He always introduced himself as such, but if you stopped to think about it, David Chan III did not look at all Hapa. He looked pure Asian, although if you had to guess what kind of Asian, you might have a difficult time figuring is out.
Hapa, usually in Hawaiʻi meaning half Caucasian, and half Asian, actually could mean half of any ethnicity and half of another. So, of course, David did not look typically Hapa, say, half Caucasian, and therefore a lighter skinned, say, Japanese.
But David Chan III was Hapa, nonetheless, half Chinese and half Korean.
After he’d put down the phone, Lieutenant Chan, David’s father, ran in what seemed slow-motion to his garage. He lifted the door with what felt like Herculean effort, and jumped in his car. This was all taking too long. He needed to be at the Queen’s Hospital emergency room right now. His son could be dying, and this must not happen.
You lose a family member only once. There is no second chance, no bringing that loved one back to this world that he knew of. This we know, so we resist the passing of those whom we love, will do everything within our power to keep them in this world, with us, forever if possible. But this, of course, is not possible. And when it is their time to go, no matter how hard we try to hold on to them, they must go. Chan knew this. He’d watched his wife, Elaine, disappear for nearly a year, wanted to hold her forever with him here, now.
He’d also lost his daughter, he was convinced, at the hands of the Yus. They’d almost paid their debt for that in full. The outstanding balance, he was working on taking that off the books.
Now, for all he knew, Chan was about to lose his only son. As he ran through molasses to his car, he prayed losing him would not be the case, and if he were with his son right now, he felt he could somehow keep him here in the land of the living, grab his hand and hold him back, anchor him.
Chan turned the ignition key, and the next thing he knew was darkness.
David Chan Junior had met Elaine Park at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. On several occasions he’d passed by her, and he noticed she was always involved in lively conversation with someone, or, more typically, a group of people. Chan admired this quality in her, her ability to seem so comfortable in a social setting. Chan had always been shy, never good at speaking even one-on-one with others, knew himself to be hopeless at small talk. Women? Forget about it. His tongue was not only tied when it came to girls, it was locked in a trunk and sent over Niagra Falls.
It was this ease of talking with others he admired about Elaine first, but it was her smile that made him fall in love with her.
As time passed and he would cross paths with her around the Engineering Quad or along McCarthy Mall, Chan began to slow his pace, trying to hear whatever it was she would be talking about at that moment. The snatches he caught were all about literature, music, and movies, three things that he loved. Now she was officially number four, but riding high in first position over the other three. If only he could work up the courage.
After a particularly brutal morning mired in physics and calculus classes, burdens that were required to to be borne in pursuit of a degree in Agricultural Engineering, Chan staggered to the Hemenway cafeteria, needing to bolster his strength for a long study session ahead in Sinclair Library. Pushing through the screen door, he saw something that surprised him.
The woman whom he could not figure out a single smart way to meet sat there, alone, reading and sipping a soda. The door banged shut behind him, and he stood like a statue, unable to think straight enough to move.
The screen door slammed open, hitting Chan in the back, which pushed him in Elaine’s direction. And this was all it took. He just kept moving right up to her, then stopped at her table. How it ever came to him, he never knew, but the perfect thing to say popped into his head.
“Please stand up,” Chan said to the woman, “and if you’re not taller than I am, I’ll take you out to dinner tonight.”
Elaine, startled and open-mouthed, hesitated, but then stood up very slowly. When she reached full height, much to Chan’s dismay, she appeared to be a bit taller. He moved right up to her, breathing in her face, and examined the top of her head. Sure enough, she was maybe an inch taller.
Oh man, he thought, instantly deflated, the adrenaline draining through the soles of his feet. He looked into her eyes, his face the drama’s mask of tragedy, and she was smiling. She bent her knees a tad, then said, “Where should we eat?”
If he’d already been in love with her, Chan was now, in his mind, an old married man with a house overflowing with children. There names, what to name them? All this flitted through his brain.
“Well, I,” he stammered, “so what kind of food do you like?”
“Oh, I could eat anything.”
“Say,” said Chan, “We don’t even know each others’ names.”
The formal introductions were made.
“Park,” Chan said. “That’s Korean, right?”
“Yes, yes it is.” Elaine frowned a bit. “Is that, ah, going to be a problem?”
At the time, many Asian families were often locked into the idea that no one should marry anyone from outside, meaning, for instance, if you were Japanese, you must marry someone who is Japanese, Chinese a Chinese, and so on.
Elaine already sensed this would not be a problem for David Chan. Her question actually meant, “Is this going to be a problem for your family?”
David laughed. “Not for the Chan clan. My dad has twelve siblings, and nearly all of them married non-Chinese. We’ve got a real cosmopolitan dynasty.”
The two sat and discussed a variety of cuisines. At the end, it was decided that he would pick her up at 6:00 and take her to good old All-American Coco’s Restaurant on Kalākaua. Cheeseburgers. How romantic. “And they do have the best onion rings in town,” Elaine said.
That night, David Chan did something he never would have imagined he or anyone he knew would do. He was living a Hollywood dream.
You never take the last thing on a plate without offering it to someone else first. This is tradition. And this, he did not do. When they were down to the final onion ring, Chan picked it up and lifted it toward Elaine.
“I know this is super kinda sudden,” he said, “and I swear I don’t usually do this kind of thing, really, but, you know, what would you think about marrying me?”
Elaine looked him for what seemed to be an eternity. Chan was already imaginging that this would be their first and last date. How stupid could he be?
