Mahalo

Na Pali Coast

No Kahiki mai ka wahine `o Pele,
Mai ka `aina mai o Polapola,
Mai ka punohu a Kane,
Mai ke ao lapa i ka lani.

 

My whole life I have wanted to go to Hawaii.  I have stared wide-eyed at many friend’s and family member’s photos, taking in the lush landscapes, and blue skies.  It felt so far away, especially financially, and became a mere vision, something to wait for.

I pictured myself on the beach, with my husband, enjoying the temperate air while bathing in love.  A shared desire, lapping like the easy water of the Hawaiian bays, while fish swam in plain view of all the goggled snorkelers.

Pictures are funny things when coupled with expectation.

 

I landed in Oahu on April 2nd, traveling alone.  I was greeted by a man from the shuttle company, and he handed me a leis.  As the flowers passed over my head, a ring of fragrant glory formed around me; an aura of orchids.  I felt like I was in the movies, and my smile stretched ear to ear.

He helped me with my bags and loaded me onto the shared shuttle.  Waikiki passed in my view and I began to text my brother across the miles, punctuated with endless exclamation marks, “I am here!!!”

I bounded into the hotel lobby, riding the elevator, feeling the warmth of the afternoon air, and knocked on Room 722.

And there, I dove into deep hugs with my mother, father, and aunt.  We were all here together for a common purpose:

Birds.

 

I’ve always love birds.  My first memories are from Leavenworth, Kansas, where I would sit in the back yard with my parent’s binoculars and write down on my chart what I saw.  The chart had been drawn carefully with a ruler, and was laid in a green folder, three rings shining brightly in the midwest sun, my six year old fingers gripped tightly around my Number 2 pencil.  In those days, the chart held just a few species of birds, but I felt great excitement seeing the Robin hop, and the sparrows sing.

As I grew, birds were always present, and were added to my love of nature and the joyous hikes I would run through, calling back to my brother, and eyeing the next rock I could climb.  I didn’t keep up the charts, but listened to the songs.  My focus wasn’t on identification, but I was always aware of their beating wings.

Several years ago, my parents bought some really good binoculars, and began to carry around the Sibley Guide on hikes.  They started attending Birding Festivals and while I enjoyed hearing about them, I didn’t really have a desire to join.  I wanted to hike and climb, and the birds didn’t carry the same magnificence through my small lenses.  They looked best through my parent’s pair.

Ironically, when I opened on Christmas Day my first quality pair of binoculars in 2012 from my parents, I could barely see through the endless flowing stream of hot tears.  Minimal white lights had been hung in my home by my husband who was telling me he didn’t love me anymore.

I held those lenses tight to my chest, the black casing soft in my hands, my fingers gripping the edges like I was hanging from a cliff.

And I was.

 

After letting go and crashing on the jagged surface below, I picked up the lenses and found I could still walk.  My pace was far slower than the woman who bounded from rock to rock, but I was able to place a hand, then a foot, and feel the ground beneath me.

My parents invited me to a Birding Festival with them the following April, and I willingly grabbed my new binoculars and joined them amongst the trees.

Now I had my own pair, and I began to see the differences between the Pine and Prairie Warbler, and watch the Northern Flicker’s feathers gleam in the afternoon sun.  What’s more, I was surrounded by family and by a new community of passionate conservationists, identifying the songs and tweets, marking down each species like a child laying out Halloween candy.

In those quiet moments of standing still and watching the chickadee hop, I was breathing.  I was at peace.  So I returned for the next festival, and the next, and the next.

 

My alarm went off at 5 am, the glow of my phone screen creating a halo in the hotel room with my sleeping aunt.  After my shower, I went out onto the balcony to meditate and do yoga.  To my right the ocean, and to my left, Diamond Head rose high, a strong tall shape against the morning Waikiki stars.  I had brought out a sweatshirt, thinking I would need the warmth, but instead sat counting my breath in a tank top.

I was here.

Our first morning we birded with the whole tour group from Field Guides in a park across from the hotel, and I was seeing life bird after life bird.  Rose-ringed parakeets sat on the trees, common like pigeons, and a Saffron Finch landed on a wire so we could all see it’s bright yellow feathers as the sun rose.  I felt no jet lague or fatigue from the long travel day before.  I only felt the thrill of each species as it hopped in the grass and the guides set up their scopes for clarifying views.

As a group of 16, we spent time on three islands: Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island.  We hiked amongst the rain forests, walked over decades-old lava, stared over cliffs, and gazed out from the shore.

I ended up seeing 60 life birds.  60 birds I have never seen before, and this time, the chart was made for me, supplied by Field Guides, on white paper, in a plastic black spiral.  Returning to the 6 year old in my backyard, I marked off each day with the same sense of endless discovery.

 

I stayed in Hawaii an extra day to spend some time on the beach, relax, and reflect.  After seeing my parents and aunt off, I had a lovely breakfast looking out over Anaeho’omalu Bay, then sat in a chair and journaled.

In the morning sun, after my pen filled the page, I revisited my original vision and looked out at my reality.  Water lapped gently and the breeze blew across my skin.  I saw families around, and watched a father holding his young daughter’s hand as she waded in the sea, and tears fell down my face, as I felt my truth rise to the surface.

I had asked for love, and I was surrounded by it, in the yellow billed cardinals cry, the palm trees wind song, and experiencing the magic of the a place I had only dreamed of.

I was not alone, and my future vision on a beach now included a much clearer sight of the life I desired.  I could see my children, I could see my new husband, and I could see what I truly wanted, a family.

 

In the afternoon, I explored the shops across the street from the hotel at Kings Crossing.  I found an incredible shop where I took care of birthday and Christmas gifts for many members of my family and then walked into the neighboring store.

