Hawaii is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I live in California and in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful states on the mainland. But Hawaii is like a fairy-tale dream of all of the shades of green you could ever imagine. I was still reeling from my bad Benadryl dream on the plane when we were greeted with leis in the luggage area of the airport.
“Aloha, welcome to Kauai,” the pretty Hawaiian lady says as she places a lei of real flowers over my head and on my shoulders.
“Thank you,” I say to her with a smile. I suddenly feel the best I have in weeks. “What kind of flowers are these?”
“They’re purple orchids,” she says. “They’re native to Hawaii.”
“Thank you,” I say again.
I’m so happy that I don’t even care when she gives Gary eyes as she places a lei over his head. He ducks down for her to do it.
“Where are you staying?” She asks me, but I can tell she’s asking for Gary.
“In Hanalei with family,” Gary says before I can reply.
“You’ll love it there,” she says. “Enjoy your stay.”
She leaves it at that and walks away to lei someone else. Maybe she wasn’t giving Gary eyes and was just being nice. I’m probably paranoid about every woman loving Gary. One of my best friends has a crush on him, after all. Gross.
I can’t believe it but I haven’t thought about the man for at least 15 minutes. Or my stomach. Or what happened earlier in the week. Maybe Hawaii will be better for me than I thought.
We get our luggage and Gary navigates us across the street to the car rental area. The small airport is a welcome change from the gigantic, maze that is LAX.
I take a deep breath of the clean, humid air as Gary gets the keys to the small rental car.
“How do you feel, Josie?” Gary asks with a smile as he pulls his suitcase towards me and shakes the car keys in the air.
“I feel really good,” I tell him sincerely. “This is amazing already.”
“Wait until you see Hanalei,” he says with that wide smile I know so well. “It’s magical, Josie.”
I take another deep breath, smile, and look up at the clear sky. I feel at peace. I feel replenished, but the nagging thoughts about the man are still tucked far in the back of my mind. Hawaii can’t hit the reset button completely, I guess.
As Gary drives to Hanalei, I settle into the seat of the four-door, white KIA.
“How long will the drive take? I ask.
“Probably around 40 minutes,” Gary says. “But this isn’t the 405 in LA, little girl. This drive will go by in a flash. You just wait.”
“OK, Gary,” I say dreamily as I look out the window.
Traffic is thick on the two-lane highway from Lihue to Hanalei and I’m lost in the scenery. The ocean peeks out from time to time, little areas of businesses and restaurants flow by, too. But the trees, grass and flowers are the best part of the drive. There are tall trees with flat canopies like I’ve never seen before. They don’t look like they’re from the earth I know. They remind me of trees from the movie, Avatar.
“What kind of trees are those, Gary?” I ask absently. I can’t look away from my window.
“Which ones?” He asks.
“The ones that are flat on the top,” I say.
“Oh those,” he says. “They’re Albizia trees.”
“I’ve never seen anything like them,” I tell him.
“Yeah, they’re cool to look at but they’re an invasive species and aren’t native to the islands,” he says.
“Really?” I ask. “They’re invasive?”
“Some people think so,” he says. “They’re kind of like fast-growing weeds. But they’re cool-looking.”
It’s disappointing that something so pretty is considered a menace. I’m not going to bother myself with anything negative right now, though.
“Get ready for the best view you’ve ever seen,” Gary says. “It’s coming up, I’ll pull off.”
“OK,” I say, excited at what’s to come.
We drive past a small town called Princeville and according to the signs, we’re nearly to Hanalei. Gary pulls off of the road where it bends sharply to the left. A bunch of other cars pull off, too.
“Hop out, Josie,” he says.
I agree, get out of the car, and follow him to a guard rail overlooking a big drop-off into a luscious valley of green.
“Woah,” I whisper to myself.
“That’s Hanalei, Josie,” Gary says, pointing to the valley below.
The valley is covered in green grass and dark green trees of all kinds. To the right, you can see the coast and the blue ocean beyond the trees. Green mountains sit on the other side of the valley and their tops are covered with clouds and fog.
“That’s Hanalei?” I ask.
“Yes, that’s where we’re going,” he tells me proudly.
