The objects around me are rendered as dim blue shapes amidst a sea of blackness. Invisible to the eye, a fiery orange flows and throbs beneath the blue, pulsating in time with the pounding of my heart.
My feet touch the cold carpet in front of the bed. Instantly, my heart is in my throat. With each step toward my bedroom door, it beats so hard I can feel my ears twitching. My ears begin to burn as my hand approaches the doorknob.
The hallway is bathed in soft blue moonlight, pouring in from the windows at the end of the hall next to my parents’ bedroom. From their door, I hear their voices, low and guttural. In a moment, I understand that their voices speak not words, but utter sighs of pain and cries of torture. My mother shrieks my name, and it pierces my brain like a cold needle. But I am descending the stairs with my eyes fixed on the front door, and soon the throbbing in my ears has become a steady drone that mutes my parents’ agony. In all this nighttime blue, the orange that burns under everything reveals itself in the small gap between the door and floor. Flames must be dancing outside to the west, approaching our home, threatening to burn it to the ground.
How near are the flames? I wonder. And then I breathe in the knowledge that the flames are coming for me, and the knowledge fuses with my being. My bones whisper to me without words. My pace quickens. The doorknob burns the flesh of my hand. The crackle of burning. The door swings back into the house.
Before me are untold miles of ocean.
The sky is black and the water is blue. Waves lap gently against the linoleum siding of the house, but the only sounds I hear are the thrumming of my heart and the steady sounds of fire. Far, far out in the distance, a speck of bright orange light dots a black mass like a turtle’s shell. The mass is my land. The light is the fire of Kilauea’s eruption.
Pele the goddess of fire herself erupts from the lava, coloring the night sky purple and orange. As she thrusts her fiery breasts into the air, the crackle in my ears becomes a thunderous roar. Her face is ablaze with fury and flame and her piercing eyes are fixed on me. I fall to my knees and cannot look away. Pele extends a burning hand to me, beckoning. Calling me home. Demanding my return.
At once, I remember my parents.
Though I am supposed to have seen my birth mother and my motherland just hours before, my very first memory is of the vast expanse of Pacific Ocean beneath the airplane en route to the mainland. It seemed endless. When at last North America materialized below me, it seemed not so different and hardly distant from the land of beaches and rain forest I had been born into. For all I knew, the world consisted of two green, neighboring landmasses, equal in stature: Hawaiʻi and the Mainland.
Somehow, I already knew the white man and woman I sat with—their faces radiant with beaming smiles at me and at each other—were the dearest people in the world.
My haole parents—distantly related to me through some marriage—adopted me after my birth father died in the military and my birth mother suffered a breakdown. Knowing my birth parents only by pictures and stories, I never thought to call my adopted parents anything but “my parents.” Mom and Dad’s only child, I never felt a lack of love and attention when comparing myself to my friends with their blood-related families. Nevertheless, they were open about my Hawaiʻian heritage, encouraging inquiries into the land and traditions of my people, and buying me books and posters to answer every question to the fullest. Never once did I feel truly trapped between cultures. Despite that I technically knew my motherland only as well as my birth mother—through pictures and stories—Hawaiʻi was every bit a part of me as the hot blood coursing my veins.
Once I asked my uncle if he would bring me back a handful of sand and shells from his business retreat to Maui. He eagerly agreed and tussled my hair. I had already placed an old ashtray on my desk, eager to recreate a little bit of Hawaiʻi in my bedroom. When my father found out, he cancelled my request, and explained to me that the property of the islands was precious, and needed to be treated with reverence and respect: it should not be removed. It was hard not to imagine my father some sort of kahuna.
Each year, hundreds and thousands of tourists take bits and pieces of the islands of Hawaiʻi to display upon their mantles, a tangible and natural souvenir of their time in the beauty of Pele’s land. This is done either in ignorance or in spite of the warnings issued of Pele’s curse.
And each year, hundreds and thousands of stones, shells, and containers of sand are returned to parks and hotels in an attempt to appease the goddess and end the streaks of bad luck that began upon return to their homeland. Lost money. Death of pets. Illness and injury. Even the most devout Christian and ardent skeptic has succumbed to a fleeting belief in ancient Polynesian gods and island curses.
Pele exacts from her trespassers that which is hers.
Dinners have been quiet lately. Mom stays in the kitchen until Dad hurries through his meal and departs for the living room. Then Mom takes a seat, slowly picking at her lukewarm food. Her face looks tighter than it used to, and it looks tighter still, screwing up to the center of her skull, whenever my father makes a sound from across the house. Often, she peruses the want ads in the paper.
Dad has been sleeping in the living room. At first he would sneak down there from the master bedroom after I was tucked away and going to sleep, but the creaking gave him away. Soon, he abandoned the pretense. Some nights he stays at my uncle’s house. Other nights, Mom joins him downstairs and they yell in whispers. I can’t hear the words, but the tone of the sounds that filter up through my floor are just as clear.
They’re trying to protect me, though they must know that I’m smart enough to know what’s going on. However, I’m complicit in their denial. The ground may be shifting beneath our feet, but the house still stands.
It’s morning now. As is his recent habit, Dad has left for work before either Mom or I could wake up. The bagged lunch Mom prepared last night dangles from my fist as I stand in the frame of the front door, gazing out west. All I see before me is yard, houses, elm trees, hills, and bright blue sky. But some thousands of miles ahead of me lies the chain of islands that my blood, like the cascading lava down the face of Kilauea, calls home.
The driveway is empty. Pele beckons.
This story has been cross-posted at Beautiful Crunchers.