Honolulu

by Tamuira Reid

In the picture her hair is wet and stuck to her face. Her eyes struggle to stay open in the terrible wind and she’s clenching her teeth around a big rubber mouthpiece. One of her bathing suit straps has gone slightly askew, and a splash of sun-freckles cover her chest in constellation form.

In the picture her hair is wet and stuck to her face. Her eyes struggle to stay open in the terrible wind and she’s clenching her teeth around a big rubber mouthpiece. One of her bathing suit straps has gone slightly askew, and a splash of sun-freckles cover her chest in constellation form.

I don’t have a shot of her going in, how she scooted her butt to the very edge of the speedboat and lowered her finned-feet into the water. She didn’t want to do it. I had to push her.

In the picture she looks like a sea monster. She hates snorkeling. She did it for me.

In Hawaii it’s the thing to do. In Hawaii people swim underwater with the fish.

Our hotel room was on the twelfth floor and had wrap around decks and panoramic views of the island. Tourists laid in rows on the sand like strips of jerky, their bodies red and beaten by the sun.

Everything is beautiful in Hawaii. You expect the island to somehow break open at any minute, the illusion ending, ugly guts exposed.

We went to a luau and had fake tropical drinks. We danced with guys in tiny skirts. We cried for a pig that got cooked in the sand.

I took my first steps in Hawaii. I don’t remember this. We were on one of many family vacations to Waikiki and I got up from my spot on the floor and ran across the room.

“You didn’t walk again for weeks,” my mother laughed.

I was probably tired of people picking on me. I probably just wanted to show them I could do it so they’d get off my back.

We took long walks on long beaches with long silences bubbling between us. We slept until noon, begging the other to go get coffee, the whir of the ceiling fan a constant soundtrack.

My mother called from her perch in California a month before, to run the idea by me, even though she’d already bought the tickets from her local travel agent. The internet isn’t her thing.

“A week in Honolulu. Just you and me. How’s that sound?”

Like hell, I thought but didn’t say. We were notorious for planning elaborate, escapist adventures and for disowning each other soon after. Italy set us back several months. Romania almost ended us.

“I don’t know, mom. Sounds dangerous.”

She cleared her throat and raised her voice. I could hear her scheming. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”

I grunted.

“Okay, maybe not fun per se but energizing. Relaxing.”

I grunted again and looked around my apartment. My kid was somewhere breaking things and putting them back together.

She said she wanted to go because she was feeling down. She said she wanted to go because she needed to get away from life, from stuff, from him. It sucks getting divorced when you’re old.

There really are palm trees in Hawaii. Glossy and green and over-the-top. There are volcanoes that used to spit lava but now have tourists biking down their bellies.

In the photo I am mid-air cannonball, tucking my pale-as-fuck New Yorker legs underneath me, an explosive splash framing the frame. The resort kids couldn’t beat it, but they tried, their tiny, undeveloped bodies twisting and convulsing and flying around like little broken birds.

The sun is hotter in Hawaii. They are closer to the sun than we are here.

In the picture she’s digging her nails into a groove in the side of a mossy rock. A waterfall roars above her, dumping gallons of white water directly onto her head, distorting her features and flattening her face. It wasn’t the glamour shot we were going for but when I look at it I smile because I know she is trying. To be different. To have this somehow be new.

That night I asked if I could sleep in her bed. She was wearing a flannel nightie with a lacy collar and ruffled hem, the same kind I watched her pull over her head every night as a child.

“It’s a little hot for that thing, mom.”

“I like it. It covers everything.”

I put my arm around her waist as we fell asleep, the jagged hum of her breathing synched with the ceiling fan.

In the photo we are sitting on a balcony, each in our own lounger. I remember my mother expertly unhooking her bra without taking off her t-shirt and sliding it out and under her armpits, flinging over the side of the railing. It hanged there, loose and alive, a perfect size C. I followed her cue and untied the straps of my triangle bikini, placing it next to hers, watching as the wind kicked it around, wondering if it would fall and land on somebody below.

In Hawaii there is no reason to feel restricted. In Hawaii it is better to Hang Loose.

“It’s hard to be in your seventies, starting over. I come from a different generation, you know. You don’t get divorced twice. You get married once, own your home, plan vacations, have kids. Make it work.”

“You’ve got the vacation part down.”

She nodded, applying more sunscreen to her already-gone skin.

“It’s just not fair. He gets it all, gets a new house, new girlfriend. Gets to start over.”

“You’re starting over too, mom. Don’t forget.”

“I don’t want to start over. It’s fucking hard.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

I wish he was baking under the sand instead of the pig. I wish she hadn’t let him destroy so much of her life.

In the photo I am holding the camera out in front of me. Half of my head is cut-off. She is on my right in a straw hat that got smooshed on one side when she sat on it and a pair of metallic drugstore sunglasses that eat half her face. An hour after this photo and she would be on a plane to her side of the country while I flew back to mine, a place where my mother only exists in photo form.

Harlem whines outside my window, crying and heaving with each new movement. I close the blinds and turn off my phone.

