An unfamiliar impulse has me in its grip. I want to go shopping.
It makes me laugh to think about how long it’s been since I’ve actually wanted to go shopping. It’s not like I never go – I do, but it’s usually quick in and quick out. I go straight to the black clothing in of a couple of my favorite skate and surfer shops, grab some stuff and go.
I tried shopping with some of my girlfriends in high school but could never get into it. Some of my friends treated shopping as a sport; they built endurance to go all day. But I could never get into it like them. It bored me and most of the clothes I saw on those excursions didn’t appeal to me.
But I’m sifting through my suitcase, assessing the clothes I brought on this trip, and the heavy black leggings, jeans and t-shirts no longer suit my mood. I don’t even know where my head was when I was packing. I was still in so much pain and deep in a brain fog, that I threw whatever was clean and on top in my suitcase. I am lucky I thought to bring a bathing suit.
But now I want something with color. I can’t believe I feel that way. It’s been a long time. I want something in a bright yellow. A sundress, in fact. I wonder if I can find one close by?
I get out my phone and do a quick search through Yelp for local clothing stores in Hanalei. There’s a ton to pick from including some of my favorite surf shops from back home. But I want something different, something local. I think I could actually fit in here if I put on something cheerful and colorful to match my surroundings.
I settle on a place called Sway Hanalei, just up the road that I can walk to.
Gary was mysteriously gone when I got back from surfing so I showered, ate some food, and he still isn’t back. I tried texting him but he’s not responding. I wonder if he’s pissed at me for losing track of time? That’s not like him but disappearing on me isn’t normal either.
I’m not waiting around for him anymore.
I text him again.
“Gary, I don’t know where you are. Are you pissed at me? I am going to go shopping at a place called Sway Hanalei. I’ll be back in an hour. Want to get dinner then?”
I hit send and wait a few minutes for a response. Nothing. I guess I will go shopping.
I lock up the motel room and set out to walk to Sway Hanalei about a mile away. I follow the GPS directions on Google maps that take me through the residential neighborhood near the motel.
I walk along the streets through the fringes of front yards admiring the beauty of the simple surroundings. This neighborhood is so different from what I am used to. First, there’s green everywhere. All the yards have grass and big green bushes and trees. It sort of looks like a neighborhood was plopped in the middle of a jungle.
The giant, green mountains that wrap around Hanalei demand your attention. Everywhere I look, my eyes are drawn back to the big mountains. We don’t have green mountains in California; the droughts leave them brown most of the time.
The houses are all different colors – mostly earth tones of tan and dark green and are both single and two stories. All have some sort of lanai to enjoy the outdoor space. And speaking of outdoors – the yards are huge compared to what I am used to at home. There’s enough space for kids to play with trampolines, playgrounds, and sand pits. Where I grew up, there was barely room to set up a kiddie pool.
Each person I walk by in the neighborhood greets me with an “aloha” or a nod of the head. I’m used to people looking straight ahead and not acknowledging each other. This is much better.
The gravel of the residential road crunches under my black Vans, and my mind wanders as I walk. I’m physically there but I’m somewhere else in my head. I’m worried that Gary is mad at me and that feeling is very uncomfortable for me.
I try to keep it light with Gary as much as possible. When I don’t, terrible feelings come up that make me feel out of control. I start thinking about my mom, my tutu, my grandpa. Things I’ve lost. I start to worry about what I could lose in the future. It’s all too much.
I guess there are things I’ve never dealt with that bubble below the surface sometimes. When I’m stressed at work, don’t get along with a friend, or argue with Gary, those bubbles start becoming crashing waves. And I don’t try to surf them, I run from them.
I look up from my thoughts and see the shop ahead. Sway Hanalei is framed by a wooden porch on the front with several racks of men and women’s clothing outside the entrance. I hop up the steps and decide I am going to stop worrying about Gary and find some new clothes that aren’t black.
My phone vibrates with an alert that I assume is from Gary. I see it’s actually a text from Kala, and a whole different feeling takes over. I open the message to read it.
“Hey – do you want to go out tonight? You’ve got to go to Da Nui while you’re here. It’s legendary. And my friend’s band is playing.”
Butterflies and tentacles flurry in my stomach and I realize I’m smiling. Should I wait a few minutes to respond? I consider the “rules of engagement” people follow in dating. Act like you don’t care, don’t respond too fast, and play games with people you’re interested in.
I decide I don’t care about those stupid rules people talk about. I haven’t dated that much and mostly know about the “rules” from friends. I just know I want to see Kala. I actually need to see Kala again.
I respond: “Sure, I can meet you there. What time?”
Kala responds immediately: “7? It’s actually called Tahiti Nui when you look it up on maps.”
I type “perfect” and dismiss the screen, shoving the phone back in my pocket. Did he just ask me out on a real date?
“Aloha, dear,” a kind woman’s voice says from behind me.
