With my father on morphine we leave for Hawaii. I know it looks bad. I know he is dying and, hence, I will not be there when it happens, but I choose to go all the same. I have many reasons, (or excuses), in my head and they all seem reasonable to me. I have a living family to think of. I have a nine year old boy who cannot go to Hawaii if I don’t, because without me there will be no one to bring him home. Graham is sailing from Hawaii to Samoa and so will not be accompanying us back to Australia. I have to go. There is no insurance to cover the loss of the fares. My father would want me to. My mother gives me permission-of-a-kind with the statement – It’s up to you and your conscience. If you can live with it, go.
Maybe I have no conscience. Of course she wants me to stay, but she would not say so outright. I tell her I feel bad about leaving her, on her own, as he dies. She tells me how when her own mother was dying, my sister and I were under five. Her mother’s two sisters were by her bed, day and night, and wanted her there also. But when it came to tea time, she said she needed to go home. She had young children to think about, a husband, a family to care for. Those were her priorities now and she went. Her mother died that night.
Tomorrow we fly out to Sydney and then Hawaii. Today I want to be with him as long as I can. Another mother has Jasper.
Mum goes to the dining room for dinner. I am pleased to have some time in the room with him on my own. There are things to say. I hold his hand. It is cold and bony, the skin is papery. “It’s okay to go Dad. Go now Dad. Please go.”
I wanted to say it. To give him permission to leave us. To tell him we’d be okay. Of course afterwards, long afterwards, even now as I write this, there are other things I wished I had said. People always say you should tell them you love them. I didn’t say that. I guess I took it as understood. I should have thanked him. I should of told him he’d done a good job, because that is what drove him the whole of his life. In my head I hear him saying. “If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing properly.”
My last words to him as I put a hand on his stubbly chin and rubbed it was, “Goodbye Dad. You be good.” A perfunctory instructive.
It was something I used to say to him often as I left him under hospital care. Like leaving a dog in a kennel. A “No barking” type instruction.
If he could hear me I wanted him to be comforted that it was business as usual. That I would see him soon.
Of course I knew, or should have known, that that would be the last time.
And then there was the relief. Relief at knowing I would not have to sit and do a vigil. For watching dying is hard. Escaping overseas meant I would not have to do it. To be there at the end is gallant and brave and somehow considered the right thing to do. I had been watching him die for months. Being present at his actual last breath had lost its significance to me. I felt relieved to not have this final duty to do.
I think, with disdain, the emphasis people put on the moment of passing away. Like being there then will make some kind of difference. Dying, like birth, is something you do alone.
The Occupational therapists at the nursing home deliver Mum a “dying basket” containing a fancy tea cup and saucer, a battery operated candle, tea bags, a mini long life milk carton and a packet of Wagon Wheel biscuits. We don’t have a kettle in the room to make tea, so much of the basket is pointless. We look through it together vaguely bemused by its contents. Why Wagon Wheels over Tim Tams? Who made this choice and why?
My mother, despite Dad’s dying, was bewitched by Kate and William’s wedding. It was the best television she had ever seen.
We flew off.
It is raining heavily as we leave the Honolulu terminal to catch a cab to our hotel. It is tropical rain. Fat warm droplets. There is a queue of happy travellers waiting for taxis to Waikiki. At Hotel Renew our room is not ready and so we leave our bags and wander the strip. It is touristy, of course. Beach sand has been trucked in. But the waves still break in long foamy rides. Beneath a statue of a Hawaiian king homeless people congregate. A sign lists amongst the Do nots; No shopping trolleys, No horse shoe throwing.
Resort style hotels hug the beach, invading and overtaking it. Their bars and beach chairs own it. Gardens are lush and tropical with paths weaving through them. At the Moana Surfrider we are drawn to its old style colonial elegance. Its rocking chairs. Its white washed boards. Two men play guitar and ukulele, and sing while a woman dances the Hula. Jasper has a tropical drink with a cocktail umbrella and chunk of pineapple.
I ring my mother. She says dad has spoken to her and recognises the nurses. The fact that he is compos mentis enough to speak seems remarkable and I do wonder if she is lying to make me, or herself, feel better. Is Hawaii wonderful, dear? Oh yes, it’s wonderful. For how could you say otherwise? How could you say it’s okay. How my mother would have loved a hotel like this one, I think, while my father would have worried over the price of the drinks and not have let us sit down. I think she is asking, is it worth it? You better be having the time of your life over there whilst all this goes on over here without you.
We are up early the next day to go to Pearl Harbour. We get a private car, a limousine, because it is cheaper than a taxi. Jasper thinks this is what it might feel like to be famous. He sings,” I wanna be a billionaire so frickin bad”…But the car is old and worn and smells like air-freshener covering up yet older, staler smells. Our driver reminds me of Graham’s brother with his discoloured teeth, his smell of smoke, his rake thinness. His name is K.C and he tells us how you are not allowed to take bags into Pearl Harbour. Only your wallet and a camera. There are lockers at the entrance or he will keep our stuff in his car as he will return to pick us up.