When I shut my eyes, she is there. Laughing. Pointing at my bare mattress, sheets still in the hamper. She tells me my room is a mess, that I need to do something about it, that we had a good time.

She turns away from me, staring at the ocean. For the first time I realize her eyes almost match the water.

I don’t have a shot of her going in, how she scooted her butt to the very edge of the speedboat and lowered her finned-feet into the water. She didn’t want to do it. I had to push her.

In the picture she looks like a sea monster. She hates snorkeling. She did it for me.

In Hawaii it’s the thing to do. In Hawaii people swim underwater with the fish.

Our hotel room was on the twelfth floor and had wrap around decks and panoramic views of the island. Tourists laid in rows on the sand like strips of jerky, their bodies red and beaten by the sun.

Everything is beautiful in Hawaii. You expect the island to somehow break open at any minute, the illusion ending, ugly guts exposed.

We went to a luau and had fake tropical drinks. We danced with guys in tiny skirts. We cried for a pig that got cooked in the sand.

I took my first steps in Hawaii. I don’t remember this. We were on one of many family vacations to Waikiki and I got up from my spot on the floor and ran across the room.

“You didn’t walk again for weeks,” my mother laughed.

I was probably tired of people picking on me. I probably just wanted to show them I could do it so they’d get off my back.

We took long walks on long beaches with long silences bubbling between us. We slept until noon, begging the other to go get coffee, the whir of the ceiling fan a constant soundtrack.

My mother called from her perch in California a month before, to run the idea by me, even though she’d already bought the tickets from her local travel agent. The internet isn’t her thing.

“A week in Honolulu. Just you and me. How’s that sound?”

Like hell, I thought but didn’t say. We were notorious for planning elaborate, escapist adventures and for disowning each other soon after. Italy set us back several months. Romania almost ended us.

“I don’t know, mom. Sounds dangerous.”

She cleared her throat and raised her voice. I could hear her scheming. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”

I grunted.

“Okay, maybe not fun per se but energizing. Relaxing.”

I grunted again and looked around my apartment. My kid was somewhere breaking things and putting them back together.

She said she wanted to go because she was feeling down. She said she wanted to go because she needed to get away from life, from stuff, from him. It sucks getting divorced when you’re old.

There really are palm trees in Hawaii. Glossy and green and over-the-top. There are volcanoes that used to spit lava but now have tourists biking down their bellies.

In the photo I am mid-air cannonball, tucking my pale-as-fuck New Yorker legs underneath me, an explosive splash framing the frame. The resort kids couldn’t beat it, but they tried, their tiny, undeveloped bodies twisting and convulsing and flying around like little broken birds.

The sun is hotter in Hawaii. They are closer to the sun than we are here.

In the picture she’s digging her nails into a groove in the side of a mossy rock. A waterfall roars above her, dumping gallons of white water directly onto her head, distorting her features and flattening her face. It wasn’t the glamour shot we were going for but when I look at it I smile because I know she is trying. To be different. To have this somehow be new.

That night I asked if I could sleep in her bed. She was wearing a flannel nightie with a lacy collar and ruffled hem, the same kind I watched her pull over her head every night as a child.

“It’s a little hot for that thing, mom.”

“I like it. It covers everything.”

I put my arm around her waist as we fell asleep, the jagged hum of her breathing synched with the ceiling fan.

In the photo we are sitting on a balcony, each in our own lounger. I remember my mother expertly unhooking her bra without taking off her t-shirt and sliding it out and under her armpits, flinging over the side of the railing. It hanged there, loose and alive, a perfect size C. I followed her cue and untied the straps of my triangle bikini, placing it next to hers, watching as the wind kicked it around, wondering if it would fall and land on somebody below.

In Hawaii there is no reason to feel restricted. In Hawaii it is better to Hang Loose.

“It’s hard to be in your seventies, starting over. I come from a different generation, you know. You don’t get divorced twice. You get married once, own your home, plan vacations, have kids. Make it work.”

“You’ve got the vacation part down.”

She nodded, applying more sunscreen to her OLIVE SKIN.

“It’s just not fair. He gets it all, gets a new house, new girlfriend. Gets to start over.”

“You’re starting over too, mom. Don’t forget.”

“I don’t want to start over. It’s fucking hard.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

I wish he was baking under the sand instead of the pig. I wish she hadn’t let him destroy so much of her life.

In the photo I am holding the camera out in front of me. Half of my head is cut-off. She is on my right in a straw hat that got smooshed on one side when she sat on it and a pair of metallic drugstore sunglasses that eat half her face. An hour after this photo and she would be on a plane to her side of the country while I flew back to mine, a place where my mother only exists in photo form.

Harlem whines outside my window, crying and heaving with each new movement. I close the blinds and turn off my phone.

When I shut my eyes, she is there. Laughing. Pointing at my bare mattress, sheets still in the hamper. She tells me my room is a mess, that I need to do something about it, that we had a good time.

She turns away from me, staring at the ocean. For the first time I realize her eyes almost match the water.

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