Hey, everyone! Thanks to all of you who made release day for See My Words last month so awesome! What’s next for me? Well, I’ve recently completed what’s turned out to be my favorite project so far, a May/December military romance. It’s called For the Love of Riley, and here’s a very unofficial blurb:
“The first rule of war is that young men die. Deep in the heart of Afghanistan, a sniper’s bullet finds a target—shattering the lives of those who loved him most, and teaching them the most painful lesson of all: that dying isn’t the hard part; surviving is.
Sending his nineteen-year-old son off to war is the most difficult thing single dad Trevor Estes has ever done. All Trevor can do is keep busy, so he throws himself into planning his upcoming wedding to the man of his dreams. Meanwhile, Jesse Byrne can only be with men in his dreams. The camaraderie of the Army appeals to him, although serving under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell crushes his spirit a little more each day. The fighting in Afghanistan is brutal, but the bonds he forms with his teammates, especially Riley Estes, makes it bearable.
Then tragedy strikes. Brought together over a box of Riley’s personal effects, Trevor and Jesse find comfort in their shared grief, even as Trevor’s engagement comes to a bitter end. A trip to Hawaii to honor Riley’s memory deepens their friendship into something more, but finding happiness after unimaginable loss might be more than two broken hearts can handle.”
Part of the story is set in Hawaii, so I thought I’d write a little bit about my experiences living there. If you’ve ever lived in Hawaii, or been to visit, I’d love to hear about it!
Living in Hawaii is a dream – or is it?
When people find out we were once stationed in Hawaii, I get the usual envious reaction: “Wow, lucky you. What a hardship!”
Well, I compare the experience with reading a romance novel: the fantasy and the reality are miles apart. In romance, the fantasy is that everyone is gorgeous and the sex is always good. Reality is morning breath or those days when you really just can’t stand each other.
When moving to Hawaii, well, first you’ve got to get there. It’s categorized by the military as an “arduous move,” and that ain’t no lie. Usually when movers come do your pack-out, it’s a matter of keeping an eye on whether they record the serial numbers of all your expensive electronics correctly on the inventory sheet, or – more importantly – making sure they don’t box up a garbage can with, um, garbage in it. (Which happened to us. I unpacked a box upon arrival only to be knocked over by the smell of a full trash can, including a dirty diaper or two, neatly wrapped in packing paper and labeled. True story.)
Also, when you move overseas, the packers have to take everything apart, and I mean everything: Bicycles, patio furniture, that POS computer desk that you put together out of a box and immediately threw away the instructions to. The movers do this so they can pack the shipping containers as tightly as possible, leaving not one inch of space. Packing the containers is an art form, like putting a puzzle together. Oh, the rails from a bed will fit here just right, but the headboard fits better in another container, so have fun figuring out which rails go with which headboard later!
(Also, it’s super awesome to find a random bag of nuts and bolts rattling around in a box with no idea what the hell they go to.)
Then there’s the issue of pets. It used to be that you had such a wonderful choice of what to do with your dog or cat when moving to Hawaii: Leave them behind for years or subject them to a six-month quarantine upon arrival. The reasoning for the quarantine is sound: Hawaii has many indigenous species, and they want to keep it that way. They don’t have rabies on the Islands, and any plants or animals entering have to be regulated, I get that. But the thought of leaving our beloved pets, a dog and a cat, behind was unconscionable.
Luckily, the Department of Agriculture has developed a program called Direct Airport Release, which means if you jump through 950986355 hoops before you get to Hawaii, you can pick up your animals direct from the DoA kiosk at the airport. But wow, those hoops are killer! You have to time everything down to within seven days of arrival, and when you have to start the process a full six months before, that makes things very difficult. Rabies testing, health certificates, DoA forms, fees, still more forms, even down to the way you label their airplane carrier…if you do even one little thing wrong, your pets could be denied release and subjected to quarantine hell.
But finally the big day arrived! Everything was packed and hauled away, the car was on a freighter, the pets were ready to go, and my kids and I boarded our flight to Honolulu. Well, we started to. The flight was randomly canceled, as they are, and we waited in line for three hours to rebook. My kids were hungry and bored, pets were howling down in baggage claim, and I was a wreck. Plus I was alone, my husband having flown to Guam earlier to meet his ship already at sea.
The next morning we tried again, and this time boarding was successful…minus the kids’ DVD players that were accidentally left behind at security. Yikes. Six hours on a plane with no entertainment. I’m lucky I survived.
We finally arrived in Honolulu, and went straight to a hotel for three weeks since that’s how long it would take our household goods and car to arrive. I’ve blocked out that dark time, two kids, two pets and me in a hotel room. With. No. Car. My husband was in and out, working fourteen to sixteen hour days. The Navy waterfront had recently been rocked with a Spice (synthetic marijuana) scandal, and my husband’s ship was hit the worst: at least twenty-four of his sailors were charged with using and/or distributing the stuff. He’d inherited a shit storm from his predecessor, and he just didn’t have time for us. (That’s a reality of military life – if the Navy wanted you to have a family, there would have been one in your seabag.)
One glorious day we received the keys to our new house, and it was very nice:
Household goods followed soon after, and hallelujah, the car.
For the first several weeks we played tourist: Beach, luaus, snorkeling, more beach. It was like a super long awesome vacation. We tried new and different foods, experienced things like diving with sharks, boat rides, kayaking…beach and still more beach!
Finally the novelty wore off, and reality set in. Hawaii is a very expensive place. A gallon of milk was $7, a 12-pack of soda $10. Gas was well over $5 a gallon. A lot of companies won’t ship to Hawaii, and if they do, the shipping costs are prohibitive and things take forever to arrive, sometimes weeks.
Honolulu traffic is the second worst in the nation, but it’s the worst I’ve ever personally experienced. When I finally got a job, it took over an hour to travel the eight miles to work during morning rush hour. Parking anywhere is a nightmare. The crowds can be horrifying, and there’s really no “off-season” in Hawaii, just crowded and slightly less crowded.
And if you’ve ever heard about “island fever,” it really is a thing: It’s a feeling of disconnect from the mainland. The Hawaiian Islands is the most remote island chain in the world, 2,300 miles from the nearest land mass. You can drive around Oahu in three hours, start to finish. It starts to feel claustrophic. You. Can’t. Go. Anywhere. You long for something other than to be surrounded by ocean. The time difference means you’re six hours behind the East Coast, and I lost touch with a lot of people while living there.
It sounds like I hated it there, but oh, Hawaii is absolutely beautiful, with a rich history and wonderful culture. I loved the friendly people, the spirit of Aloha, the diversity. The schools get a bad rap, but our little elementary school was wonderful. It was held in classrooms open to the fresh air, and all the kids went barefoot all day long. It’s the first time both of my boys have ever had perfect attendance. They were never sick the whole time we lived there.
Best of all, every day after school, if we wanted, we got to do this:
We eventually learned which beaches the locals went to, which restaurants had the best kama’aina (local) discounts. We took advantage of the military amenities and perks, and enjoyed as much as we could in the fourteen months we were there. Just like anyplace else, there are drawbacks to living there, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. I have to say that I miss it, and wish we could have lived there longer. I’ll be forever grateful to the Navy for giving us this experience that we will never forget.
Thanks so much, Dani and Love Bytes, for hosting me today!