It usually begins on the tarmac at the Kona Airport. That is where the “called” put their feet on the tarmac and feel like they are home. I started a project to collect stories from people who have had this happen to them and aptly named it, “Called to Hawaii.” Here is Annie’s story.
Annie Kelleher-Best Selling Author
I arrived in Hawaii for the very first time on December 1, 2005 because my boyfriend of ten years had made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: “Let’s go to Hawaii,” Don said, “and I’ll marry you on the beach.”
We’d been together ten years at that point, and neither a wedding nor Hawaii was on my radar that cold February day. But I’m the sort of Jersey girl who never says no to anything fun, and we were overdue for a vacation. So, of course, I said yes.
We landed after an eighteen-hour odyssey from the East Coast. I was exhausted, sore, and more than a little cranky by that time. We had to deplane directly onto the tarmac. I was less than enthused. But as soon as my foot touched the black surface, I felt a jolt of energy unlike anything I have ever felt in my life shoot all the way from my foot, up my spine, through my body, and out my head.
Madame Pele had laid her hand on me.
For six days I had a blinding migraine. My head pounded, my vision split, and the world tilted on its axis all through the preparations, the rehearsal, and even the ceremony itself. But I didn’t care.
I had never been so happy to be anywhere. Some of it had to do with Don and the wedding, of course, but my delight went far beyond that. I gloried in the endless horizon. The heat felt like soothing hands; the warm air enveloped me like a hug. The ocean either sang seductively as a siren, or pounded out a rhythm as soothing as a lullaby.
For six days I walked around in an energetic daze, allowing the goddess to have her way with me more ruthlessly than I would ever have allowed any man.
But I didn’t care.
I was hers and she, somehow, was mine.
Everything – except my headache – went as smoothly as any bridezilla could’ve wished, including our connection to Reverend Koko, the Kahuna who married us on the morning of December 3, in a Hawaiian wedding ceremony on a sacred beach, where a fresh water stream ran down into the ocean.
He seemed to approve of us, too, even though I wore nothing fancier than a white tank top and a purple skirt strewn with sequins. Don wore his favorite denim shirt and best khaki shorts. We brought no witnesses except for the photographer and the hotel wedding coordinator. “That’s okay,” Reverend Koko declared. “When you do it this way, you do it in front of everyone.”
When the headache finally went away, I had ten days in what I knew was the closest I was ever likely to get to Paradise, without having to die. I wanted to hold or touch every piece of lava; I wanted to stand and breathe the lilikoi-laced air. I wanted to soak in the endless blue, letting the light penetrate all the way to my bones.
When we left, I was sad… sadder than I had ever been to leave anywhere, sadder than I’d ever been going home. I had never experienced such a visceral sense of acceptance in a place – even places I felt especially drawn to, like Scotland. It wasn’t just me who wanted to be in Hawaii; I felt like Hawaii wanted me to be there, too.
I might’ve dismissed my experience as a bride’s euphoria. But then we went back again, the next year.
I was sitting in the airplane, reading, when a sudden tsunami of emotion swept over and through me, as if I’d been caught up in the warmest of embraces. I felt not only welcome – I felt profoundly missed, as if the absence of my presence had created a tangible void, fillable only by me. Tears filled my eyes. I glanced up and around. No one else – including Don, sitting oblivious beside me – seemed to have noticed anything. I gripped the arms of the seat, wondering what could have prompted such a strong reaction out of nowhere. And in that moment, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered Hawaiian airspace. Aloha, and welcome home.”
I knew then that Hawaii had somehow claimed me; that no matter where I went or how long I stayed away, whenever I came back, Hawaii would be waiting, a dazzling mix of heaven and home.
And so, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2013, I knew at once where I wanted – and needed – to be. My cancer upended everything I thought I knew. But once the initial shock subsided, it brought me the gift of clarity. After months of feeling as if I’d been walking around in a fog, I knew with surgical precision what I was – and wasn’t – going to do. I just had to figure out how. The obstacles appeared insurmountable.
In October of 2012, I packed my bags and left my husband without warning, filing for divorce without giving him any prior notice that I was unhappy. I was convinced he was the source of every problem in our relationship. Once I realized how sick I was, however, I was able to see how I had been projecting every issue onto him. He may not have been blameless, but he wasn’t the ogre I’d cast him as. It was time to do some heavy duty apologizing.
And so, even though there was a restraining order preventing us from having any direct contact, I decided to call him. We hadn’t spoken to each other except through our lawyers in months. Our separation was turning nasty and Don was already seeing another woman named Heidi. In fact, Heidi was with him that Saturday morning when I punched in the number that used to be mine. It rang three or four times before Don answered.
I hung up.
I did that a couple more times before I summoned up the courage to say hello.
“We’re not supposed to talk to each other,” he said. Then he hung up.
So I called back.
When I told him what was going on, he agreed to meet me. He offered to meet me in a coffee shop; I told him a public parking lot would be fine.
Later – much later – Don told me Heidi admitted she knew their relationship wasn’t going anywhere if he was willing to drop everything at 9 AM on a Saturday to see me. Looking back, it seems inevitable we’d reconcile, but I didn’t know that then.
I remember how cold and scared I was that gray February morning; cold and gray as only a February in New England can be.
I told Don what the doctors said. I showed him my lump. I asked him to forgive me enough to help me.
And somehow, he did.
The doctors and nurses weren’t prepared for us – a rebel preppy from New Jersey and a street kid from Brooklyn with way more than life and death on the line.
Despite what I’d done, and Heidi doing her best to hang on, Don came with me to every appointment, procedure, and consultation. He was there when I woke up from surgery. He helped me make sense of all the statistics they threw at me. And when they recommended a most aggressive course of chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone suppressing drugs, he supported me when I said no.
When I said I wanted to go to the place that made my soul sing, he supported me then, too. In September of 2013, we came to the Big Island with the intention of finding a place for both of us to live, a place where both of us could heal. And that December 3, on La’aloa beach with the sun rising behind Mauna Loa, in front of everyone, we married each other once more.
Anne Kelleher’s first novel, Daughter of Prophecy, was chosen to be an inaugural release of Warner Books’ Aspect sf/fantasy line. Since then, Annie has gone on to publish over twenty other titles, in print and online. Her novels are available internationally in five languages. Currently, her time travel romance novel “The Ghost and Katie Coyle” is one of the top 100 on Amazon in that genre.