Friday, April 30, 2010

Chapter 3 - The Beast

Few words or phrases in the English language will strike terror in a man’s heart like that of “mother-in-law.” Given the choice between spending 5 minutes with a mother-in-law, or a month in solitary confinement with a radioactive Al Qaida suicide bomber, part werewolf, part vampire with a case of bubonic plague, an AK-47 in one hand and an Amway briefcase in the other, standing on a stack of Watchtower magazines… Well, you get the point. If brought together for a worldwide summit, mothers-in-law from every corner of the globe, regardless of creed, religion, culture, social class or political leaning, could find immediate and unanimous consensus on one issue. They would agree that their daughters are all in need of better husbands.

When I got home that Saturday afternoon, my mother-in-law was sitting out on the lanai (the Hawaiian word for balcony) with Svetlana. They were smoking. It seemed to be their only real mother-daughter activity of any note. Angelica, who was anything but angelic, had come to stay for three weeks and Sunday was to be her last day. She was a tall slender woman and looked to anyone other than me, possibly attractive. When I looked upon her, I could only see her monstrous traits. Her voice was damaged from years of smoking and she even sounded like a monster when she spoke. These days, her every utterance filled me with dread.

Angelica came to visit us for three weeks. I was certain that she had come with a design on breaking up our marriage, but the three weeks were almost at an end and I was still married. She had failed. Like any monster story, however, one knows that the beast will persist with its nefarious plans until it has either completed its evil task, or has been killed. Regardless of this truism, it is still considered a crime to kill a mother-in-law in almost every country on Earth, or at least in all the countries that I checked.

“To-mor -row, you’re out-out-out of here.” I sang to myself joyfully, quietly, as I filled up a large glass from a chilled box of chablis.

Five years earlier and only a few months into our marriage, Svetlana and I moved out of my humble downtown bachelor studio and into a luxury apartment next to Restaurant Row. At 20 stories in the air, we had a magnificent view of the ocean, the harbour, Aloha Tower, and with a little squinting, the Honolulu Airport in the far background. I suppose I took the view for granted, since I was almost always at my computer, shielded from the sun and its reflection, but Svetlana spent most evenings out on the lanai. It was impossible for me to perform any kind of work with my mother-in-law on the premises, so I strolled out onto the lanai, glass in hand, to see how my beloved and her mother were doing.

Their conversation immediately grew hushed and I could see that they were both laughing. I leaned down and kissed Svetlana gently on the top of the head and asked, “So? What’s the joke?”

Angelica burst out first, “When you sleep with other women, wear a condom!”

What the fuck was she talking about? “What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked, looking back and forth at them both for a clue.

“When you sleep with other women, wear a condom!” Angelica persisted. “I want my daughter to be protected.”

“Yeah, sure.” I said, and then looked toward Svetlana, who was still looking pleased with herself. “Are you planning something special, Sweetie?”

No answer. Much later I thought that Angelica was making a pointed reference to how I spent the morning with two different women. I’ll never know. They both just grinned like idiots and I retreated to my desk, sank deep into my chair and even deeper into my book. “It would all be over tomorrow.” I thought to myself and Ovid and his gods and monsters took me away.

As my eyes grew weary after a few hours and I slinked off to bed. Svetlana and her mother were still chattering away endlessly in their odd Macedonian tongue. I floated into a dreamland full of gods and goddesses imposing their edicts and transformations onto hapless mortals who had the misfortune to come into contact with them. I swear that an interruption shook the gods still for just a moment as I felt soft kisses on my cheeks and forehead. I don’t know if the kisses were dreamt or real, but for that moment I felt loved.

The next day, I woke early. Svetlana was asleep as usual. I would have the morning to myself if Angelica didn’t stir. I looked down my phone list and considered breakfast with a girlfriend. I didn’t usually petition the same person for two days in a row and decided against calling Jamie, though I might have liked to hear her perspective on Angelica’s condom statement in the context of her many ‘rules’. I’m sure she would not have been impressed. I decided that I needed an escape from everything.