Not having a notebook bothers me. More than leaving my belongings with a man we just met. What if I want to write something down? Denuded of pen and paper, we enter.
Tora Tora Tora, came the call of the Japanese pilots as they realised they had succeeded in surprising the American fleet of ships. The radar that had detected the planes had been ignored because, as new technology, it was not believed possible that the planes arriving across the Pacific could belong to the enemy. The US aircraft were bombed and the torpedoes fired and the USS Arizona and others were sunk, entombing the naval seamen.
A ferry takes us out to the memorial that floats over the watery grave. Oil slicks shimmy the surface of the water and patriots tell how the oil droplets symbolise the tears of the lost sailors. People stand and reflect. I try and imagine the bombing, the chaos. Sailors were burnt as they fled their sinking burning ships and swam through water alive with liquid fuel. Others wouldn’t have even known what hit them. Standing in sunlight waiting for our ferry to take us back across the water, tears are seen on the faces of burly men.
Today Japanese are common tourists to the site. There seems no animosity here towards them. Then, even more remarkably, for the 50th anniversary of the bombing, some of the surviving Japanese pilots, now simply old small men, returned to hold hands with American survivors of the attack. Embraced they did. That such ferocity and power is replaced with simple solicitude and forgiveness seems odd to me, even if it is admirable. That friends are made from arch enemies convinces me even more of the pointless stupidity of war.
These memorials to lost lives become to me, such powerful anti-war proponents. How could anyone come away from such a place and think it was worth it.
We are bussed to the battleship Missouri memorial. It is where the treaty to end the war was signed. It is hulking and we are ants crawling over and within her. The men that sailed on her love her like she is a home country. They speak of her like she is more than metal. She has a soul.
While Jasper and Graham explore the submarine, the USS Bowfin, I submerge myself in the museum. Headphoned and reflective, I listen to the tales told by survivors of the attack. Before we leave there is time for the shop. We buy replicated newspaper headlines from the day after the attack, as well as a war plane and a pack of cards.
K.C takes us back in the limo. Our stuff is returned to us. The traffic is bad because tonight is the Waikiki Spam Jam. Hawaii holds the record for its consumption of the tinned processed meat called Spam and love it they do. The reception staff at the hotel tell us how much fun is the Spam Jam – all the restaurants will be represented as their best chefs show what they can do with Spam. It does not look good or any more palatable than I had remembered. It is still just polony with goodness knows what in it. People dressed as Spam tins wander the streets. Every conceivable thing can be cooked with added SPAM or else improved by the adding of its flavour- for example – Macadamia nuts flavoured with Spam. Enormous people with oversized plates of rice atop Spam sit on the kerb and tuck in.
We have booked a table at Roys, with pork belly in mind. Pork belly was out and to make up for it they gave Jasper a free dessert – chocolate souffle.
On a small plane from Oahu to Kauai we see a couple who were staying at our hotel. From the moment we arrive on the Garden Island we see free roaming chickens. Our first is in the airport carpark.
To get our hire car we take a bus to the rental office, equipped with a wheelchair lift. We have an hour’s drive to our Beach house in Hanalei Bay but cannot check in till after 4pm, so there is no hurry.
At the hire car we see the South Americans again. They too are heading for Hanalei. On the drive up we stop at a waterfall and then a small town for something to eat. We order fish tacos that neither Jasper or I like. The wraps are full of brown rice and overcooked Mahi Mahi fish. The coast line is battered and buffetted by strong winds and rough sea. The beaches are closed.
We pull off the road at Anini beach, where the people are rich enough to own polo ponies that graze the fields across the road, and the houses have secluded private gardens that fringe the beach. Jasper gets an Amercian version of a giant Sandwich from an icecream truck. We park under coastal pines with other cars, mainly American pick ups, where poorer locals have parked and congregate around the backs of, drinking soft drink and eating chips. I imagine Raymond Carver lives for them all. On deck chairs some older fatter types sink into the sand while they read value for money fat fiction. A river meets the sea here and people amuse themselves on kayaks as well as surfing or swimming or stand up paddling. Dogs roam.
Finally at Hanalei we pull in at the beach. Again locals seem to have a section. They drive onto the beach, for what added purpose it isn’t really clear, since the beach is not wide or difficult to cross. Perhaps just because they can. They sit in the tray of the pick up rather than on the sand.
We come across the South American couple again, already checked into their apartment, they have made friends with a local and are sharing his BBq on the beach. A cement jetty with a covered end pokes out the southern part of the bay and I sit out there while Jasper and Graham swim in the Pacific. Others jump off the jetty despite the signs prohibiting it. A mother chastises a child who has dived off. For what if it was too shallow and she hit her head? The mother no doubt is thinking of me, sitting there like a doomed omen of spinal damage. When the girl does it again, she has her arm yanked on and is marched off. The boys swim out to me and climb up the ladder to join me. A midget teenager, fishing on the jetty, gets his line caught by a surfcat and needs to get into the water on a board to go untangle the line from the boat….
To be continued……