Excerpt from Other Fish in the Sea.
First you feel it, like a glistening blue muscle, gradually, almost lovingly lift you, and you know that wave ain't gonna wait for you to make up your mind, so you let it sweep you up into its promise. Before you know it, you are riding, riding, riding. Yeah, you're terrified, but you feel beautiful. Not pretty. Not cute. Beautiful. Lucid dream beautiful. Crazy thing is as soon as you sense the first hint of that momentum weakening is the moment you wake up. You negotiate. Promise to be quicker, stronger, smarter, then maybe the ride will last. But it never does, and you dumdum, you let that wave make you forget that you were already quick, strong, and smart. You let it send you tumbling, tumbling, blind in white wash for what feels like forever until you finally thrust your head above water. And breathe again.
Whoever says love is like the perfect wave does not know shit. In the end, that ride feels more like a train wreck. Love shouldn't throw you off the rails, beat you up until you don't know where you are. Who you are. Love should not be the reason why you end up in the ER. Love, real love, is more like the shore. Patient. Enduring. Accepting. Love is like coming home.
Now if I told you I met the man I would marry as the result of a car accident, what would you say?
a) Love transcends all insurance deductibles.
b) Quit mixing your metaphors. Which one is it? Waves? Cars? Trains? WTF?
c) Accident? Sounds ominous.
Correct answer "c"
Like I said, you'd think I would have known better, but the accident happened after my heart had been freshly torn open. Let me start with what happened before the four-inch-heel Candie's jammed into the car floor mat. Before my face punched a spider's web into the windshield. Before I met him and the black bled into orchid. Before the voice in my heart taught me to trust my na'au. My gut. And breathe again.
Never Call Me Sweetie
First love. Jude Chang. If memory serves me right, we were sixteen years old when we met one early morning at Tongg's--a surf spot with access along Diamond Head Road near the old Watumull house. I'd been out early that morning with my boogie board and on the way back in, I hopped on a catamaran anchored about twelve feet from shore. I climbed onto the trampoline, pulled of my in, and lay on my back in the sun. I was tired, a good tired. I closed my eyes and licked away salt left on my lips. I still had water in my ears, and as the catamaran gently rocked, all I could hear was my breathing. Lungs take in air; lungs release air. Lungs take in air; lungs release air--my own safely muffled world, until warm saltwater slowly seeped out my ears and trickled down the sides of my neck. I kept my eyes closed and listened, as the rhythms of the world outside my head grew sharper. The haaa shush of waves outside the reef. The rigging clack, tink, clacking against the catamaran's aluminum mast. And laughter. Laughter?
I opened my eyes. Three surfers were paddling towards me below a cloudless sky.
It was 1976.
They paddled their boards closer to the catamaran--a younger boy, an older boy, and an older man. I recognized the man, sat up, and then tried to hide my face behind the catamaran's mast.
"I thought that was you. How come you not in school?"
Shit, I thought. Busted. "Howzit Uncle Brian," I said.
Uncle Brian wasn't really my uncle, uncle. I was about five years old when my parents split up, but Mom didn't have boyfriends until I was at least thirteen, which is when I met Uncle Brian, a busboy at the Sheraton Waikiki where Mom was a waitress.
I knew Uncle Brian had a thing for Mom, but Mom set him straight the day he came over with a scale, a vacuum sealer, and a huge-ass Ziploc bag filled with weed. "Tips just ain't enough," Uncle Brian said. As soon as Uncle Brian spotted from our apartment balcony a cop car that just happened to pull into the driveway, he threw the scale and the sealer into a half-empty, twenty-pound bag of Calrose rice and pushed the Ziploc bag of weed into the oven.
"The oven?" I said to Uncle Brian. "Kinda obvious, yeah? Seal the bag and throw um in the toilet tank. Going stay dry."
Mom was pissed. "Now she's hiding your shit for you? Get out."
When Uncle Brian left our apartment, Mom slapped my face and told me if she ever caught me smoking weed, she would kill me.
Uncle Brian and the boys stopped near the catamaran and sat upright to straddle their boards. The older boy couldn't even look me in the eye, but I looked at him. Brown, broad shoulders. Too skinny, but his wet hair slicked back revealed such a sweet face even if he refused to smile.
"So howz da surf?" Uncle Brian said.
"Better than math," I said and looked at Uncle Brian and then at the boys and then back at Uncle Brian, as if to say, where are your manners brah, introduce us already.
He must have took the hint because he said, "This is Gleason and Jude."
I thought, god, I hope the younger boy's name is Gleason because that's the most doofus name...