At first the store seemed to be mostly brand name jewelry, all things I could find back home, and then I saw them, laying on a table display.

I picked them up and laughed to myself, not even thinking twice about treating myself to a small gift.

Once I was back in my hotel room and packing up my things for flying back to NYC the next day, I picked up my purchase and put them on, placing them in my ears.

There in the mirror, now stood a woman with something extra, dangling in the evening light.

A pair of wings.

Hawaiian Bay

Shared Glass

Ann & I

I sit in the final days of December counting my breath before my small Christmas tree, and as I bow in completion, I look up to the dried pine green to see illuminated between the branches my Big Ben ornament, hanging by a golden thread, its towering face reading 3:21 pm.  My sanctuary is filled with candlelight, glowing amongst the chilly evening outside, and a small bottle of gifted effervescence awaits its release by the blue lotus flower at the base of my tree.

Half encased in textured foil, the bottle reads:
Sparkling Gold

Standing upright to its left is a tall wide wine glass, with a giant appliquéd heart.  Silver and asymmetrical, the playful shape encompasses swirls, stars, sequins, pearls, and a single butterfly.  The glass has a theme written on its underside:
Silver Lining

Bottle and glass, a pair beneath the lights, appropriately shine upon my British history.  I gaze upon an old photograph I brought from my parent’s photo album, of a young blond girl, eyes closed in glee and love, nose to nose, held by her nanny.  Her nanny, Ann.

My father was a fighter pilot in the Air Force.  We moved around a lot, and many years of my childhood were spent in Europe.  I learned my first words in Wheatley, right outside of Oxford, England, when my father was stationed at Upper Heyford flying F1-11s.

My parents were looking for a babysitter and were referred to a 16 year old local named Ann.  Ann quickly became a member of our family, looking after my brother and I, and cultivating a strong friendship with my parents.  After my father’s tour was over in England, we moved to Clovis, New Mexico, and Ann visited every summer, loving the hot American sun, and watching over us as we played in our sandbox and ran through the backyard sprinklers.

As my brother and I grew, and our family moved around, she was there for all the mile markers, and taught me the basics of makeup, boys, Aqua Net, and fashion.  She was a second mother and an older sister all tied up in one.

She hugged me on my graduation, laughed and partied at my wedding, made me a gorgeous cake for my 30th birthday, and clapped in the audience when I kicked my legs as a Rockette for the first time.

Our correspondence went from lengthy sheets of folded paper within sparkling cards to emails to Facebook messages and FaceTime chats.

My mother had extensive hand surgery in the later days of 2011, and the two of them came to visit my married home for the last time in January of 2012.  Ann was helping my mother in recovery, massaging her scar tissue and offering jokes and support.  It was a cold beginning of the year, and my mother was wrapped to her eyeballs in scarf and hat to ease the NYC wind, while Ann smiled ear to ear with rosy cheeks from her long black furry coat.  Mom and I may have been shivering, but Ann grabbed my cold hands, transferring her natural warmth to my fingers, colored white and numb.

I didn’t see Ann through the heartbreak and rebuilding of my life. She received much of the story through the lens of my mother, and random long email messages from my account.  Ann was in her own pain at the time, seeing countless doctors for searing pain that was cutting off her mobility, and causing havoc down her spine and legs.  She went to countless doctors, swallowed endless amounts of medications, and the pain only increased, as did her frustration.

Finally a chiropractor diagnosed Ann with a dislocated hip, and surgery was scheduled for holiday 2013.

We Facetimed with Ann on Christmas Day, and witnessed her fear and relief.  The surgery had been scary, but the family that she nannied for had taken her in, and given her a room to convalesce and heal as she began to walk without pain for the first time in two years.

As I saw her tears, I recognized the fear and loneliness.  I was coping with my first Christmas post divorce and longed to hug her across the screen and to be held at the same time.

Over 2014, there were many more FaceTime chats, and we began to see more of Genevieve, the little blond three year old Ann took care of.  Once Genevieve saw pictures of me dancing, she wanted to twirl on camera and be a ballerina too.  Watching her spin and whirl her arms, I saw a familiar little girl leaping throughout my childhood living room.

Ann saw it too.
So did my mom.

This Christmas Ann was able to come stateside and in her deep hug, I felt all the memories return of lifesavers candy, matching outfits, and laughing until our sides hurt.  Although now, we both had scars to share.

While home over the holidays, I opened the closet in my parent’s living room, pulling out the thick brown photo albums from my youth.  As the plastic crinkled and cracked with each page turn, I gazed upon the rounded Kodak edges of my family.  I saw a photo of me curled up at the foot of my bed, with Ann asleep diagonally.  I had forgotten about this, and when I showed this to Ann, she smiled and remarked,
“You always slept with me.”

As I turned each page, I saw Ann there not only with me and my brother, but also by my mother’s side.  I began to hear my mother’s memories, and their long phone conversations over the years.  The bond existed on many levels, not just from my childhood candied hands.

Though she never shared our last name, there was no doubt her place within our lives.  Ann always used to say I was “such a lucky girl”, but I believe the luck was having her warm hand around my cold fingers, forming a community of love and support as I grew.

 

Triangular pink and green hats sit festively upon our three heads, noise makers sitting to the side, awaiting the final countdown of a year gone by.  We raise our glasses, clinking and setting bubbles to the surface.  Music pours from the TV, and the joyous celebration of Times Square inspires me to my feet, pulling Ann up from her seat.  My mother starts taking a video, and Ann and I twist our hips, holding hands, laughing, and singing:
Shake it off

As “auld lang syne” fills the room, I pour the sparkling gold into the silver lining glass, and toast to my mother and Ann.  Our glasses meet for a moment, then tilt back in unison, quenching our New Year thirst.

2015 toast