I turn to see a beautiful woman who looks to be about Gary’s age with long, dark brown hair and light-colored eyes.
“Can I help you find something?” She asks.
“Yes,” I tell her enthusiastically.
Now I’ve got somewhere to wear my new dress I planned to buy.
“I’m looking for a yellow sundress,” I tell her with a smile.
She smiles warmly back.
“Sure,” she says as she turns to walk deeper into the store.
The shop is adorable and looks like something that would fit in perfectly in Venice. It’s got dark wood-paneled walls and all of the tables and counters look like reclaimed trees that have been fashioned by hand. Colorful dresses line one wall along with accessories like earrings, purses and necklaces. The store also sells keepsakes and home decor like books, succulents, Buddha statues, ceramic trays and paintings.
I follow the sales woman to the wall of dresses. At first I don’t see anything yellow and a tiny pain stabs my heart. I was so set on a yellow sundress for some reason. But then she pulls a long yellow dress with purple flowers from the back of the rack.
“These are usually one size fits all but this one is on the smaller side,” she says. “I think it will fit you.”
The dress is yellow, tropical, and exactly what I am looking for. I’m suddenly reminded of shopping with my mom for back-to-school clothes in elementary school. Back then, I always chose pink dresses and sequins.
“It’s beautiful,” I tell her. “Do you have a dressing room I can try it on in?”
“Sure, right over here,” she says as she leads me to a door at the back of the shop.
I go in and shimmy off my black t-shirt and black jeans. I pull the long ruffles of the dress and spaghetti straps over my shoulders and down to settle on my body. I’m stunned by what I see in the mirror.
I look amazing. I mean, I’m pretty sure I do, but I’m not used to feeling this way about myself. I stare at how the dress hugs my torso and then flows freely down over my legs.
I typically don’t stare at myself in the mirror for long. I do what I need to do, put on a bit of make-up and brush my hair. But I never stand and admire myself in the mirror. But this is a totally different experience.
“How’s it fit?” I hear the lady say muffled through the door, breaking the spell.
“It’s just right,” I yell out to her.
I scoop my long hair over my left shoulder and bring the bunch to rest on the left side of my body.
“I’ll need a different bra,” I say out loud.
The scoop of the neck is so low that my usual bra (that’s more like a sports bra) won’t work.
“Did you say you need a bra?” The woman asks through the door.
I didn’t realize she heard me and get embarrassed at the thought of a stranger fetching me a bra. I look in the mirror again and decide I don’t care. I want to look just right tonight.
“Yes,” I say as I open the door and peek my head out. “I didn’t really bring a bra that will work with something low-cut like this.”
“Don’t worry,” she says. “I’ve got a bralette that will work with it. And if a bit of it shows, it’s lacy and pretty. I’ll be right back.”
“Thank you,” I tell her and shut the door behind me.
I breathe deeply and smile at myself in the mirror. I think I finally understand what Gary means when he says he’s “walking on air.”
Oh shoot, Gary. I pull my phone out of my pants pocket to see if he’s tried to call or text. Still nothing. I remind myself that I am not going to worry about him being mad at me now. I am getting a dress and going out tonight. This is about me and he will be fine. I hope.
“Here you go sweetie,” the lady says with a soft knock.
I open the door and she hands me a cream, lacy bralette that mimics the cut of the dress with a deep V in the front.
“What’s your name?” She asks.
“Josie,” I say as I reach for the bra. “Thank you.”
“Nice to meet you, Josie,” she says. “I’m Alaina.”
She looks down at my dirty black Vans.
“What do you think about shoes, honey?” She asks. “I’ve got some light brown leather sandals that would look great with the dress.”
She’s right! I have no shoes but my slip-on Vans and some old flip flops.
“Size eight?” She asks.
“Yes!” I say with surprise. “How did you know?
“That’s my job, dear,” she says with a wink. “I’ll be back. Try that bra on.”
I shut the door and think about how nice Alaina is. This reminds me of how mom would help me in the dressing room when I was little. Tears push at the back of my eyes. I brace my hand on the wall of the dressing room.
“Woah,” I say with a sigh as I bend over a bit. I feel overwhelmed by a sudden wave of emotion that crashes into me.
Tears break free and flow down my face. Mom would’ve helped me like this. Mom would’ve picked out shoes. I would’ve kept wearing pink and sequins if mom could still help me. I swear, part of the reason I wear black is because mom isn’t there to help me pick anything out. Gary’s no help either! He doesn’t know anything about girl’s clothes.
I sit down on the bench in the room where my black clothes lay crumpled and start sobbing. I hold my head in my hands and hunch over. I gulp and gasp for air as tears melt out of my eyes.
I’m hit with a memory of Gary crying when we found out mom died. I’d forgotten until now. I’ve never heard him cry that way again. He let out long wails that sounded like “wooohooooooooo” broken between gasps for air. The sound was eerie and shocking. I can’t believe I forgot about that.
