The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
In 2015, I left the worst Boston winter on record to mend my bruised and battered heart. Somewhere in my last relationship, I had left bits and pieces of myself strewn across the state of Massachusetts. The man I had loved had abruptly stopped loving me, shaking my sense of self and my confidence. I knew I would never be who I had been, but I was determined to fall in love with the person I knew I could be. I was ready to take on experiences that I had previously labeled as “somedays” and “pipe dreams” and turn them into my here and now.
It rained the morning I left Boston with just three suitcases, a new tattoo and plans to move to Honolulu, Hawaii, with my black lab. I drove south to stop in New York City, West Virginia and Tennessee, crashing with friends along the way — and reveling in the freedom that exists in the unknown. I traveled west on Route 40 from Arkansas to California, camping in national parks and truck stops.
Some days, I drove in silence with my thoughts, gaining solace in my self-imposed solitude. Many days I met fellow travelers, who were eager to exchange stories, offer recommendations and invite a lost Bostonian along to hike.
For the first time in a long while, I was pleased to find that I wanted to be myself among strangers: the optimistic, sarcastic, friendly me I hadn’t seen in a while. It wasn’t a miraculous transformation, but I knew she was in there. The road brought back some of myself, but it was only one leg in the journey to find what I was really looking for.
Three weeks on the road and one plane ride later, I arrived on Oahu. I was drawn to the whimsical aspect of its grandeur, where startling blue water meets the edges of powdery white sand; where dramatic green mountains rise steep; and where jagged ridges are encased in mist and clouds. The island itself is made from the tops of extinct volcanoes; the ancient beauty often makes you feel you are somewhere mythical.
Oahu is an outdoor playground: It feels as though you could spend 365 days a year hiking and still never walk all its winding paths. You can get lost in bamboo forests, bathe in waterfalls and explore sea caves, all after work. Weekends on Oahu call for camping trips with Milky Way views on the west side, where you wake up at sunrise to swim with the dolphins. This is what living on the island entails: challenging yourself to make the most of the location you’re in.
We are also a blended community, rich with local Hawaiian and Asian culture and influence. It’s a community that’s constantly shifting with the transient residents drawn to the island’s magic. We are people searching for purpose, for the best wave or for Instagram fame. I have met aimless wanderers from all over the globe; environmentalists with aspirations to save the coral reef; young Marines on their first tour; students who dream only of leaving the island’s isolation for more of the world.
There are just over 950,000 people living on the small island, where nothing is ever farther than a hour’s drive away. Where the jungles have been cleared away, houses and businesses are jammed into every available nook and cranny. Houses in the valley sit so close to one another that you can hear somebody open a cabinet in the next one over.
Living on a tropical island, you learn to accept the beauty and the beast of a place. Crime rates are high; it is a rite of passage to have your car window broken and your belongings stolen. You are a veteran islander if the thieves take the entire car. It is frequently a land of not what you know, or how talented you are, but who you know. Homeless camps house thousands of people, in tents, tarps and makeshift huts that line the beaches and streets across the island. We joke about the cost of living and refer to these burdens as the “paradise tax.” But we keep coming, to bask in the magic and learn the lessons that mother Oahu has to offer.
We transplants tend to come, learn our lessons and move on. Out on an island, in a time zone of its own, it can be hard to maintain contact with friends and family back home. The transplants come together and make a “framily” of sorts. This becomes the group of people you can call when it is 3 a.m. back home — to celebrate your successes and drown your sorrows. My own framily has morphed many times since 2015, and now little pieces of my heart live all over the world with the people who helped shape my time in paradise.
Oahu pushed me to grow by allowing me to make mistakes and fail. She simultaneously brought light into my soul with her beauty and magic, while forcing me to face the harsh realities of island isolation, cost of living and crime. She helped me define my self-worth, and opened my heart to a beautiful boy with smiling brown eyes.
I learned that paradise is not a location, but a state of mind. And this week, I bid her farewell. I got what I came for: an unshakable love for myself. I now also have direction and determination to create a future I am excited to claim as my own. I am heading back to school on the mainland, and I also plan to write in my free time.
I feel like a proud graduate of the Oahu school of life. I have not finished growing into the woman I want to be, but the island provided me with the tools I need to continue the journey. I will miss you, Oahu, and a little bit of my heart will always be yours. Here are the six places I will miss most.
You are home to one of my favorite views in the entire world. Thank you for introducing my visiting friends and family to the payoff of a Hawaiian hike. In a single 30-minute climb, you helped me explain, without words, the draw of this magical island. Your views of deep valleys, lush tropical mountains and endless expanses of ocean never failed to impress.
I will miss your willingness to be so many things. You were our meeting place when our apartments were too small — the host of our “friendsgivings,” pumpkin carvings and impromptu picnics. You were my go-to spot to run, where my feet knew exactly where all the sidewalk’s cracks and obstacles were. You were where I practiced sunset yoga, and where fire dancers practiced on a Tuesday night.
I will miss eating decadent spreads under your colorful umbrellas, which are hidden behind a strip mall in Hawaii Kai. I will always remember your mismatched chairs, eclectically tiled tables and local art. Even as I sit here sipping on a matcha latte, I miss you and the character you brought to many girls’ brunch gatherings and morning dates with my handsome human — not to mention the occasional hangover relief you provided in the form of comfort food and caffeine.
Thank you for your magic. I have to admit to occasionally being unimpressed by “just another beautiful Oahu view,” but even the most seasoned islander can fall in love with your luminescent beauty. Dropping into the “puka,” I could shed my real-world worries and imagine, just for a little while, that I was a mermaid.
You are more than just a farmer’s market. I will miss this one-stop shop for amazing local food, reef-safe sunblock and handmade jewelry. I will miss perusing the selections of succulents and hand-carved furniture while noshing on organic goodies from all over the island. At this farmer’s market, salespeople aren’t selling products, they’re selling passion projects. Whether I’ve left with homemade kombucha, or dog treats made with love, I have always walked away feeling the aloha.
You are my hidden gem. I will miss stripping away the grime of urban Hawaii by taking east side drives, when I’d turn on the local reggae station to listen to covers by local musicians. I’d sing along, watching the sand and ocean pass, until an empty stretch of beach felt like the right one for the day.
Visiting Oahu? Find Jessica’s recommendations mapped out here.