family, this airplane, the Army post we'd soon live on a whole lot more easily. Hawaii wasn't just an unknown. It was a scary unknown.
And, on top of all that terrorism, I was leaving behind a solid set of friends and a horse barn that my sister and I were in so much it was practically our second home. I was on the basketball and track teams in school, running the familiar sidewalks from Sacred Heart to Oglethorpe Square to warm up for both. The horse barn at which my sister and I rode every afternoon possible had rows of horses, riding rings in which we spent an incredible number of hours pretending we were training for the Olympics, and, best of all, the horses we rode every day. I was leaving that world behind, one year earlier than expected.
To many then and to most now, Hawaii is the destination of all destinations. Paradise! Perfect weather! Relaxing atmosphere! But as a kid, I didn't understand half of that. I just knew it was far away, I had to take a huge plane to get there, and it sure felt like a dangerous overseas country to my innocent, ignorant kid-self.
Nevertheless, I stepped on the plane with a bag full of horse books to keep me occupied. The plane ride was as long as expected, but we stretched out on several seats and slept--those were the days before passengers were packed like sardines, before every flight was full. When going to the bathroom I held my breath, grossed out by the smokers lounging about, polluting the air--those were the days before smoking was banned on planes.
And then, our massive plane safely approached Hawaii. Looking out my little window, I could not deny how perfectly magical it looked. A light blue sky entertained rolling, bouncy clouds. A perfectly bright blue ocean teased swimmers in and loungers along white, sandy beaches. Lush green trees and bare, brown mountains stood tall. Palm trees really did sway in the warm breeze. Though I was a champion pouter in my childhood, I couldn't help but be impressed with the view.
My family of four landed and walked off the plane. Between the drastic time change and the long flight, I was groggy from the past and stunned by the present: a crowd there, at the airport, to welcome us.
Greeting my little family of four was our new family, our new Army family. Dozens of families--parents and children!--came to greet us at the Honolulu Airport. Some of them were families with whom we'd been stationed before, but most were actually strangers at that point. These were families whose fathers would work with my dad, children who might go to the same school as me, mothers who would attend the same socials as my mom, run the same half marathons she ran, keep her company as their husbands went to the Kahukus to train at the same time. They all held beautiful Hawaiian leis. Bright leis, fragrant leis, slightly wet leis that they put over our head and then smiled and hugged us: "Welcome." Person after person, lei after lei, welcome after welcome. The beautiful circles of flowers piled up high around my little-kid neck. They came to my nose--there were so many! Each was so beautiful!
May, 1987. A sweet-smelling, warm-breeze-blowing, hug-filled start of the Hawaiian chapter of my life.