That night I tried to read the Economics text with the same intensity I read the material for my English courses. Maybe fifteen minutes into the attempt, I found my mind wandering, kept reading the same page over and over again. I was looking at a graph example of aggregate demand and aggregate supply. The point was to show the equilibrium price level and real gross domestic product.
What the hell?
If I understood anything about this stuff, reading and rereading the definitions of the terms, the glossary bleeding highlighter ink, it was that I really should have picked a different course to fulfill this social science requirement.
But then, of course, I thought about how I wouldn’t have met this woman. Anna. Hmmm. I wondered if she might understand the material.
Next class, Dr. Miller had us practice answering sample questions that might be on the exam. It was a pretty big class, but he’d point to someone, saying, “You there in the blue aloha shirt, what is the next move I need to make in labeling this graph on the x and y axes,” or “You with the green blouse, give me a concise definition of a nominal interest rate.”
I cringed each time he looked in my direction. Anna would sometimes actually raise her hand to answer a question. This looked very promising.
When class was over, I suggested coffee again, and again she agreed. While we sat there, I voiced my concern over my lack of knowledge about macro economics, how the math and graph part hit on my math phobia and basically froze my soul.
“I can help you,” she said. It was like magic. “You want to get together and study for the exam.”
“Wow, that would be great, Anna. How about this Saturday? Do you have any time?”
“Yes, the afternoon would be best. I like to go see my brother in the morning.”
We agreed that I’d pick her up at Johnson hall at 1:00, then we’d head up to my place to study. This was all coming together like the proverbial fairy-tale coming true.
When we got to my house, we settled down at the coffee table in the living room and Anna began to work some kind of miraculous cure, unpacking the mysteries of macro economics for me.
We went at it for four hours or so. “You’re really on top of this stuff, huh?”
“Well, I took AP Econ in high school, so this is mostly a review for me. And I kept up with the reading while I was back home.”
“You’re kind of a natural teacher. Your mom being a teacher and your dad a former teacher, it’s gotta be in your genes.”
She laughed. “That may be true.”
She changed the subject. Looking out the screen door to my lanai, she said, “Looks like you must have a pretty big yard out there.”
“I do,” I said, “and it’s a lotta work. Want to see it?”
“Oh yes, please.”
We walked outside.
“Oh my God,” she said. “That is the biggest False Wiliwili tree I’ve ever seen.”
It was true. I’d seen some around town, but none that could match the height of this one. It was by far the centerpiece of the yard.
“So you know this tree?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she said. “I love to collect the red seeds. I boil them for a bit, then when they’re soft, I sew them into bracelets. My aunt has a pretty good sized one, but nothing like this.”
“You can boil and eat those seeds too,” I said. “And folks from the Polynesian Cultural Center come here when the pods fall and collect the seeds to sell as bracelets they make out there.”
Right then Anna walked up to the tree, put her arms around it, and hugged it. Tight. the expression on her face was one of great happiness.
Finally she let go and stepped back.
“Man, you can really feel the mana in that tree. It is powerful. Oh, Lanning, I love this tree.”
I couldn’t get over her enthusiasm for my False Wiliwili. All the way back she talked about it. Asked if she too could come collect the red seeds. Described types of bracelets she’d made.
When I dropped her off at Johnson, I thanked her for straightening me out with the Econ. She thanked me for introducing her to the tree. Said she wanted to see it again soon so she could absorb more energy from it.
At home again, I popped a beer and sat out on my lanai, staring at my False Wiliwili tree, picturing Anna hugging it. this all was coming together like a happily ever after ending.
The following Tuesday was our last day to review before the exam. I waited. Class started. I wondered where Anna might be. Probably running late. Dr. Miller again called on people. At one point he pointed at me, and I was able to correctly label a production possibilities curve.
At the end of class I contemplated going over to Johnson Hall again, but then I thought about the guy at the front desk and how they might call Campus Security on me if it started to look like I was harassing them.
The morning of the exam, I half-heartedly reviewed the notes I’d made with Anna’s help. When exam time came, I watched the empty seat remain that way as the test papers were passed out.
Dr. Miller gave us the signal to go. I had about seventy minutes to dump everything Anna had taught me. Even though I had my mind on why she might not be there, I could feel that I was doing things right on the exam. In fact it seemed easier than I’d imagined, and I actually finished with ten or so minutes to spare.
Even if we finished early, we’d been asked to stay seated until time was called so as not to disturb the folks who were still working on the exam. That ten minutes seemed like an eternity. I should have been feeling good about doing well on the exam. All I felt like doing was cry. I wanted to cry. What had happened?
A couple nights later, I was sitting in the bathtub, soaking, a washcloth covering my face, thinking about Anna. The phone rang. I got out and went into the next room.
“Lanning, this is Anna.”
I stopped breathing. I could hear her sniffling. “Anna, I . . . are you all right? You missed the exam.”
How stupid. She certainly knew she’d missed it. Brilliant to point it out to her.
“Yes, I had to come home. My brother, he, he passed away. We have the funeral next week.”
“Oh geez Anna, I’m so sorry to hear that. So sorry.”
She blew her nose. “Thanks, Lanning. I wanted to tell you that I’m withdrawing from school for this semester. I’m even thinking I might be at UH Hilo next year. My folks are a wreck. I might need to be here.”
I felt so sorry about her brother dying, but at the same time I wanted to curse. Curse myself, my life, a lost chance. Fucking lost chance. At that instant I felt all the life sucked out of me.
All I could muster was, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Anyway,” she said, “I wanted you to know.”
“You take care,” I said. “Thanks very much for calling. Please give my best to your parents.”
“Thanks, Lanning, I will. You take care too.”
The click of the phone, it killed me. Killed me.
Now the days were really dragging. Econ was an unbearable scene. I’d scored an A on the exam, but there was one more midterm and then the final. It would be a struggle to the finish line. Dr. Miller’s words felt more and more like gibberish. Ask me today why no lunch is free, and I’ll tell you, “Who the hell cares?”
The rest of my classes went cold on me. Even my English courses seemed pointless. I barely pulled out the papers I needed to write, and I kept wondering if I had the energy to head off to Wisconsin and dig into the M.A.
The week after graduation, as I was packing to leave one day, there was a knock on the door. I opened it and the mailman was standing there with a large envelope.
“Couldn’t fit this in your box,” he said, handing it to me.
I closed the door and stared at the envelope. Please do not bend. The return address was a Hilo address. I tore it open.
It was an ink drawing of my False Wiliwili tree. Huge. Stunning. Beautiful.
And standing beside the massive trunk was a little me.
There was a brief note:
Lanning, stay warm in Wisconsin. With great love and aloha, Anna.
I carried the drawing with me out onto the lanai, stood there looking from the tree to the drawing to the tree, back and forth, back and forth.
Finally I placed the drawing on a chair, then went down into the yard and stood in front of the tree.
I looked straight up, trying to see the very high top. The enormous tree seemed to bend over me, almost as though it were curving down to touch me. It felt as though my spine could crack from bending back.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and wrapped my arms around the gigantic trunk. I hugged it hard, hard and tight, hugged it as if I would never let it go.