What Hawaii Taught Me

I moved to Hawaii a long time ago. I did not really want to move here. I did not have visions of palm trees swaying. I thought that the Big Island was Oahu. I did not know what hula really looked like. Or that men danced it. Or that “grass” skirts are dreadful representations of the real thing. I moved here because my ex wanted to move here. He was stationed here and loved it. I just came along.

When I first came here, I just needed a job. I did things like working for the census bureau, temping at a (now) rival health insurer and Borders Book Store. I met people at Borders that I still see quite frequently and celebrate major holidays with. I found my hairdresser while working there (she cut my hair last Friday). I had a degree in Marine Biology but not a great track record in the field and no local connections. A friend suggested that I apply as session staff at the Hawaii State Legislature. She said that I would really like it. I was not convinced. I knew nothing about the legislative process.  And then, I was there and I loved it. And it is really what I still do. I think about that. I would have never even thought about applying at the Capitol. Government was always physically distant for me. But it is so close here. People knocking on your door. Signwaving on corners. And on the advice from a friend, I ended up there. And I kind of found myself. How many people can say that?

And I was at the Capitol and learned so much. I remember lurking just off the Senate floor, stalking a Chair to get a Committee Report signed. I remember watching the Merrie Monarch festival for the first time in a fellow Representative’s office. I tired squid luau for at my boss’ fundraiser and loved it. I learned how the legislative process worked. I learned about deadlines. I learned about politics. I learned about policy. And I was hooked.

I moved to the private sector and went to an association that dealt with the City Council. We hosted events for our members. Had them meet Council members and issued endorsements. I learned how to deal with a demanding constituency. And many, many members. My boss there was difficult. And that served me well. He was completely atypical Hawaii. But I learned how to decipher the best way to deal with him. I learned how to do a good job and identify my tough boss’ pain points.

My boss sent my resume to his dad for a job that I was not looking for which is how I ended up where I am today. I was hired on a trial basis in the government relations department at the state’s largest health insurer. I fell into a love hate relationship with the state legislature. I remember having a safe haven office to let down the meet and greet façade of talking to legislators constantly. I learned how to work under pressure. I learned how to be discrete. To give and take. To negotiate. I honed my ability to write. Mostly testimony. I was given opportunities that I would not have had. I got in on the ground floor of the Affordable Care Act.

And at some point, Hawaii gave me the courage to write. To write from my heart. To start my blog. To not be afraid. That may be the best gift of all. Because that freedom let me find myself. It let me be myself. It let me be fearless to post myself. And it led to my current organization embracing that writing. To publishing it in their quarterly magazine. And while that did not lead to minor celebrity status for me, it still made me feel like a real writer. How many people can say that? I am hopeful that the ability to have that feeling, will carry me further, in this journey. I learned how to be real and not be afraid

Finally, I work in the Legal department, which is just weird to me. And working in Legal, well, it has taught me that, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Attorneys feel vulnerable and indecisive even if they are uber intelligent. They are giving. They are just the best (and not just the attorneys, the paralegals as well). I learned to be more open. And the irony that it was the legal department that taught me to love does not escape me. That they taught me that letting people into your heart is not sign of weakness. It is difficult but what Hawaii taught me is that it is the people. The people are what matter.

And honestly, this may be the thing that I learned that taught me that I need to go back to NY. To be closer to my mom. To understand that life really is short. It is not a platitude. And I could talk about my church and how much I love it there. Or I could talk about my Doctor Who group. Or my book club. But it is the family. The ones you choose. The ones that you accidentally become part of. The ones who embrace you like their own. And that is how I feel about Hawaii. Embraced. Loved. Part of a family. And always feeling the aloha.

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For Real

 

The talk of moving back to NY has been going on at my place for over ten years. And the problem is that, there is no solution. My significant other’s entire family is here, in Hawaii, as is his job. My entire, and very, very small family, is in NY. My mother sees her only grandson, our son, once a year (although we have been taking extended summers in NY over the past few years). When we lived in NY for six months when my son was in 2nd grade, we spent Thanksgiving together but it is the only major holiday we have been together for, for as long as I can remember. I seriously can’t count the fourth of July.