"Jude, over here go Campbell High School. Gleason is at Pohakea Elementary. Boys, this is Kerry Girl."
The evolution of my name: after my parents split up, Mom took back her maiden name and had mine changed as well. She said taking back her name was so humbug. New driver's license. New checks. New everything. But humbug didn't matter when it came to knowing who she was and who I should be. She made sure everyone at work used her maiden name too, so when Granny Kerry brought me to the restaurant, I was called everything from "Kerry's baby" to "Kerry-Two" to "Kerry's little girl." Pretty soon, to distinguish who was who, Mom became Lady Kerry and I became Kerry Girl. The name stuck, and besides, no one could say my first name, Ka'upena, which is my father's mother's name. I was named after someone I didn't even know.
Gleason grabbed the hull of the catamaran and hung on. He didn't look as comfortable on a surfboard as Jude did, but then again, Gleason was probably about seven years old and twenty pounds overweight.
"Is this your boat?" Gleason asked me.
"No. Why?" I shot back. Truth was I had no idea who owned the boat, so I didn't want Poppin' Fresh Doughboy jumping on it.
"So how come you not in school?" I asked Jude, but the stuck up shit didn't say a word. He just looked at the surf.
Uncle Brian looked at his watch. "You better get goin', girl."
"Write me an excuse note?" I said.
"You like your mom kill me or what? How is Lady doing?"
Took him long enough, I thought.
"Oh you know, busy," I said. "She working nights now too."
"Tough as nails, your mom," Uncle Brian said.
"We better hit it," Uncle Brian said. "I gotta get these boys back by noon. And you. You better go school."
Uncle Brian and Gleason paddled a few yards away but stayed inside the reef while Jude paddled out. Right before Jude entered the surline, he held on to his board to push through an incoming wave. The wave was small, so he just slid up and over the top. Right before his board dropped, he turned towards the shore. His wind-blown hair covered half his face. I knew he was looking for me because when he found me sitting on the catamaran, he smiled. He was a lot taller than I had expected--at least six feet. He was aggressive, yet graceful for someone with such skinny, long limbs. Something told me he was showing of, so I waited for him to come back. Uncle Brian gave me hell, but then he took us to Rainbow Drive Inn for breakfast where Gleason scarfed an entire scoop of rice in one gulp. I ordered the usual corn-beef hash and eggs. I was starving, but I couldn't eat. I sat across from Jude wishing he'd say something because I was speechless.
His hands. Musician hands. Long slim fingers suited for piano keys or guitar frets. He didn't say much, didn't trust easily and rarely smiled, so when he did smile, wow. And hair. He had the best hair. Perpetually ocean messy, shoulder length and so thick, silky and streaked gold, I accused him once of using hair conditioner.
"Wella Balsam or mayonnaise?" I said to him the first time he called me. He got my phone number from my cousin, Lita Hardy, who knew his cousin, Franklin Pacheco, who used to go with my friend, Tamara Sasaki.
"Wella? What?" Jude said. "And mayonnaise. What you talking about? Bologna?"
"Balsam. Wella Balsam. Conditioner. For your hair dumdum," I said. "How do you get your hair to be so shiny and manageable?"
There was a short, silent pause over the phone followed by laughter.
"Avocado," he said. "I mash-up avocado, Tabasco sauce, and little bit lemon ...and then I open one bag Holsom Bread and make lunch," he said. "Mayonnaise. What you tink me? I wash my hair with one bar soap. Dumdum."
"I was just messing with your mind," I said. "You so country."
"Das right," he said. "And you so townie. I should catch bus right now and make you one good, solid avocado sandwich."
"You should," I said.
"Yeah, I like," he said. "I like you."
"Yeah. I like you too. Dumdum."
What we had in common made us instant allies: divorced parents, single working mothers, fathers we saw on special occasions, and teachers who called us latch-key kids. We tried to one-up each other with family secrets. I told him I was actually a mistake, but my father felt guilty and married my mother. Jude said, "Das nothing." Gleason was really his half-brother, and his mother didn't even know who Gleason's father was. What the hell, I thought. Jude won that round.
We preferred Aerosmith over Boston. Disco sucked. Gerry Lopez was radical. English was easier than math, and Carrie was the most righteous movie ever made. We swore of marriage since our parents managed to screw up in that department, but if we were to ever get married and have kids, god forbid, we would never bag like our fathers had done. Jude called me every day.
After spending hours on the phone, Mom asked, "So who is he?"
"He?" I said. "Who? Where?"
She tried to keep a straight face.
"We're just friends, OK?" I said.
"Fine. So who is your just friend?" she said.
"He's from 'Ewa Beach," I said.