I instinctively reach out and hug Gary. The relief of feeling happy and in awe of this place is slowly pushing away the last week. I can’t even feel my stomach hurting anymore. Gary hugs me back.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” I say. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”
“You’re welcome, little girl,” he says. “I’ve waited too long to show you this.”
We get back in the car and continue our drive. We wait our turn to cross a one-lane bridge that signals our official entrance into the town of Hanalei.
“This is where our family is from,” Gary tells me as he drives slowly into the small town.
“Why’d our family leave?” I ask him.
“I don’t know,” he says, but I don’t believe him again.
I’m not sure why he’s not being completely honest with me lately.
“How long has it been since you’ve been here?” I ask.
“Since before my Tita passed,” he says dreamily, like he’s somewhere outside of the car.
“You mean my mom?” I ask. My Hawaiian is terrible. Maybe I can work on it on this trip.
“Oh, yes,” he says a bit embarrassed. “Yes, Josie, your mom.”
We sit in silence, contemplating my mom’s passing. Or at least I am. I wonder why mom never brought me here. I wonder why mom or my Tutus ever left. I start to think of how mom left me on Gary’s porch. How she said she’d be right back but never came back.
Once, I found a file at Gary’s house with insurance papers and pictures of mom’s wrecked little green car. It was an old Toyota Camry from the 80s and it was completely demolished. The driver’s side of the car was obliterated and it looked like the rest of the car might have caught on fire. I decided not to ask Gary about the pictures once I realized my mom died in that car; that her body had been obliterated along with the rest of the car.
“Penny for your thoughts, Josie?” Gary says from far away.
“What?” I ask, perplexed.
“Penny for your thoughts?” He repeats.
“Gary, what does that even mean?” I ask sarcastically.
“It means, what are you thinking about?” He says with a laugh.
“You’re so weird, Gary,” I say with a smile in my voice. “Why don’t you just ask me what I’m thinking?”
“Cause it’s more fun to do this,” he laughs as he lightly hits my arm with the back of his hand.
We haven’t had much of our regular back and forth in the past week and it feels like a huge relief to be in this place with him again. This is my safe place. This is where I survive and find peace. Without it, I’m not sure who I am.
“I can’t even remember what I was thinking about now,” I tell him with a laugh. “Are we almost there?”
“Yes,” Gary tells me. “She lives right near Hanalei Bay. Maybe you can try surfing there.”
“Maybe,” I say, and then can’t believe I actually sort of, possibly agreed to try surfing again. I haven’t surfed since mom died. Then I remember what I was thinking about before Gary asked me: mom’s little green car.
We pass a sign that says Hanalei Center and I look up at the huge, jagged mountains surrounding us. Gary turns down a side street that ends in a view of the ocean. The street is lined with two-story houses on lots much bigger than I’m used to in Venice. People actually have their own yards here.
Gary pulls up to a small white house close to the street that looks almost like a store with a deck and stairs on the front. Paintings of palm trees, plants, and ocean scenes are set up on the deck and I can see inside the little house plenty more lining the walls.
“What is this, Gary?” I ask him as he starts to pull into a driveway beside the structure.
“That’s Halani’s studio,” he says as he pulls farther into the driveway and stops at a big gate with a sign that says “Beware of Dog.” “The big house is back here.”
Gary gets out of the car and swings open the long white, wooden gate.
“Gary,” I yell out my open window. “It says there’s a dog.”
“It’s all good, Josie,” he says as he pushes the gate open enough to allow our small car to fit through. “She knows we’re coming.”
Gary gets back in the car and slowly drives the rest of the distance into the driveway, allowing enough room for the gate to swing shut across the driveway behind us. He parks the car and shuts the gate.
“This is it, Josie,” he says proudly. “Halani should be inside.”
I sit in the car for a moment and look at the big, green yard and the two-story white house Gary called the “big house.” It’s got two porches on the front that aren’t connected and both wrap around opposite sides of the house. A white dog house sits on the ground below one of the porches, but I don’t see any dog for now. Stairs wind up to one of the decks leading to what looks like the front door.
