“I will travel more as I’m able to do so,” Lehua said to herself. It was like a mantra some days. As a trauma counselor at Queen’s Hospital, she had found what she loved, and the work had come close to killing her at times.
But no matter the long hours, the often more than five days a week, the horror stories her clients might relate, she did see what she was able to do as important, had tangible evidence that her assistance helped people who often sent her flowers and greeting cards long after she’d worked with them.
The last “vacation” she’d had was hooking on a weekend in New York City after attending a conference there on new best practices. That week had been grueling, and as she’d not been to see a Broadway play since her college days, she thought it a good time to squeeze in three, a Friday and Saturday night performance, and a Sunday matinee before she flew back to Hawai‘i to return to work the following day. That had been several years ago, and there’d been nothing like a vacation opportunity since.
She’d given up children for her career, and, eventually, she’d given up her husband. He’d not left her because her work kept him away from his too often for too long. Quite the contrary, he’d left her because she didn’t stay away enough, had found him and another woman, her best friend of all things, in bed together on one odd day when she’d come home early.
He’d been very sorry, very apologetic, swore he loved her and would never do that again, so she asked for the courtesy of his leaving the front door key with her and asked him not to let the door hit him on the way out.
Love? She’d been out of it with him for many years. She had a suspicion that he pulled away from her because he’d been cheating on her before. The sex had meant less and less as the years went by, especially after it had become clear that he was not interested in children, and her work had dictated that she slowly give up the idea of having them.
“I am able to travel now,” she said, smiling, sitting at her desk on the last day of her job. Time to retire. She’d booked a trip to England to visit her only brother and his family. They’d left Hawai‘i long ago, his wife taking a job teaching at the London School of Economics, he as a freelance graphic design artist. The last time she’d seen them was 15 years ago, at least that long, when they’d come to play tourists. Her youngest niece, she’d not even met. Trying to picture them in her mind, it was difficult to remember their faces. The best she could come up with was a vague picture, a faint image. Was that what her brother’s face looked like? she wondered. For a moment she even forgot how many children they had. No. Yes. Yes, it was three.
She’d asked the staff at Queen’s not to give her any kind of going away party, and despite their pleadings for her to give in and let them do it, she’d stood firm. No parties. Flower arrangements adorned her desk, and unwrapped gifts sat on a table near the door.
Gradually clearing out her desk over the past month, so as not to have to pack everything up all at once, was a much less stressful strategy, she figured, and so it had been. The only thing left on her desk was a small paperweight she’d found at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet many years ago. It was the figure of a woman, a goddess, she guessed, that was very round. It had struck her immediately as a fertility symbol, and since this was back in the long-ago days when she’d still kept a glimmer of hope for children in the back of her mind, she’d bought it and brought it into the office, to sit there on her desk, that symbol of hope for a family.
Flying out that night, she’d be in London the day after tomorrow.
“Closing time,” said Shelley, popping her head in the door. “Can I give you a hug, party pooper?” Lehua came around her desk, and the two embraced.
Then more people shuffled into the room. And, as she hoped would not be the case, Carrie walked in with a cake, followed by Duke and Joaquin with champagne and glasses.
“You guys!” she said. But that was all she could say. These people had become her family. She loved them. The reason why she’d not wanted the party was that she did not want to feel any kind of finality. They meant so much to her, their years together.
After all the emotion and the celebration, everyone grabbed her gifts and flowers and headed out the door to the parking structure. She was the last one left in the office. Taking a final look at her little paperweight, sitting there all alone on the empty desk, she smiled wistfully and switched off the light, then followed the family parade to her car.
When she arrived home and pushed through the front door, she knew something was wrong.
“Lily?” she called, wondering where her little chihuahua-terrier mix, what people in Hawai‘i called a poi dog, could be. Usually Lily was at the front door, clawing at it to greet her adoptive Mama, the woman who’d recused her from the Hawaiian Humane Society.
Lehua walked quickly from room to room, searching for Lily. “Where are you, sweety?” she kept calling. “Come on, baby.”
And then she went into the bedroom. Her heart stopped and the tears came. She could see that Lily, lying on the bed, was dead.
She sat on the bed, picked up her little girl, and sobbed, rocking back in forth. Finally lying down, Lehua held Lily on her breast, hugging her tightly.
After a long while, how long she wasn’t sure, Lehua stopped crying and closed her eyes.
Her eyes opened, and Lehua could not place herself. Then she felt Lily in her arms and remembered. Laying Lily aside on the bed, she sat up. Looking at the clock, she realized there was no time to get to the airport now. But it didn’t matter.
She stroked Lily and remembered that she’d have to call the O‘ahu Pet Spa to cancel Lily’s boarding reservation. She stared at her phone but didn’t dial.
Then she lay back down, picked up Lily, and held her tight again. Here was all the family she had. She could travel more as she was able to do so.