"Das gas money, honey," she said. "Get a job."
Nobody was going to buy me a car, not like some of those kids who drove into the Kaimuki High parking lot in their Toyota SR5s or Camaros, so I got a job hoping to save up for some rust-bucket that would at least get me from point A to point B and back. I worked at McDonald's on Lewers in Waiklki. Jude got a job too at the Reynolds Can Plant in Makakilo. Between work and school, we'd spend our dinner breaks on payphones and saw each other on the weekends. For one whole year, Jude and I caught the bus to go to the beach or cruise Ala Moana Shopping Center. The first time Jude met Mom, she looked at me and said, "You look like you could be brother and sister!" Brother and sister, I thought. "Gag me with a spoon," I said and then shoved two fingers into my mouth and far back into my throat, a charming expression I had learned from Gleason.
Jude had to bring Gleason with him to town often, so we took him to the Puck's Alley arcade near UH to play foosball or to the air-conditioned comfort of Kapahulu library where Jude could hold my hand in the young adult novel section while Gleason read Highlights in the children's section. Sometimes Mom would let Jude and Gleason sleep over on Saturday nights so they wouldn't have to catch the bus home. We'd do homework and then watch Saturday Night Live or Midnight Special late into the night. Gleason would end up sleeping in my room while Jude slept on the living room floor; he always gave me the sofa. And then finally, by the time we were seventeen years old, Jude had inherited from his cousin a 1967 root beer colored--could hardly see the rust--Volkswagen bug that we afectionately named Dumdum. Jude would pick me up on Saturday nights after my shift at McDonald's. The straps on his surfboard racks whipped the air as we rode along Kalakaua Avenue. Everybody drove their suped up, well-polished Bugs, GTOs, Dusters, and Toyotas up Kalakaua Avenue, back down Kuhio Avenue, and then back up Kalakaua Avenue, looking for other kids making the circle. "See us," we seemed to say as we cruised the streets, "because we see you."
Tourists? What tourists? We owned the place. Kalakaua Avenue was our Wilshire, our Broadway. It was in our eyes anyway. We'd save our money and escape to Waikiki Theater. Pretty plush place. Velvet seats. Backlit palm trees. A ceiling mural of clouds. I loved going to the movies so much, I actually considered being an usherette, but I'd probably look like I was on some May Day court in the usherette uniform--white slacks, white shoes, and a red silk waist sash. Forget that.
School sucked eggs, but I stuck it out. On senior prom night, Jude and I saw the Society of Seven at the Outrigger Hotel. I stole an ashtray and a virgin Mai Tai glass from the table and displayed them like trophies on my dresser. Sometimes Jude and I would park at the Honolulu Zoo and walk the strip towards the International Market Place where the scent of kerosene from lit tiki torches and the ssssshhhh of the coconut trees had me, for just a few moments, living in one of those travel brochures like the one I picked up--as if I was really interested in Keoki's Polynesian Luau--in the lobby of the Princess Ka'iulani Hotel. That night we left the lobby and walked onto the street and gazed at the hotel rooms above us. Drawn curtains, some lit from behind with drapes blushed with warm light.
"We go chance um," Jude whispered. He grabbed my hand and we stood, toe-to-toe, facing one another. I stepped to the left; he followed. I stepped to the right; he followed. He was no longer that skinny sixteen-year-old boy I had met at Tongg's two years earlier. His chest and arms had filled out, so he looked even better in those Hang-Ten T-shirts he always wore. He had to cut his hair short for work, but his face--still sweet as ever, even if stubble peppered the space between his nose and upper lip. I never understood what he saw in me.
I looked into the lobby at the man behind the desk. "You sure that man no look familiar to you? You sure das not one cousin or...?"
Jude shook his head.
"What you going say?" I said,
"I'd like a room, please," Jude said.
"He going know we just kids," I said.
"I just made eighteen," he said. "Says so on my license."
"What if he asks me something? Something like, are you married?" I said.
Jude turned towards the street and smiled. "I'll tell him you're already taken," he said.
We'd made love before--back seat of the Bug at Tantalus lookout, beneath a scratchy wool blanket at a moonlit Kahala Beach Park--but never in a bed. The closest we came to a room was inside his pup tent at Nanakuli Beach Park.
"You do the talking," I said.
"For a change?" he said.
"I love you, dumdum," I said.
"Me too," he said.
We shared so many "irsts." First prom. First job. First ATM password. First M-rated movie. First condom purchase. First prescription for The Pill. First hotel room sex. And then, right before I would turn eighteen came the first series of excuses.
