Then and Now

I had to go back to the place on Maui where my father and I used to fish.  Coming to the edge of the cliff, I sat, my legs dangling over the side.  Down there in the blue, deep water, I could see my childhood, clearly remembered the time my dad, reeling in a fish so big it pulled him hard enough to lose his footing, had slid over the edge.  It was a horror for me to watch, this stupid accident, and what a welcome miracle for me to hear him, calling up to throw him a rope, so lucky that he’d caught himself on the cliffside before he fell the hundred feet down to the rocky ledge at the ocean’s edge.

I missed him.  Missed him not being here.  The two of us fishing.  It would never happen again.  My mom had gone first, I had no siblings, and I’d never married.  I was truly alone now.

A soft “hello” caught me by surprise, turned my head, and brought me back from remembrance of that night.  It was one of those moments I’ve had only twice before in my life.  A woman so astonishing appearing that she takes your breath away.  She was some kind of fantastic racial mix, a blending so electric I could feel my body’s want to lift off the ground and fly.  Finally, breathing again, I came back down to earth.

“Would you mind if I sit with you?”

Holy shit.  My mind said “Really?”, but I stuttered something sounding stupid to me.  I must have conveyed an affirmative though, because she sat right down right beside me at the cliff edge.

“I’m Anela,” she said, offering her hand. “Who are you?”  I tried to swallow so she wouldn’t see me don’t it, and I spluttered out my name.

“It’s so beautiful here,” she said. “The waves go on forever.” 

My mouth was too dry for me to speak. I could only nod my head.  She turned to the sea.  The silence between us was proverbially deafening, even more so than the pounding waves down below.  Still, oddly, in that quiet of not talking, both of us water-gazing into the distance, I thought of us as sharing some kind visual conversation, speaking in our thoughts the magnificent view of the constant deep blue and white-capped sheets rolling in.

I gradually relaxed.  Finally I said, “I have to set up my stuff.  Excuse me.”  Now there’s a great conversation starter, I thought.

She stood right up and followed me to my rental car.  “Where are you from?” she asked.

I told her I was from Honolulu, how I’d grown up there.   We kept on talking – well, actually more like me answering her stream of questions, while I set up my tent, blew up my air mattress, unrolled my sleeping-bag, prepped my father’s fishing gear that I’d always kept in pristine condition.

Starting a very small fire so as not to scare the fish away after the sun went down, I heated up a pot of chicken noodle soup.  Anela very politely declined my invitation to share some of it.

She kept asking me questions, about where I’d gone to school, what I did for a living, everything.  If I were a book, she’d pretty much read me from cover to cover by this time.

Still one more:  “Why did you come here?”

I explained that I was here to do some night fishing, that it was one of the places that my dad and I loved.  I told her about that particular night where I’d almost lost him.

A few moments passed.  Then, “You miss your father,” she said.

“Yes, yes, I do.  Very much.  I miss him a lot.”

Silence.  She asked no more questions.

Finally I said, “So where are you from?”

“Right here.  I’ve been here all my life.”

“Have you ever gone off the island?  Ever visited Honolulu?”

She laughed.  “Every once in a while I have to get my Ala Moana Center shopping fix, so I do fly over.”

I wanted to figure out some clever way to find out how old she was, but a plan escaped me.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked.  Waited.  No answer.

She drew up her knees, rested her chin on them, and looked hard at the fire.

Then, all of sudden she began to speak.  Non-stop.  She didn’t tell me what kind of work she did, but she began talking about her plans to get away from this place.  My fishing plan faded as the night moved on, and I was mesmerized by her teasing out of so many possible life scenarios, all of them leading her away, perhaps to Asia, or to California or New York, how she’d always wanted to fly to Europe, see the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, Stonehenge.

I said I’d been to those places, enjoyed them all, but that there was no place like home.  “But then I’m an old guy,” I said.  “You’ve got so much time ahead of you.”

She kept going, and I listened, and all the time I listened, I watched her eyes.  The more she talked the more they would light up.  Her ideas for what to do when she left Hawai‘i seemed inexhaustible.  One way or another she was out of here.  And soon, she said.  She just had to decide which direction to follow.

As usual when I sit on the ground, my hips were giving me grief. My back too. Too much old age.  I lay down on my side, my hand a pillow, listening to her voice, staring at those hypnotic eyes –

I came awake.  The fire had died.  I stood up so fast I almost fell over.  Looking all around me, every which way, I couldn’t see Anela.  It was freezing cold.  I walked over to my tent.  Could she be sleeping in there?  I threw back the flap.  Yeah right.  Wishful thinking.

I put on my jacket and grabbed my little flashlight, tried to do a feebly lit 360 scan of the area.  No Anela.

“Anela?”  I called.  “Anela, are you out here?”

Silence.

I slumped down by the dead fire.  A few wisps of smoke rose into the air, vanished.

Finally I stood up and went to my tent.  One more time, “Anela!”

Settling into my sleeping bag, I could still see her.  I closed my eyes, and then, so strange, I felt a weight start pressing down on my chest, pinning me to the ground so hard I wouldn’t be able to breathe if it kept up.  I couldn’t move, couldn’t –

I came awake.  Pounding my hands against the ground.  I sat upright.  Gasping.  My lungs filled with air.  The weight was gone.  I could breathe.

For a good while I pictured those eyes, and at one point, I seemed to look so deeply into them that I suddenly saw myself flying, high in the air, and then I became that me, and I was looking down, saw me in the tent, saw the dead fire, saw the cliffs and the pounding waves.  And as I flew higher, off in the not too far distance, amazed at how close they were actually, I saw the famous flow and boiling fall of ‘Ohe‘o, the Seven Sacred Pools.

I had been wasting the time, wasting the night, and I only had so much time left to fish.

Those pools, they looked so beautiful, enticing, but they could drag you under, kill you.  I’d swum in them often when I was a kid.  Many people had drowned in them.  I had been one of the lucky ones who escaped.

I came back to myself.  Popping up, I crawled out of the tent, grabbed my dad’s fishing gear and my flashlight, and headed for the cliff side.

Baiting the hook with care, I then reared back, and cast that baby like a son-of-a-gun.  The hook and lead weight sailed out into the dark and down into the dark, deep ocean, and I saw my father make his way back up the cliffside, finally sitting down beside me.

I glanced sideways at him and he smiled.  So did I.  We were right here together where we belonged.

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