But we have been having the no solution conversation for so long. And there has been no resolution. I could not make the call to move. It all seemed so difficult. And scary. So there was just inertia. Years and years of inertia. Of just not doing anything. Not actually making a choice. Although, I suppose not doing anything is making a choice of sorts.

And then, well, death. I mean, supposedly it is a thing that everyone grapples with in some form or another. It was not on the top of the list of things that I contemplated until it was. Until I had some weird health things going on. Until I felt like my body was and could, at any time, completely betray me. And all of a sudden, people were dying left and right. Young and seemingly healthy people who went to sleep at night and did not wake up. People who had joyously moved home to Hawaii after an absence. People planning to celebrate life’s milestones. Just dying. And I have heard all of the platitudes of living in the moment because tomorrow is not promised but it had all been meaningless to me. Until it wasn’t. And I realized that my mom is getting older and she could die. But that I was also getting older and I could die. And the choice was made. I knew in my heart it was time to go. I knew that there would never be a good time. I knew that it would be difficult on me. On my son. On my significant other. I knew that it would rip out our hearts and stomp them on the floor. But I knew that we had to go. I knew because I did not feel that I was living a purposeful life. I knew because I was questioning, really the point of it all. Or even if I there was a point. And being with my NY family felt like the most purposeful thing I could think of.

The decision was made before the false missile warning happened when we thought we might not live till the afternoon. The decision was made before a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. The decision was made with no place for us to live. With uncertainty around our health insurance. But it was made. And while things have happened, the most concrete thing so far is happening on Friday. It is the day I put my car on a barge to be shipped cross country from HI to NY. I will take Shelly (the orange Fit) to the dock and leave her. The next time I see her she will be in NY. Hopefully in one piece and in working order.

Part of this move feels a little like a death is occurring. Someone told me that the reason is because I am doing all of the very most stressful things in life at one time. I think I had put the whole thing out of my mind for the past month or so but with Shelly taking off later this week, it is all real and I am feeling stressed out and anxious which manifests itself in crying. Potentially at any time. Over anything. Like permanent PMS.

And I know that my family in NY will read this and be concerned over the entire move. But if I didn’t feel this way, this way about the place that I’ve been for so long, there would be something wrong with me. So the move is coming. Slowly and quickly at the same time. And I am not ready. But I am going. I am coming. To try to be purposeful.

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Floating

Yesterday was the lantern floating ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park. It has been going on for some time and yesterday was the third time we attended. We had a grand plan to pick up our lantern and then hoof it into Waikiki to do some day drinking. But before we could get out the door, LKY, put his back out. He kept trying to insist that he was fine but he was all stooped over, kind of shaped like a question mark. A shuffling question mark. It would have taken hours to get into Waikiki and back.

Instead we decided to head to the park at like four. We got there and used my super secret mall parking area, which was open. We crossed over to the park. It was hazy and hot. Crowded but not as crowded as it would get. We had not gone to lantern floating the previous year but we wanted to go this year because, well…..one way tickets. We found a spot on the beach and baked for a while before the program started. My friend Gigi managed to find us as well.

The lanterns that are floated are provided free of charge prior to the ceremony beginning. You just have to show up to get one. We got on the line before they started handing them out and once the line began moving at ten, we had a lantern in hand in less than half an hour. The lantern has four panels but you are only able to write on three of them. We each took a pane. I put my dad on the one that I had. I found a picture of him from some ten years ago when he was actively involved in veteran’s and memorial days.

My son took a panel and he put my mom’s puppy on it, Breeze. She had cancer. She was very young. My mom is still grieving and may always be grieving.

LKY dedicated his panel to ohana he has lost and some folks who he had known from working at the capitol.

The coverage and photos of the lantern floating ceremony are always taken in the dark. The candles are lit in the lanterns. There are scores of them floating on the ocean, in the darkness. Me, I have never witnessed this part of the ceremony. For me, it is the act of floating the lantern that I go for. The act of putting those words down. Words of regret. Sorrow. Words that wished things had been different. So many words. And you write them down on the lantern. And then the lantern goes in the ocean. It floats away. The words are gone. And this is why I go. I basically float my lantern and get out of there. I do not stay for the lanterns floating on the ocean photo op. I do not even wait for the darkness. It is absolutely still light out when I take off.