"Cannot come over. Got more hours at the plant. Sorry dumdum."
"OK. I understand."
"My mom is gonna start charging me rent. Gotta save. Spending too much on gas."
"OK. I understand."
"The boys at work like come over. We going just drink in the garage. You going be bored."
"OK. I.going out with Tamara folks. We going disco. Point After. Maybe La Mancha if we not too tired from all that dancing and drinking."
"Up to you."
When Jude did come over, he didn't bring Gleason along anymore, and sometimes he smelled like beer or cigarettes or just seemed bored, like he was waiting to punch the clock. He'd watch TV while I flipped through the pages of Mom's Cosmopolitan magazines and secretly took those quizzes. Are you good-girl hot or bad-girl hot? Are you way too good for him? Are you sure he's the one? I spent more time with my gang too--Tamara, Crystal, Brandie, and Sterling Silva, who might as well have been a girl--and told them Jude was buying a lot of new clothes at Kramer's. Angel Flights. Silky aloha shirts. What really threw me off was when Jude started combing his hair so it would stay in a middle part.
Tamara said, "You should make 'um jealous. Dress more sexy."
Crystal said, "Tell him you think you're pregnant. Think. Not are. You just think you're pregnant."
Brandie said, "Go see the psychic at International Market Place and find out the true truth."
Sterling finally said, "What you waiting for? Just leave his ass."
Leave his ass, I thought? Where would I go?
And then finally, on the one Saturday when Jude really, really should have called me, he did not. My birthday, December 15, which also meant the obligatory dinner with my father.
The earliest memory I have of my father: I was maybe five or six years old. We were at Nu'uanu Valley Park. The sun was shy that day, so the air was crispy cool. My father gave me his catcher's mitt. "Stay here," he told me, and he ran about two yards in the opposite direction. He pitched a fat leather baseball and yelled, "Keep your eye on the ball." Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back, and my right eye had begun to swell so much, I couldn't see out of it. I was screaming bloody murder when he swept me up in his arms and carried me to his car. He was so sorry, but Mom chewed him out. Bad. He slept in his car for a week, which was when Mom began referring to him as "your father." I wasn't around when he packed the rest of his stuff and moved out. Once my eye healed up, I was convinced I'd never see him again. And then when I turned ten, he showed up out of the blue to take me out for my birthday.
Since then, every year he'd pick me up in his El Camino and he always, always took me to Flamingo Restaurant where the drink AND dessert came with the meal. He'd order a steak; I'd order the turkey. He had coffee and chocolate pudding; I'd have fruit punch and tapioca. We sat in the same booth on avocado-green vinyl benches that stuck to the back of my calves. We mostly ate in silence, give or take a few sentences about school or how much I had grown since he last saw me.
On the night that was officially known as "the night Jude didn't call," my father took me to, guess where, Flamingo. When the waitress came to take our order, she looked at me and let out a very loud, "Oh my goodness! Look your daughter. So grown up! Your father talks about you all the time, you know."
I looked at him, and he gave me one of those quick smiles as if he had just been busted for something naughty. Not bad. Just naughty.
"So, how's your girl. Her name Jenny, right?" my father said to the waitress.
"My Jen is engaged!" the waitress said.
"Congratulations," my father said.
"I tell you what Saul, when my baby girl came home and told me she was getting married, made me feel so damn old. Where do the years go?"
My father nodded as if he were an expert.
In between the empty Q&A moments, I'd look at the men sitting at the counter and wondered if they talked about their daughters all the time. When the waitress delivered the bill, my father pulled out his wallet like he had done every year and passed me two, twenty-dollar bills--one for my birthday and one for Christmas. "Don't spend it all in one place, sweetie," he said. He always said stuff like that.
After dinner, after my father drove into the condo driveway, he did something he had never done before. He usually kept the engine running while I'd get out of the car, but that night, he shifted into park and killed the engine.
"Estelle told me you still going out with that boy. From 'Ewa."
I was shocked. I never saw my parents talk to one another.
"Maybe we go out New Year's Day. Go brunch someplace," he said. "Bring him. That boy."
"That boy," I said. "Is named Jude."
"Ka'u, if you ever need to talk about..."
"I don't know," he said. "Anything."
"I better get upstairs," I said. "Jude is probably trying to call me."
My father made an attempt at a smile but only to hide the disappointment in his eyes. I knew hurt when I saw it; we finally had something in common and all of sudden I wanted to share so much with him, like how in intermediate school, I had learned how to type without looking at the keys. How in high school I had gotten an A for English even if I hadn't read, in its entirety, Mobyfreaking-Dick. But for some reason, I just leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. He froze as if he hadn't expected that kiss. He was about to reach for his keys in the ignition, but he paused as if some invisible force had stopped his hand.
