I did not recognize Keola. If you’ve not seen someone for, say, 25 years, you might have little difficulty recognizing him if that span covers age 30 to 55 because there’s usually very little change, maybe some weight gained or lost. More or less, the physiognomy remains the same.
If those 25 years were from, say, age 17 to age 42, however, recognizing that person is much more difficult.
Not so, however, with Keola, he who recognized me.
“Dude,” the man in the wheelchair said to me. “How you?”
I stopped and stared at him. We were in Longs Drugs. He was just behind me in the line to pick up medications.
Recognition on my part, aside from how many years we’d not seen each other, was compounded by his head being bandaged both around the top above the forehead and down over the left eye. There was little area visible.
Judging by the perplexed expression on my face, the semi-masked stranger went on. “It’s me, Keola Kekaulike. Long time no see.”
Ah, Keola, the toughest guy in high school. Thank goodness he was never a bully. Given his size and his propensity for fighting, had he been someone who picked on those smaller than he, our teenage years would have been an even greater hell than they already are during those trying years. Fortunately, Keola had adopted a few of us, and if anyone gave us a hard time, he would jump in and make sure that never happened again.
“Keola, brah, I . . . ” I hesitated, “I would have never recognized you.”
“Yeah yeah yeah,” he said laughing. “Would be hard when I look like this.”
I reached for the hand that was not in a cast up to his forearm, and we bumped fists.
“Honey,” he said, turning his head slightly to look up at the woman pushing the chair. “This is Kaniala. He was one of my boys back in high school. He always had my back.”
The woman smiled warmly. “It’s nice to meet you.”
I was amazed at the way he introduced me. I’d never thought of myself as someone who could back him up in anything. I was a lover, not a fighter.
“Oh, you too,” I said lamely to her, wanting to get to the more pressing question.
“Keola,” I said. “What happened to you, brah?”
He laughed. “My company, United Insurance, we had a convention in L.A. last week. Was huge. I never would guess there were that many people worldwide.”
“Oh wow,” I said, encouraging him onward, “yeah, sounds huge.”
“So we break into groups, yeah, and one of the stupid things we did to break the ice was trust exercises.”
“Oh man,” I said, “I hate that kind of thing. So dumb.”
“Yeah, they’re the worst,” Keola said. “And the worst of the worst is that one where you stand up on the table and fall backward so the other guys catch you.”
“Oh man,” I said, “that one sucks.”
“Shit yeah, it does. Plus I’m so big, I fell right through their arms. And it hurt like hll when I came to. Doc said I had one concussion.”
I surveyed the damage. The head and the eye bandaged. The cast on the arm. And there were boots on both his feet.
“Keola, how high was the table?”
“Unfortunately, never have one table for my group, Kaniala. We were in a room with a kind of stage. Was maybe six feet off the floor. I figured, ah, so I’m kind of big. But got a lot of them. When the first few came flying down, we caught ‘em, no problem. But, shoots, none of them was built like me.”
Keola, the feisty teenage fighter, didn’t beat the crap out of so many guys because he was small. He’d always been big. He still looked like he could be a pro football lineman.
“So they weren’t strong enough. Brah, that’s really bad.”
“More worse,” said Keola, “they got me one chair to sit on after, and the thing broke, so I fell on the floor again. Then on top of that, when the EMTs lifted the stretcher to slide me into the ambulance, they dropped me on the street. I must have had the two weakest guys they got.”
“Geez,” I said, “that is some real hard luck. Like the worst I ever heard. But I’m glad you’re okay, though.”
Keola laughed. “Well, sort of,” he said.
“Right right right,” I said. “I guess what I mean is I’m glad it’s not worse.”
“Like dead,” his wife threw in.
It was my turn to go up to the counter. I picked up my prescription and then said goodbye to Keola and his wife.
“I got one small surgery next week,” said Keola.
“Good luck with that,” I said and walked away.