Tiny Bubbles, Coconut Bras & Greg Brady

Paradise Found on Ohau, Hawaii

Pamela Lewis scuba diving in Belize, viewing a coral wall.
Pamela Lewis scuba diving in Belize, viewing a coral wall.

Before the September 11 Attacks, I worked at an Internet start-up company in New York City as an executive assistant. In anticipation of the company's initial public offering, my peers had their Victorian homes and Vera Wang wedding dresses picked out. When the economy began to suffer almost every employee was laid off, which ended any plans on moving to paradise for some. Not only is my Victorian home with the wrap-around porch still on hold, so are the items to put in it and the person to share the house with. The combination of being freshly laid off and experiencing the horrors of the September 11 Attacks put me in a funk, to say the least. I believed now was the time for me to make a major


My first option was to stay in Hoboken (New Jersey) and look for work in Manhattan. Another possibility was to go to my parents in North Carolina to re-group. Not out of the realm of possibility was also just picking up and moving somewhere entirely new, maybe even paradise. Staying in Hoboken or anywhere near New York City would be too difficult The thought of living in the same house with my parents, crazy and crazier, was disabling to me. Dealing with my mom meant I would have to care for her house as if it was an infant, incapable of rebounding from anything I might do to it. In every direction there existed potential damage, drinks that would leave stains without coasters, the one crumb that could be the invitation to thousands of ants, or the accidental turning of an antique that can cause irreparable sun damage. No breeze, no dirt, no leaves, no sand, nor any other proof of outside life could make its way into the house. It's similar to how I imagine living in a bio-dome. My mother also takes offense to any outside noise she hears including music, people talking or children laughing. Did I mention that the house temperature must remain at about 100 degrees?

Purple and pink orchids on a Oau hilside. Photo by Pamela Lewis
Orchids on a hillside. Photo by Pamela Lewis of Tropical Depression.

With my dad meant being careful to never be in disagreement with him. It also meant no collusion was allowed, meaning I wasn't to incite my mother to ask for equal rights within the house. When the euphoria of being united with my family wore ends, and I've already eaten through their cupboards, I'm left trying to ignore all that made me leave in the first place. Besides trying to make life choices Hoboken evenings after September 11 were spent trying to forget what was happening across the Hudson River where I can still smell and see smoke rising. Searching for anything that would encourage me to relax, I began viewing a VHS tape my father bought me after I became a certified scuba diver. In some serendipitous twist of fate, the tape was all about diving in the paradise that is Hawaii. Diving is the only activity that keeps me in the moment save for choking, drowning, equipment failure, and running out of air. I'm not worried about paying back taxes or dealing with back boyfriends while diving. It's just me and hopefully the sound of the bubbles being created from my breathing. I would watch that video repeatedly because the music relaxed me and the fish lulled me to sleep.

I woke up one morning after falling asleep to Hawaii's happy fish and made a decision. I was moving to Hawaii. Why should I wait once a year to scuba dive on vacation when I could live in a place where I could dive whenever I wanted? Paradise, basically on call. I could retain my citizenship, use the same currency and not have to learn another language. I'm not sure why it took planes flying into buildings to come to this conclusion but I didn't fight it. When I told my parents about my plan to move to Hawaii my dad said, "No one moves to Hawaii." I thought 'How could this possibly be true. Hawaii is a state in the union, there's no reason on Earth why I couldn't move there. I'm not allergic to lava or macadamia nuts and I know how to swim.' My parents focused on the facts as they knew them. They believed everyone in Hawaii lived in grass shacks, gets all their food from roadside stands and the only fashion is the coconut bra. On the contrary, Hawaii has been a state since August 21, 1959, and has about 1.4 million residents.

Pamela Lewis sitting on the back of the boat after an excellent Hawaii dive with sea turles galore.
Pamela Lewis sitting on the boat after an awesome Hawaii dive, sea turtles galore.

After all this preparation and already on the plane for paradise, I was shocked that I forgot about something obvious. I suffer from clinical depression and have been on anti- depressants since college. If anyone was to meet my family, they would know there was no way I could survive without mind- altering drugs. In Hawaii, I would be without my medication until I secured employment with full-time benefits and I had no clue how long that could take. Insanity is hard-coded even into my relatives' DNA. On one side of the family was a pyromaniac with a penchant for setting curtains on fire. A relative on the other side introduced the world to carjacking when he threw a woman out of her car and attempted to drive to South America on the Long Island Expressway. That really was nuts - imagine thinking one could get anywhere on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour! I always beleived he should have been given credit for developing the trend of appropriating cars when needed. My family consists of trail-blazers and for that, we deserve some props.

The first few years being on medication I was embarrassed and ashamed. At this point in my life, I don't know anyone who isn't on anti-depressants. Like my dark hair or my height, my depression is just another feature I was born with. Often people have the wrong idea of what these drugs do for patients. My medication puts me on an even playing field so that I can deal with problems like everyone else. Without medication my inner dialogue might be something like, 'I'm alone with no money, no prospects for the future. I should just end it all.' With medication my dialougue changes to 'I'm alone with no money, no prospects for the future. What should I have for dinner?'

Pamela Lewis taking a break while leaning on a directon marker on the Kilauea Iki trail on the BIg Isand.
Pamela Lewis hiking the Kilauea Iki trail on the Big Isand.

I began to worry about the possibility that my parents were right about Hawaii. What if the coconut bra is the only fashion and worse still what if no one suffers from depression? The very reasons I had for moving to to Hawaii could be the same reasons that would make paradise impossible to move to. The absorbative traits of vitamin D could make Hawaii residents immune to sadness. A literal and figurative paradise? What if Hawaii had doctors that could treat me, but they were more akin to a shaman? Instead of traditional medications, they would want me to eat brains and animal bones? What if they wanted me to perform rituals where I stand in a hut made from bird poop for three days without food for water?

While in the air I did find solace from a surprising place. I thought of the "Brady Bunch Hawaii" episode where a host of terrible things happened to the Bradys after Peter took the tiki idol from the cave. These events served as proof that doctors did exist in paradise. During that trip, Alice must have needed an orthopedist when she experienced her hula-induced hip injury. Greg most likely needed an internist for his surfing accident. I assumed that Bobby and Cindy visited an emergency room when they became dehydrated while lost. Of interest to me is the high likelihood that Carol had to seek on-the-spot psychiatric care for having such a dumb-ass family

When my plane landed in Hawaii it was a picture-perfect afternoon. As soon as I deplaned I saw several women wearing colorful dresses while holding lei and I knew I was in paradise. In both the Hawaii episode as well as Elvis movies, viewers can see weary travelers receiving lei as they deplane. Traditional lei greetings were standard when airlines sold package deals with hotels. Now most vacationers book their airfare and hotel separately. However, for about $30 a "Hawaiian Lei Greeting" can be purchased for an arriving guest. Since I was without family, friends, or a paid greeter my first welcome came in the form of a short, gentleman wearing a bright green floral shirt. The gentleman asked me "Where you stay?" I looked around thinking he must be speaking to someone else. He repeated himself "Sistah. Where you stay?" I apologized to him and explained the obvious, "I'm not from here." He asked for the third time, "Where you need for go? You stay at hotel?" 'Oh, now I get it I thought. I gave him the hostel address and as he reaches for my bag, my New York sensibility kicked in and I grabbed my bag back. I asked if he had any identification that would prove he was an actual cab driver. He rolled his eyes and said, "Sistah, you take da bus that will be fulla tourists who don't know where they stay and bus driva so mean, ya head spin. You miss stop and end up side da road like dawg." I lobbed my bag at him and said, "Waikiki please."

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