"Next time, you order the steak, and I'll order the turkey," he said.
Shock #2. He was funny. "Shoots," I said.
"You look so much like your mother."
"Gag me with a spoon," I said. "You look like the father in that movie, Kramer vs. Kramer. Same hair. Same nose."
"Big nose?" he asked.
"Real big nose."
"No kidding. I look like a movie star. I should see it, yeah?"
"That movie was OK," I said. "I mean, not as good as Amityville Horror. There's this scene where ectoplasm pours out of this psychic's mouth and ears while she's in this trance and her eyes are rolled back like she's possessed. Was righteous."
"Ectoplasm, huh. Wow," he said.
"Ectoplasm is like ribbons of this smoky ooze that is suppose to be stuff ghosts wear so they can interact with the physical world. I read about it at the library. Anyway, the psychic starts talking, but her voice isn't her voice. It's the voice of a dead man."
"Dead, huh. Wow."
"Anyway, if you do see it, I mean Kramer vs. Kramer, bring Kleenex. I didn't cry, but Jude was weeping. He's sensitive, but he won't admit it. You cry at movies?"
"Me? Never," he said, and then he let out a shoulder shaking, chest heaving, fake sob.
We laughed and laughed, and when we stopped laughing, I wanted to ask him why love could hurt more than wiping out on a reef, but then I caught myself. I realized I had let my guard down.
"I better split," I said.
"I'll call you," he said.
I didn't believe him for a minute.
"Happy birthday, sweetie. Merry Christmas too. All that jazz," he said and turned the key in the ignition.
After I stepped out of the El Camino, I watched it disappear down the driveway. I didn't even know where he lived.
I ran up two flights of stairs, pushed my way into the apartment, past the miniature foil Christmas tree with tiny lights Mom takes out of a box every year. I practically pounced on the message machine. Nothing. I turned on the television and sulked. The Osmond Brothers Christmas special had just started. Log cabin. Snow covered pine trees. Donny, Jay, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, even the small one, Jimmy, wearing matching red sweaters with little white collars. They were wearing those fancy sweaters and carrying firewood. Now that's Christmas, I thought. Big family singing carols, while the old folks smiled and swayed to what sounded like a full orchestra. I couldn't tell where the music was coming from, but it was there, unlike Mom.
Earlier, before my father showed up, I had driven Mom to The Monarch where she waitressed at night. Since she didn't want to pay for parking, we made a deal; if I got a license, then I was going to be her licensed chaufeur. Period. No picking up my girls go cruise Waikiki. No late night Peach Melba at Alex's Drive Inn. I pulled from my pocket the money my father had given me. The bills were new and difficult to separate. I pictured my father standing in line at the bank to get those crisp twenties. At least I like to think he did. I placed them under the foil tree, plugged in the lights and watched Thomas Jeferson's face turn red, then green, then blue.
I turned the TV dial and eventually found Karen Carpenter singing on the porch of a country house surrounded by trees that were heavy with fake snow. She walked slowly down a few stairs as she sang the second verse to, what else, "Merry Christmas Darling." Karen paused near a mailbox, which, by the look on her face, was probably empty. She wore a black, floor-length cape that was as velvety as her voice, and the cape's hood glittered around her dark hair and pretty eyes. She made longing for someone seem lovely. "I wish I were with you. Merry, merry, merry Christmas, merry Christmas." Dumdum. Wasn't it enough that I had to hear that frickin' song on the radio every five minutes, I thought? I picked up the phone and dialed Jude's number. No answer.
Maybe he cut open his hand with an aluminum sheet.
Maybe I said something wrong.
Maybe he met another girl.
Maybe I should drive to his house and find out what the hell was going on.
I went to my room, turned on the lighted makeup mirror and slapped on the works: powder, blush, very black mascara, violet eye shadow, and plum-colored lip gloss. I chose the black Danskin and matching wrap skirt from my closet and grabbed the pair of Candie's with the four-inch heels from Mom's closet. I slicked my hair into a high, side ponytail and did a turn in the full-length mirror; swimmer's shoulders and boyishly built with just enough of ass to give that skirt some curve. I was going to make Jude Chang regret ever leaving me alone on my birthday.
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|Title Annotation:||NEW WORK FROM THE EDITORS|
|Author:||Kanae, Lisa Linn|
|Publication:||Bamboo Ridge, Journal of Hawai'i Literature and Arts|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
|Previous Article:||Squid Eye.|
|Next Article:||Letter to Honolulu.|