We met a lady who was on the lantern line and she was telling us that attending the ceremony was part of her bucket list and that her mom was 90 and would be coming to the beach later on. I’m certain that they waited for the darkness.

For me, it is not about the visual. For me it is just act of sending it away. I can’t explain it. It is like writing it down and getting it out and then sending it away. And being there. Being around all of those other people who are there to float their grief away. I feel like I am one of them. Part of me wanted to put myself on the lantern this year but that seemed kind of wrong. I wanted to put my life as it is today on the lantern. And put it in the ocean and float it away. Because that is how I feel. I am petrified about moving. I don’t know how this will all work out. But I know that even if was not moving, that things would need to change. Change. Possibly the scariest word in the English language.

I did not float my change away. It is in me. I carry it with me. And I am moving towards it. One. Way. Tickets.

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Move. Moved. Moving.

My son left for Japan earlier this week. It is the Japan study tour with his eighth grade class. He will be gone for almost two weeks. My only real fear is that he will lose all of his money, budget poorly and run out before the end of his time there or lose other important things like his phone or the hotspot we got for him for the time he is gone. We met with the other students, parents and chaperones that morning and I gave my son a hug goodbye. He was very excited for this trip. I didn’t feel really sad until I got home and saw that his plane had left and that he was hours away over the ocean. And then I was home alone that evening. His dad was working his second job. And I was home. Alone. Trying to do things. Things that needed to be done.

I have lived here for a very long time. More than thirteen years. More than the lifespan of my son. We see my family once a year in the summer. When my son was in second grade, we moved to NY for six months. I quit my job. He went to the public school in Orient. I worked at the town marina. I lived in my  mother’s very small, one bathroom house, in a sleeping arrangement that I refuse to discuss. We had always planned on coming back to Hawaii. We bought round trip tickets. It was a way to see my mother more. In my mind we could live in Hawaii for six months and New York for six months. That little foray taught me that that was really not possible. It was too disruptive, for my family, for my son, who went to two different schools in one school year.

And that was six years ago. And all of that time we go home every summer. My job has been great about letting me go for longer and longer periods of time. But they never felt long enough. Home is in two places. My heart is in two places too. And I am getting older. And my family in NY is getting older. And my son is graduating from the school that he has gone to since kindergarten. He moves to a new school in the next school year. So. It seemed like a good time. A good time to think about moving. Moving back to New York.

And so now, that is happening. I bought one way tickets. For my son and I. I am unsure where we will live. I am unsure where my son will go to school. My car will be shipped. I am working on securing work with my current organization. I worry constantly. About money. About how much I may be fucking up my son’s life. It is so much worry that I forget how my heart sings when I think about this. This move. How this move has been thought about for more than six years. Discussed for more than six years. And no solution found for more than six years.

I have thought about telling people about this decision.  I have sat across from people and had discussions about things in the future which I will be in NY for. And I have not said anything. And part of that is because as much as my heart was singing about going to NY, it is sobbing about leaving HI. And the time is so close. It is so close that I seem to be crying every day. At the drop of a hat. So if you see me and if you say something and if you want to talk about it, I may not be able. So maybe just hug me. I’m totally into hugging these days. But I will still probably cry.

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At this very moment, in my very life in Hawaii, I feel closer to the people in my life here than I ever have. I think that I have learned, in the past couple of years, that it is the people that are what’s important. It is why I have to go and why it is so difficult to go. Part of me just wanted to Houdini out of Hawaii but that seems wrong. But the date is creeping and creeping up. And I have to tell people. But I seem to have lost my voice. My ability to tell. Maybe writing is a baby step towards telling. Or maybe it is the only telling there will be.

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I Chafe Therefore I Am

 

Today was the half marathon that I had registered for some time ago. It is called the Hapalua. And, if you are looking for a marathon experience but don’t want to actually run a marathon, this race is for you. It is fantastically crowded. Like the marathon. You get lots of fun stuff at the end. And by fun stuff I mean shave ice, a malasada and cold pressed juice from a local place. And of course, bananas and water. But really, everyone has that.

So I have been registered for this race for a long time. It’s not like I did not know that it was going to happen. I should have been increasing my distance up till the race itself. But I didn’t. Not only that, but on some of our long run days, I would tell my running buddy that we should just walk. And we did. It was really quite lovely.