“Honey, are you OK?” Alaina’s voice says from the other side of the door. “Do you need help?”
Oh no. She can hear me crying?
I wipe the wetness from my face with the back of my hand, but I can’t stop the hitching breaths that repeat every few seconds.
“Yes,” I say in between hitches.
“I’ve got your shoes,” she says gently. “Or do you need a minute?”
I open the door a crack and peek out.
“I’m so sorry,” I say. “I never do things like this.”
“Oh sweetie,” she says. “Don’t apologize. Everybody needs to let it out sometime. I’d just as soon have you do it here than somewhere else. Take all the time you need.”
“Thank you,” I say as I take the tan sandals from her and shut the door.
I sit down on the bench with a soft thud. What was that? I have no memory of ever crying like that so abruptly. Maybe when I was very little, but I haven’t cried like that in a long time. I feel better now, though. I think that actually felt good.
I slip off my Vans and slide my feet into the sandals. They fit like a glove, as Gary would say. I pull the dress up on my shoulders and step into the bralette and pull it up. I smooth down the dress and look in the mirror to see the whole outfit together.
I’m struck again by who I see in the mirror. Besides the slightly red eyes and nose from crying, I look like a beautiful grown woman. No more little girl in black skater clothes. I like this feeling. What have I been waiting for? A leftover hitch in my breath blurts out.
I open the door and step halfway out.
“Alaina?” I say.
“Yes,” she says as her voice moves closer.
“Would it be alright with you if I just wore all of this out of the store?” I ask, a couple of hitches creeping out.
Alaina comes around the corner and puts her hands to her mouth.
“Oh, Josie,” she exclaims. “You look stunning. It’s like the dress was made just for you!”
I can tell I’m blushing. Between that and the hitching breath, I feel totally exposed.
“Thank you,” I say proudly.
Even though I feel vulnerable, I feel confident too.
“Do a little twirl,” she says.
I oblige and laugh as I twirl and make the ruffles at the bottom of the dress dance in the air.
“Are you from here, Josie?” She asks as she admires me.
“No,” I say. “I’m from California.”
“Do you have family here?” She asks.
I tilt my head and scrunch my nose a bit.
“Yeah,” I say with a question in my voice. “How did you know?”
“You remind me of someone but I can’t put my finger on who,” she says. “I wonder if I know your family?”
“Kinimaka is my last name,” I say.
“Oh yes,” she says. “That must be it. The Kinimaka name goes back generations here on the island. I probably know some of your Ohana.”
“Yes, probably,” I say, briefly thinking of Halani and how I’m sure I’ll never see her again.
“Let me get you a bag for the stuff you came in with and we’ll get you checked out,” she says as she turns to walk towards the cash register.
“OK, thank you,” I say.
I step back in the dressing room and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror again. Wow. Kala is going to die when he sees me tonight. Kala! I’m so excited to see him. And who cares if Gary is mad at me. I’m so grateful he brought me here. It’s turning out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
I gather my clothes and old Vans and head to the register. I pay with the credit card I share with Gary.
“Let me cut your tags off,” Alaina says.
She comes around from behind the counter with small scissors. I lift my hair up off my back and she carefully cuts the price tag off of the back of the dress.
“You can take care of the tag on the bralette later,” she says with a wink.
“Thank you so much, Alaina,” I say. “You gave me exactly what I needed.”
“Come here ke aloha,” she says as she sets the scissors down on the counter and opens her arms.
She’s inviting me to hug her and it feels like the most natural thing I could do, even though I’ve known her less than an hour. I step forward into her embrace and she wraps her arms around my shoulders and holds me tight for several seconds. I put my arms around her waist and push my head into her long hair settled on her shoulder.
I can smell her shampoo and am hit with another memory. It’s mom pushing me on the swing set at the park by our house. She’s pushing me from the front of the swing, and every time I swing close, her long brown hair falls onto the sides of my face. I can smell her hair and it’s the same scent Alaina has. I instinctively squeeze Alaina tighter.
“Oh,” she says with a laugh, and steps back a bit.
“I’m sorry,” I say ashamed as I pull away. “You reminded me of someone just then. I forgot where I was.
“Was it someone special?” She asks sweetly.
I can tell from her demeanor I don’t need to be ashamed.
“Yes,” I say looking at the ground. “My mom.”
Alaina clasps her hands together and sighs.
“That’s the kindest thing I’ve ever heard,” Alaina says. “What an honor for me.”
I don’t know what else to say, so I just say thank you.
“You’re welcome, Josie,” she says. “Come see me again before you go home to the mainland.”
“OK, I will,” I say with a smile. “Bye.”
I turn and walk away. What a strange experience. In a good way. What a mysteriously beautiful experience.
I walk out into the bright, sunny day and the big green mountains that demand my attention.