If you told me last November that right now I’d be living in Hawaii, with my grandma as my sole roommate, working remotely for a tech company, in the middle of a global pandemic…well, I wouldn’t have believed you.
But, by April of this year, if you told me the same thing…well, I probably would have believed you. Allow me to explain.
This spring, my traditional “plan ahead” mentality came up rough against the unpredictability of COVID and our rearranged world. At first I thought I could still plan six months in advance. But soon the gravity of this thing set in. I readjusted my planning-perspective to two months out. Next time I looked up, the world was flat on its back. My timeline became one month out. Then, three weeks. By August, I couldn’t think more than a few days ahead. While not totally dissipated, my “plan ahead” mentality had been beaten into the Earth by reality. And my willingness (dare I say enjoyment) for continued spontaneity had shot through the roof.
So when, in early October, Grandma and I were sitting by the ocean in Santa Cruz and she threw out the idea of “going to Hawaii for the winter,” it didn’t sound as unreasonable or impossible to me as it would have a year ago. Nor did it sound too last minute to me, as it may have at the beginning of this whole pandemic-hoopla. In fact, it sounded totally reasonable, possible, and right-on-time.
Within the span of a few weeks, we’d purchased out-bound flights for the first week of November and found a condo on the Big Island to rent through the end of January. My sister and Grandma coerced a way for her to take care of Grandma’s dog Sugar while we were gone. And I subtly informed my bosses that I’d still be working PDT hours – but from the Hawaii time zone for a few months. (Conversations which I navigated with the utmost humility. After all, “I’m going to live with my grandma in Hawaii for a few months” comes-off differently than “I’m going to live with my grandma in Boston/Denver/Minneapolis for a few months”)
After sorting out the logistics of dogs and work (two of the most important things in life, I’ll note), there was little additional coordination required for our westward migration. Part, in thanks to COVID’s radical simplification of our lives, and part as a result of the life stages that Grandma and I are both at. Me: without a dog, spouse, children, lease or mortgage…and with a currently-remote job. Grandma: without a spouse or children relying on her (if anything, she’s relying on the grandchild, a’hem, *me* here 😉 )…and with the forced-flexibility of all her social engagements already moved to Zoom (Mahjong, chair yoga, women’s group, *multiple* book clubs, film club…the list continues).
The only real logistical hassle to navigate was getting onto Hawaii itself. The islands opened to visitors in mid-October, requiring double-testing and proof of negative results to bypass the previous 14 day quarantine that had kept non-residents out since the spring. This involved us scrambling to get a rapid-test from an approved provider (and receive proof of negative results) within 72 hours before departing the mainland. Then, we were rapidly re-tested when we arrived at the airport in Kona before being “released” onto the island. I’ll spare the additional details, but it was an interesting experience to go through. I’m especially curious if it’s a model for how travel could begin to safely open up in certain areas pre-vaccine (e.g. other islands, or countries with tightly controlled borders, like Israel).
Anyways, we arrived November 4th, mid-election (as we all know, we couldn’t say we were “post-election” at that point) and settled right back in. “Back in” because my aunt and uncle lived in Kona in the early 2000s, and so my grandparents spent the good portion of many winters here with them. And, to my good fortune, when Hannah and I were little, my parents would pull us out of school for weeks at a time to join in the fun.
Thus, being in Kona now as a “temporary-resident” really does feel like revisiting an old home. Grandma and I swim at the same beaches after work that I played at as a child, wander the aisles of the same Walmart looking for snacks, smell the same aromas (read: dead fish) at the local harbor…there is comfort in this full circle.
As we’ve settled in, Grandma and I have quickly developed the most wonderful, basic weekday routine.
- 530am – I get up an hour before work to read (yes, I wake up at an absurd hour to read!) and journal. Grandma is usually still sleeping (precious!).
- 7am – I starts work and desperately try to hide I’m in Hawaii so that coworkers don’t feel jealous (tank tops and the reflection of palm trees in the windows behind me on video calls make this challenging). Grandma makes coffee, checks her email, announces to me the news of the day (“more COVID here, more COVID there, Trump is an idiot”).
- 10am – I take a break (it’s 12pm in California) and walk down to the harbor and back up to the condo, which is followed by sweating, which is followed by a cold shower, which is followed by returning to work. Grandma has usually had at least one Zoom call already.
- 3pm – I wrap up work. Grandma and I decide which local beach to go to, depending on if we want to 1) snorkel, or 2) “bob” (in the waves). We drive down to the beach of choice, get in the water, and forget the world at large. Bliss.
- 430pm – I rinse off the salt water, swap my swimsuit for my workout clothes, and walk home. Grandma drives.
- 6pm – Dinner. It usually looks like a “dorm-room” dinner (eggs, veggies, rice, random left overs). We sit out on the lanai in the dark (lights exist, but neither of us like light…good partnership there!) and look at the stars. Grandma casually drops treasure troves of never-before-heard family lore onto me, and I concentrate really hard to remember it all so I can write it down later.
- 7pm – We turn on Gilmore Girls. We’re rewatching it together. It’s basically the best thing ever. Just as cute a scenario as you could imagine.
- 845pm – I’m zonked. I journal, read, and go to sleep. Grandma stays awake, listens to her radio, makes a midnight snack, and semi-sleeps (the way, apparently, all old people seem to do!).
On weekends we sleep in (so like 7am?) and read a shit-ton (right now I’m reading To the End of the Land, The Great Believers, and Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History…classic Cass combo). We go to beaches outside of Kona, and grocery shop for the week (some epic farmers markets), and Grandma shares more family lore. We are also taking a weekly online course together, from a professor I had while I was studying in Israel about non-Jewish communities in Israel. “Inter-generational learning” the professor calls it. Pretty rad.
This is all to say that going west for the winter (turns out you can even say that coming from California and have it mean something) has been splendid so far. Of course, it is a privilege beyond measure to be safe and healthy AND in paradise while the world-at-large aches in so many ways. This situation has left me oscillating between complex emotions of guilt and gratitude, but I am trying to seat myself in the latter rather than the former state of mind.
Each day here feels like another deep, soothing exhale after such a tragic last 11 months (personally and globally). And for that I am deeply grateful. Recently, I’ve felt as though I’ve aged a decade just since January. I haven’t asked Grandma, but I think she feels the same. So, here’s to the next few months of winter, “west of the West” – may this time add back a few years of youth for the both of us.