Books can be an escape for me, but never a really fantastic escape, because of the way I read. I discovered, quite by accident one day when I was reading an illustrated book, that the sentence I was reading to myself did not match the illustration. I discovered that perhaps for years, I had been reading groups of words and forming my own sentences from them. This is a handy skill for reading and skimming technical manuals, however it is a similar to dyslexia for reading prose. I had developed techniques for combating this disability since, but this morning I decided that playing a game would be a more satisfying escape.

My virtual addiction, as I called it, was the World of Warcraft. I had a 60th level mage in the game, which at that time was about as powerful a being as a player could be. Every time I stepped into the game’s virtual world, I was rewarded somehow. I would either acquire more gold, more high-end equipment, or more points for some long term objective. It was impossible to play the game without some small reward. Feeling beleaguered, I decided that I could use a reward, despite having promised Svetlana that I would avoid playing the game while her mother was here.

I got lost in the game, playing for about an hour or two, or maybe three. I was happily killing a bunch of whirlwind-like creatures when I noticed that my mother-in-law was no longer sleeping on the air bed. Dammit. I heard the shower going. She obviously saw me playing and it was too late to change that. I played on. When she emerged from the bathroom, before I could greet her with a chirpy ‘Good morning’ she said, “You would make a lot more money if you didn’t play games all the time.”

More money? If this had been a Flintstones cartoon and not real life, Fred would have jumped up in a rage, pointed at the door and shouted, “Out! Out!! Out!!!”

Anger isn’t an emotion that has played a large part in my life. When things go wrong, I generally tend toward, sadness, disappointment or guilt before I choose anger to deal with my situation. Not this time. I was angry. I was furious! I was keeping her daughter in no small degree of luxury in Honolulu and she was my guest… eating my food… drinking my wine… I had nowhere to direct my anger. The United States is one of the countries where it is illegal to kill a mother in law, though I did wonder if I’d get off having told the judge what she said. Too risky. The solace I’d acquired from 3 hours of gaming was gone. The best course of action was to leave without saying a word. That was best. When I return, I thought, she would be gone. Life could resume.

I left abruptly, hopped in my car and headed toward Waikiki, thinking about breakfast; thinking about my mother-in-law; thinking about Candy. The throaty thrum of the Porsche motor rumbled in my belly and vibrated away the angst. Thoughts of my morning anger were shaken to the pavement as I spiritedly dodged in and out of traffic. Noon had past and I wondered if Candy had remembered her pledge of daily contact. I still thought of it as a joke, but I’d be damned if I was the one to be the one to break the pledge first. I decided to play along; at least for a day or two. I called.

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiii!” She yelped excitedly over the phone.

“Are you ready for lunch?” I asked. “I haven’t had breakfast yet.”

“Oh! Perfect!” She sang. “I just got home from church and it was so wonderful and you should have seen it. Maybe you can go with me next week. I’m starving! Can you pick me up?”

Every phrase she uttered was like recitative from some beautifully lyrical opera. Candy was impossibly easy to talk to. When she spoke, I mused. When I spoke, she didn’t listen so much as fixate on every word with the excitement and wonder of a small child. I began to wonder if my metaphorical references toward Candy were an understatement. I had been describing her as an angel, but she was in so many ways exactly what you would expect a true angel to be like. Her voice and countenance were angelic by any account. Her naïveté concerning the world around her seemed impossibly child-like for a woman her age. Her fascination with nearly everything suggested that she had never stepped foot on this earth.

Perhaps she was an angel. Perhaps she fell into my lap as some sort of divine retribution for refusing to believe in a god. I wondered at the possibility of a divine bureaucracy that would punish humans and angels alike by juxtaposing them in a situation where they might better themselves from the experience. The angel would of course grow more respectful of their position once learning of the labours and toils of humans while the human would learn of the heavenly realm they would have to aspire to. Decidedly a better teacher than a student, it would be up to me to make sure that Candy received a good education.

