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Aloha, Hawaii.

I hate leaving my boyfriend. We used to date long-distance, cross-country, before I moved to LA and eventually moved in with him. But the damage has been done–the closer we get to the airport, the more I tear up and say insecure things, and by the time he’s driving through the security check-point I’m basically smothering him. It’s shameful.

You’d think I’m not going to paradise. With people who love me as much as, if not more than, my boyfriend (but in a very different way). For a whole week.

Reluctantly, I leave him and go. To the wrong terminal. And then to the right terminal. And then to my gate, to my seat on the airplane, and to sleep against the window. When I wake up a little more than an hour later, I stare down at the Pacific ocean below me, thinking, “There must be sharks down there.” I wish my dad were next to me, because I’m so excited to see him, of course, but mostly so the former meteorologist can help me win United’s in-flight contest to determine the exact time at which our plane will be at the exact halfway point between Los Angeles and Kona. I way overthink it with the tiny fleck of my brain that remembers anything about physics and astronomy from college, but I want the prize: a Lonely Planet guide to Hawaii. (I love Lonely Planet.) I soon learn I’m off by seven minutes but have correctly guessed that our plane is traveling faster than it would be with stronger headwinds (I know, pretty genius), so, while the winner is off by only a few seconds, I’m still proud of myself. I think I deserve a miniature bottle of Chardonnay and reward myself accordingly.

My phone is ridiculously old and slow, and today, its screen is barely working, thanks to an incident involving a car door and a hinge on said car door last night, but I can make out the time between the cracks in the glass to know that we’re close. I’m on the left side of the plane, and in the distance, I think I can see a mountainous island. The Big Island. It’s nothing like the mountains I grew up knowing in Virginia; they’re bigger, more sinister, more powerful. I was ten when “Jurassic Park” came out, and I have a John Williams moment in my head as we fly over the stark lava flows along the edge of the island and descend into Kona, with a slew of trumpets revisiting perhaps the greatest musical journey they’ll ever enjoy in film history. Maybe it’s the lingering effects of six ounces of Chardonnay. According to Hawaii time, it’s only 11 in the morning. But nevermind that. I’m on vacation.

My sister arrived yesterday, and I am second. My parents will arrive later in the afternoon. I call her on my cracked phone as soon as my plane lands, worrying a little about radiation leaking through the cracks into my skull at the start of a really nice vacation, and she excitedly tells me she’ll be there soon, and she got a car upgrade, and she was a little surprised when she saw the landscape from the plane. I tell her I remember it. I do–even though it’s been about 16 years since I last saw it. We hang up.

When I was last here, I was an energetic 12 year-old with an insatiable appetite for new experiences, and also donuts and pizza, and I had the elastic-waist wardrobe and low self-esteem to show for it. Who I am hasn’t changed a lot since then, but my portion sizes have, and my waistline and confidence with them, so it’s nice to return to the same place on vacation but to be in a very different place in life.

I retrieve my luggage and take my phone out of my purse to call my sister to tell her that I’m curbside, and my phone is not turning on. My phone has basically lasted long enough for me to be found at the airport, and not long enough for me to be able to use it while on a week-long tropical vacation. In a very idealistic way, I think a lot of people would find this serendipitous, and in a very idealistic way, I do, too. But I like being able to text my boyfriend and listen to music and Google answers to things. I’d also like to confirm on my weather app that the air is basically one big tiki torch right now.

Luckily, my sister sees me standing on the curb, and I’m just so happy to see her. She brings me to a grocery store in Waikaloa Village, which looks like a boutique hotel’s interpretation of a hut, to pick up snacks to bring to the hotel where she stayed last night and still has access to. She and I select tuna, octopus, and beef poke, seaweed salad, and a bottle of cheap Chardonnay to enjoy poolside, until my parents land. Thus far, my poke experience has been limited to my West Hollywood gourmet grocery, and I decide authentic Hawaiian upscale grocery store poke has a lot more sauce and less raw onion filler, and I like it better. (Anyone I converse with at close range the rest of the day will probably also prefer it for me.)

My sister and I spend a couple of hours at the pool having a giggle-speckled conversation then pack up and return to the airport. The car is hardly in “park” before she and I spring out of the car like jack-in-the-boxes to hug our parents at the baggage claim. “We can’t believe we’re here,” we keep saying, excitedly. What we really mean is, “We can’t believe you’ve let your grown daughters crash your romantic getaway.”

We stop for groceries and inexpensive beach chairs and umbrellas, then we take the scenic route through beachy Kona, past patio bars, jewelry shops, and a permanent farmer’s market, before arriving at our resort. It’s lovely. We’re greeted with tropical fruit juice and puka shell necklaces and the smell of plumeria.

Our resort is surprisingly natural. The plots around the condos have been landscaped, to be sure, but the neighboring property isn’t developed, and across the driveway, Hawaii feels raw and bright and alive.

I’m fortunate to live in a climate that supports Birds of Paradise much of the year, among other radiant tropical flowers and trees that line nearly every residential Los Angeles street in the spring and summer, but the flora in the adjacent plot puts even these to shame. Some flowers are so big and bright and waxy that they don’t even look real; others look so delicate I wonder if they’d fall apart if I touched them. And then there are the actual birds, of paradise. I hear chirping every now and then in Los Angeles, but the last time I heard this many birds was when I watched the Hitchcock film on cable.

I have tuna poke for dinner the first night, too, at a little restaurant near our hotel called Jackie Rey’s that the concierge recommends. It feels meant for tourists. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe the various hotel concierge desks want us to ease our way into the culture. Maybe they want to support friends and small business owners. Maybe they have an “arrangement.” All of these things are fine. We drink mai tais and draw on the paper table covering with crayons and take funny pictures. And then we go to bed really early, because we’re not on “island time” yet. But soon.

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