I used to be the bossy one. The one who always wanted to go. The one who didn’t care if it was raining. Or if I was injured. And somehow, over the past few years, that changed. And I became more wussy. Less aggressive. “Walk” used to not be in my vocabulary and then I found myself advocating for it. And, for some reason, I still thought that the half marathon today could potentially be okay.

Well, that was a ridiculous assumption. It all started out auspicious enough. It was not raining. Because if it had been raining, I would have likely stayed in bed. It was humid but I was out the door on time to pick up my running buddy at 4:45 a.m. We found parking that was not dreadfully far from the starting line. The wait for the women’s room was blissfully short. I had gotten a new stick of Glide and applied it liberally to my parts that I knew would chafe. I was worried about my knee (which has been pretty janky for a while) and was hoping that it would hold out the entire time.

There were so many entrants that it took us a good couple of minutes to get to the starting line. And just as we started to pull away from the actual start line, someone behind my friend fell. Afterwards, she told me that she was thinking that she was just going to stumble and stumble and recover but then, she fell too. I helped her up and we pulled over to the side. Luckily, she was not really bleeding. She landed on her hip (surely to bruise later today) and only had a couple of small scrapes on her hand. I asked if she was okay. If she wanted to continue to run. If we should just go get breakfast. She said we should go on.

We ran together for the next seven miles. We never do that. But, truth be told, it was more for me than for her. The weather was humid and I knew that trying to run fast was not going to be the way to go. Finishing was the way to go. So we stayed together. She ended up having to go to the bathroom and decided to veer off by Ala Moana Beach Park. I decided to keep going. I knew that she would catch me up. I felt like if I actually stopped moving, that would be it.

I walked a bit near Waikiki. And then I realized that due to the fact that I am carrying around some extra weight, that I was getting chafed in places that I had not put Glide on. Because I did not know that I needed it. I ran again for a bit. I had to walk up Montsarrat Ave. which is the longest most awful hill in any race ever. I ran again and then when I got to Diamondhead, I walked again. My knee was not great so I was a little gimpy. I realized that I should look for my friend since I knew she was going to catch me. And sure enough, I looked up, and there she was. I didn’t want to yell but trotted up to meet her. We walked together a bit more and then trotted to the finish line. It was probably the slowest race I have ever done.

I am home now and, well, wearing underwear is pretty unpleasant so I think I’m going to stay home mostly today. I told my friend that in the future when we get together for our “long” runs on Sundays, that if I say that we should maybe just walk that she just needs to say one word to me, “Hapalua”, and we will be off for our run.

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Falling

 

My friend has cancer. And ever since she was diagnosed, it is like she is falling down a well. Falling and falling. For months now. As she goes from doctor to doctor and test to test. A never ending parade of health care professionals. Some who are wonderful. And many who seem to have forgotten that the person they are putting in the machine is an actual person. A person who is vulnerable. And frightened. The person who is their third. Or fifth body that they have had to put in their particular machine that day. And the putting of the person in that machine is their job. And maybe they just forgot that making an offhand comment about potentially looking at a body part which has not yet been identified as having metastasized cancer in, causes a domino effect of fear. A tsunami of worry. To someone who is trying to hold it together. Someone who received a cancer diagnosis that went from a stage two to a stage four seemingly overnight. Or the other guy who asked about her diagnosis. Asked if she had kids. Wished her good luck. These comments are not helpful. Maybe just stick to talking about the weather. Or the traffic. Upcoming holidays. Something impersonal. And benign. Unlike her disease.

And the well that my friend has fallen down. We are falling with her. Her friends and co-workers. Her family. We are all in the well. Tumbling and tumbling down. It is dark and slimy and we have yet to find the bottom. I picture us falling all together. Clinging tenuously. To her. To each other. The diagnostic tests are almost complete. She has had the alphabet soup of scans. CT scan. Bone scan. MRI. PET scan. But right now we are still falling and falling.

The final diagnostic test is the bone biopsy. The spots in her bones need to be tested. And then we will all hit the bottom. The bottom of the well. And we will know. We will know the treatment. We will know the scope of her disease. We will know what happens next. To the extent that that is knowable. We will know what the treatment plan will be.

