Nothing says “welcome home” more overtly than a sunburn. Six hours in the sun at Sandy Beach on Oahu’s eastern shore had seared my skin while seemingly kissing it in a kind of homecoming. I wouldn’t know I was burnt until the next morning, lifting up my shirt to take a shower revealing an angry red tinge everywhere on my upper body except where my bikini had been in place. My skin was hot. The islands have a way of reclaiming what is theirs. You can leave but it’s the coming back that really gets you. I ran my fingers over the burn and could see exactly where the pressure had been applied seconds ago, Hawaii always leaves its mark.
On United Flight 443 from New York’s JFK airport I found myself craning my neck to hang onto the view of New York’s skyline for as long as I could out of the tiny window. The funny thing is that this last view of New York wasn’t that of the Empire State Building or the endless sprawl of the city, instead it was a bunch of islands, small ones without a trace of concrete or scrap metal, just islands. I always forgot that Manhattan was one of them, that New York’s eastern border was an ocean. In between running to hop on the downtown F train to go to work in Brooklyn to watching the sun creep towards shadow at the end of the day walking home from school on Broadway, New York was perfect on paper. But not all islands are created equal. I had spent my last two years in the city finishing up college and it was now over. I came to New York thinking that this so called, “city of dreams” would solve all my problems, hold me still, stop me from running, wanting to call myself a “nomad”; I thought New York would be home, but it wasn’t. The city taught me a lot about myself, about independence, about street smarts and who I was outside of everything familiar but more than anything it showed me where home was and wasn’t. Home was a feeling and nothing felt more like home than the ocean, than seeing the Ko’olau mountains in the morning and the love exuded by friends, family and strangers alike in Hawaii.
I had a breakdown two days before leaving the Empire State at the top of the Rockefeller Center. The dream was ending. This was my first time at this landmark in person standing on the 69th floor my mind raced back to the Internet of all places. I had made this view my cover photo when I was still in school in Colorado, New York was still a fantasy and the caption on the photo was “the myth of youth”. Things really do manifest, thoughts do become things as a friend once told me. This really was the myth of my youth, I had just graduated days before, I was no longer “a kid” but I was still not untouchable. Standing there everything somehow came into perspective. That week I found people reminding me that I actually don’t like being in New York, that this wasn’t for me, that just a few months prior I spent my first waking moments crying about being here. This was surreal. Did I want to really go home? Back to simplicity, 5,000 miles away from the place that everyone who was anyone wanted to be? I woke up at 430 in the morning to catch a super shuttle to the airport on May 24th and tried to keep my eyes open the whole ride, I wanted to take in the city one last time. The sun was rising and the sky was a light pink mixed delicately with shades of blue. It finally showed itself, taking the form of a true ball of fire, as the star that lights the universe, radiating, glowing. This was goodbye, this was New York saying goodbye. I had stood on a rooftop the night before accompanied by friends sitting on a blanket and my boyfriend, Cole setting up his tripod under a crescent moon. The Empire State Building was poised perfectly in the distance and I whispered to it a barely audible goodbye.
Halfway home at LAX airport, a layover that was supposed to last only an hour and thirty minutes ended up being over three hours as it kept getting delayed multiples. This was New York hanging onto me, I thought. But no, I was ready to go home. Boarding the plane my eyes were heavy, I fell into as deep a sleep as one could possibly have on an airplane. Darkness. Eyelids fluttering open, my hands found the shade on the window and slid it open to reveal the majesty of golden hour thousands of feet in the air. The clouds looked like cotton candy dusted with a golden shimmer, it reminded me of sunsets on the water at Diamond Head searching for a final wave to ride in. A stewardess on the intercom announced that we’d be touching down in an hour or so, I was truly coming home.
Stepping off the plane at Honolulu International Airport I found an overwhelming sense of belonging. Inhaling deeply the air that was rich with salt water yet cleansed by the light rains that fell in the wee hours of the night. I experienced darkness again for the first time sans light pollution, I experienced silence without the honking of horns and the sounds of the city. I know there will always be a part of me that will be drawn to the energy of New York but riding home in the passenger seat of Cole’s old Rav4 with the windows down and the sounds of Keali’i Reichel’s soft drawl oozing from the speakers filled me with the feeling that I had been searching for all these years, the feeling of being home.
Though my skin is burnt and I’m still rubbing aloe onto it two days after the initial charring, I sit typing in the backyard of my grandma’s house, with the tradewinds blowing sitting next to my Aunty Janice and taking photos of my grandma and German Shepard, Kalia. The sky is clear and the sun shines. I’ll be going surfing in a few hours when the sun starts to dip and yawn and I realize that though we may fly to foreign shores, we never truly leave home.