“Come on, Josie,” Gary says from behind me, outside of the car.
I can tell he’s messing with the trunk, probably trying to get our suitcases out. I step out of the car and take a deep breath of the humid, fresh air again. I can smell the ocean and can feel it in the cool breeze blowing across my face. It’s a familiar feeling but the air is much more pure here than it is in Venice.
I help Gary get our suitcases out of the trunk and we make our way through the yard up onto the second-story deck that leads to the front door. Gary knocks on the door and we wait. After a few minutes, I start to wonder if Halani forgot about us, but then the front door slowly swings open and Halani greets us.
“Aloha Keiki,” the little old woman says with a gentle smile.
I can’t believe how much she looks like my Tutu (my grandma.) Except for being a bit older than Tutu was when she passed, Halani could be her twin. They’re sisters after all, so it makes sense.
Halani’s shorter than me, at least by two or three inches, and her long gray hair is nestled in a neat bun high on the back of her head. The shades of gray in her hair range from nearly white in spots to light-colored gray, to a darker, almost brown gray. The way the colors play through her bun and hair looks like a pretty kaleidoscope.
Halani stretches her arms up and out to Gary. “Come here ke keiki,” she says as Gary ducks down and wraps his arms around her body covered in a long, blue, floral dress.
“Anake,” Gary says as he hugs her. “You remember Josie,” he says as he stands back up.
“Of course, Josie,” she says softly as she stares at me. “You look just like your Makuakane.”
I can feel my cheeks getting hot and I know I must be blushing. I haven’t been told I look like my mom in a long time. No one I know except for Gary even knows what my mom looked like when she was alive. The thought brings tears to my eyes.
“Come here my Ku’uipo,” she says sweetly and stretches her arms out to me.
I lean down to hug her and it feels wonderful to wrap my arms around her little body. She feels like my Tutu. I think she might even smell like my Tutu. It’s not a perfumed smell from a product, but the smell of her skin that’s familiar. I feel her hair brush my cheek and am flooded with memories of Tutu holding me and singing to me as a child.
As I’m lost in my thoughts, I don’t notice immediately when Halani’s body starts to stiffen in my embrace. But when I do notice, the change jars me from the sweet memories of my grandma.
Halani’s arms drop to her sides and I find I’m the only one participating in the hug anymore. I drop my arms and step back awkwardly. I look in Halani’s face and it’s no longer soft like it was when she first embraced me. Her tan skin looks pasty and I see fear in her eyes. Is she afraid of me? I briefly wonder when she begins to speak.
“Gary,” Halani says with a trembling voice. “There’s lapu on her,” she says pointing at me.
She’s talking about me like I’m not here.
“There’s akua here,” she says.
I can tell Halani is starting to panic because she’s babbling in Hawaiian so fast now, I can’t make out any of the words. I really don’t know what most of them mean anyway, but now it’s all running together.
“Gary, what’s happening?” I say and then I feel a stabbing pain in my solar plexus. I forgot about that pain since the airport, but now it’s back in a big way, demanding I remember it.
“Halani, calm down,” Gary says to her. “My Hawaiian is rough, I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Akua!” Halani screams and points at me.
“Gary,” I plead. I’m trying to hold back tears. “Gary, what’s she saying?”
Gary reaches his hand out to me and I grab it. “It’s ok, Josie,” he says to me, but his lips don’t move. I hear his voice clearly in my mind.
“Halani,” Gary says a little louder than before. She’s babbling in Hawaiian but I clearly hear Akua and Lapu in between other words.
“Halani, we’re going to leave,” Gary says as he slowly pulls me towards the front door. “We’ll come back later.”
As he opens the door, Halani stops talking in Hawaiian.
“No,” she says sharply. “You don’t bring that palena back here,” she snarls as she points right at me.
I’m horrified and now operating on auto pilot as I move my legs. Why does she hate me? I think to myself as Gary pushes me out the front door and shuts it behind us.
“We need to leave now, Josie,” he says urgently. “Now.”
He pulls me down the stairs by one of my hands while I hold my stomach with the other hand. He puts me in the car and opens the driveway gate. He drives away from Halani’s house as we sit in silence.