We will still have bad days. Anxious days. Days when we just curl up into ourselves. Days when we need to get outside and see the sun. Days when we talk about punching the cancer. Or punching the insensitive health care workers. Days when we just want to hug. Or cry. Days when the only people that we want to talk to are each other. The other people falling down the well.

Today told her that I am sorry. That I need to better. That I need to set aside my feelings and just be there for her. Because otherwise, otherwise I am just being selfish. And I am trying not to be. Because although I am falling down the well too. It’s not my well.

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Things Aren’t What They Seem

I have not blogged in a long time. And it’s not because I haven’t wanted to. It’s more like, it’s just been too difficult. And it’s been difficult because a friend of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer. And she is young. A decade younger than me. And, sometimes she reads my blog. So it’s just been difficult. To say something. To say anything. To say the right thing.

Towards the end of last year, my friend went for a mammogram. It was one of those things. Random. One of the things we do. We put the robe on. We get squashed into that machine. And then we get dressed and go home. Depending on where the screening is done, we may get a rose on the way out. But my friend, she did not get to go. They took more pictures. And then they told her that they had found something. And that’s how it all started.

There were tests. It was cancer. I was with her right after she found out. She got an oncologist. And a surgeon. She had a mastectomy. They found that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. But the number was still stage two. Stage two. So close to state one. Just one away.

I learned about things like drains and what types of supplies are needed after surgery. There were tests on the tumor itself. Apparently there are the American tests and then there are the European tests. The results help dictate the treatment needed. We talked about how weird it was that part of her was going to be gone. Cut out of her. Gone. The results of these two tests were completely different. But it was decided that she would have chemotherapy. The plan was two rounds. Radiation. And then on drugs for like ten years.

She was getting ready for the chemotherapy. Trying to decide how many folks she wanted to talk to about their experiences. I was feeling nervous for her. I know that chemotherapy is awful. And radiation is no walk in the park. But it was a finite amount of time. There was an end game. It would suck but then there was that proverbial end of the rainbow. We talked about how for the rest of her life she would be worried. She talked to someone who had kept their port in well after their treatments had ended.

Then she got ready to go and have her port put in. She went that morning and they did not have her paperwork. She was upset. They ended up postponing the procedure. And, that ended up being good news. That, along with her hairdresser moving the appointment to cut her hair very short, turned out to be a good thing. But it didn’t feel that way at the time.

Her doctor sent her for some additional tests. A CT. A bone scan. To establish a baseline. I was trying to be supportive. She told me that she was tired of people telling her that it would be fine. Because, it kept not being fine. I don’t think I ever said that. It felt like bachi to me.

Last week Tuesday, I happened to be at the Capitol. A couple of co-workers and myself were doing some research. And then we got the call. The call that the bone scan results were not good. That the cancer had spread to my friend’s bones. And she immediately was promoted to stage four. Just like that. And it all changed. No more chemotherapy. More screening tests. And just a lot of uncertainty.

Our mutual friends met up with her that day around lunch time. They told me afterwards that they really like when I show up because there are less awkward silences. But if I am honest, I just didn’t want to go. I wasn’t sure that I could say anything. I wasn’t sure if I could not cry. But that seemed like the biggest dick move. To not go. So I went. I went and when things got too quiet, I babbled on about my broken hairdryer.

Someone close to me has a family history of the disease. Aunts. Cousins. And while it is never a good diagnosis. The majority of these folks are okay. And this person kept saying this to me. That it will be okay. And I kept saying that no two people are the same. No two cases the same.

I went away this weekend and spent two days feeling sad. Trying to figure out what I would continue to say. What I could do. Not sleeping. Crying. And then after two days, I figured it out. The platitudes that I have been hearing my entire life. All of those things about seizing the day. Living in the moment. I understood. And I understood that just like I couldn’t use all the other examples to assume a good outcome, I couldn’t do the same and assume a bad one. And I understood that every moment of every day is outside of my control. That no matter what I do, it can all change in a second. And I don’t know the outcome. And she doesn’t know the outcome. But we have today. And I saw her yesterday. And I hugged her. And I have no more assumptions. Good or bad.

 

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