Then, the most amazing thing that had ever happened in his life happened to David Chan. Elaine reached for the onion ring and slid it on her left ring finger.
“I thought for a dull moment you were just handing this to me to eat,” she said.
In his haze, Lieutenant Chan saw many faces, both of the living and the dead. There were Elaine and his daughter Sara, both reaching out to him, smiling. He saw his three sisters, Dora, Doris, and Delores, their husbands, their children. Aunts and Uncles streamed by, as did his grandfathers and grandmothers. Cousins by the boatloads. Victor Yamamoto held up a beer and beckoned him to come drink it with him. The 49ers were there, leader Kimo Kauhane, his godfather Wilbur Apana, and the new man, Chin Ho Kelly.
Everyone seemed to be talking to him, but he couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Everything was thick fog and faraway echos. A dream that was not a dream.
Even Officer Stillman was there. Chan said to him, “Bobby, is my son all right?
Stillman gave Chan a startled look. “Nurse! Nurse!” the young officer called. “Nurse, come quick.”
An elderly Japanese woman with a starched white cap came to Stillman’s side, looked at Chan, then said, “Mister Chan, can you hear me?”
David Chan nodded his head. It hurt like hell to do so. “Yes,” he said, “yes, of course. I can hear you.”
“Let me go get a doctor,” she said, then disappeared.
“Bobby,” Chan said. “Is my son okay?”
Stillman cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, Lieutenant. He’s, well, he’s still in Intensive Care, just down the hall, but he’s hanging in there.”
“Down the hall?” Chan said. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Queen’s Hospital,” Stillman said. “Someone tried to blow you up in your car.”
Chan closed his eyes. He remembered getting into his car, turning the key, then . . .
“So am I okay?” Chan asked.
“Yes, yes, you’re pretty good, I guess,” Stillman said. “You’ve been out since they brought you in here last night and all of today. They say it’s a miracle. How you lived through the explosion and all. Your car’s totaled, not to mention the damage to your garage.”
“I’m intact, then?” Chan asked. “Everything’s still attached?
“Oh, yes, Sir, all your parts are in the right place. So, yeah, physically you’re pretty good.”
Chan looked at him. “So, mentally I’m not?”
“Oh, no, I don’t know. They say the concussion was a bad one.”
Chan wanted to go see his son. “Can I get up and go down the hall to see David?”
Just then a tall Haole doctor came into Chan’s field of vision. “Ah, not right now, you’re not, Mister Chan. I can’t allow you to move around much at all just yet.”
He took a small flashlight and looked in Chan’s eyes.
“You just rest up tonight.”
“But my son,” Chan said. “I need to see my son.”
The doctor said, “Lieutenant, even if you were to go down there, he’s in a coma. You wouldn’t be able to talk with him. And his face is bandged up as well, so you wouldn’t be able to see him either, not really.”
Chan asked, “Can you tell me what happened to him?”
“Well, yes, of course. For one he was shot. The bullet entered the back just below the left shoulder blade, passed through the right ventricle, and was stopped by a bone. I had to go in there and remove it.”
“What do you mean, ‘for one’?”
“It looks like he was in one whale of a fight before he was shot. There’s a fracture of his right eye socket, and I had to drain the pressure of an intercranial hematoma. Given the condition of his hands, it looks like he was giving as good as he was getting in the fight.”
Chan thought about how they’d finally allowed their son with all his pestering to take Kung Fu lessons. The boy had actually been pretty gifted and achieved black belt status with Siu Lum Pai by the time he was eleven. Both Elaine and Chan had worried not only about the violence of the martial art, but also about the potential for injury. Now Chan was definitely glad he’d allowed the boy to practice. He imagined Elaine would have agreed.
“Bobby, are there any suspects?”
Stillman said, “In your case or in your son’s?”
“In his, Bobby.”
“No, nothing to go on there.”
“And in mine?” Chan asked.
“No, nothing there either.”
Chan shook his head mentally. He knew it would hurt too much to actually do it. Why ask about which case if there were nothing for either? These young officers. What? He had a feeling Bobby might never be approached about joining the Hawaiʻi 4-9 squad.
“So, you think my son will be okay?” Chan asked the doctor.
He exhaled thoughtfully. “I can only tell you that he is stable,” he said, “and that we are optimistic.” He patted Chan’s hand and then exited the room.
Stillman said, “Lieutenant, can I do anything for you?”
“Hey, Bobby, I want to thank you for staying here. I appreciate the concern.”
“Think nothing of it, Sir. I was worried. You’re sort of my hero, Lieutenant.”
Chan managed a small laugh that almost didn’t hurt. “Bobby, your hero is an old guy who sits in the Records Office all day?”
Bobby Stillman nodded. “In my culture, this day, today, the day after Halloween, we celebrate the Day of the Dead.”
Chan, surprised, said, “You’re Mexican, Bobby?”
“Well, my mom is. I’m half. I relate more to her culture than my father’s. He died just before I was born. I was pretty much raised Mexican.”
He continued. “But what I was saying is this. In my culture, death is seen as something natural, maybe even beautiful. Today, November first, we celebrate the spirit’s natural passage into the next world.
“But then I am only half Mexican. Sometimes death isn’t beautiful, Lieutenant, right? And sometimes it isn’t natural, either. You may sit in the Records Office all day nowadays, Lieutenant, but I know what you’re capable of doing. And if (snip)