I picked Candy up at Kapiolani Park, just a little past the zoo. Considering that Honolulu is in the middle of nowhere, the zoo is of a reasonable quality with many exotic exhibits from the wildest reaches of Africa. Also, if you are on a budget, you can see the giraffes for free. Today we were not on a budget, however, and we raced off to one of my favourite haunts; Pappilon restaurant at the Ala Moana mall. This open air restaurant features a majestic view of the ocean, Ala Moana Park and we would be arriving at my favourite time of the day, 2pm.

When we got to Pappilon’s, the lunch rush was over and the shifts were changing and the service was a little confused, but the sun was starting its descent into the ocean. We had a little over 4 hours to enjoy the afternoon before the sun would plunge into the ocean and the island would plunge into darkness. I ordered a bottle of Taittinger and a cheese plate… with an extra helping of a mascarpone to go with the fruit. I love Taittinger’s champagne. It has such a neutral taste that you almost forget drinking it; even between sips. There would be food, there would be wine, but this combination of treats would aid conversation rather than hinder it.

Candy was clearly unused to these surroundings. She was unused to fancy restaurants. She was unused to champagne. She was unused to any Sunday conversation that was not church related. After a little small talk and a little more champagne, however, our conversation began to flow even faster than the Taittinger’s. I began to fill in the details from the day before. I told her how I met Svetlana and how it was love at first sight and how we drove to Stonehenge and took the Chunnel to Paris. I told her how we were married just a few months later and how our marriage had been perfect; well mostly perfect.

Then Candy started to fill in her life story too. She told me how her father had passed away and how her mother had raised her under strictly Christian guidelines. She told me how she had a personal relationship with Jesus and how she didn’t really understand how a person could live without Him in their life. She meant me. I was quite accustomed to this kind of question and we went into a short discussion regarding the benefits of atheism vs. Christianity and vice versa. Considering her upbringing, she took my atheism pretty well, though she vowed to pray for me to one day see the Christian “light”, prayers that have apparently gone unanswered.

We talked until the sun set and I decided that it was about time that it was safe for me to return home. I indicated that I should get going but Candy wasn’t finished with me. She had decided that it would be very important for me to meet her mother. “There’s a problem.” She said. “It is very important that you say that you are a Christian when you meet her.”

“I can pretend to be a Christian, I suppose.” I said with no small amount of surprise. “Do I need to be a particular kind of Christian?”

“Yes. You can’t say that you go to a church that my mom also goes to or she will know that you are not telling the truth. She knows everyone from many churches.”

“Well,” I thought. “I can say that I’m with the Church of England. I really don’t think that there is one of those on the island. If there is, I doubt that an American protestant would ever go to one. They are really very boring and don’t have sing-alongs, just fire-and-brimstone style sermons and old stodgy sounding hymns.”

“Perfect!” Candy chirped. “I’ll tell her that! Only where will I say that you go to church now that you are here?”

This was an interesting game and now that I was playing, I wanted to win. “There is a Russian Orthodox church on Queen Street that I visited once for Easter Mass. Tell her that I go there. They sing a lot, but not like at your churches, it is all in Russian. Are you sure I need to be Christian.”

“Oh, it is very important!” Candy exclaimed. “My mother has a way of praying people out of my life. I do not want to lose you in this way.”

“You can do that? You can prey people out of other people’s lives?” I said, astonished.

“Oh my mother can and she has. She is very close to the Lord.” Candy confided.

“Well I’ll be the best Russian Orthodox-going Church of Englander I can be; just for you. At least until we can convince your mother not to pray me away.”

Candy laughed. Then the thought hit me. I wished that I could stop my mother-in-law from trying to pray me away. I wished that Svetlana would have had a plan for me to follow to have kept me out of the way of her mother’s monstrous wrath. I knew that it was more likely that her mother was growing weary from Svetlana’s complaints. On the rare occasions where I had the temerity to say “No!” to Svetlana, whether it was for a new piece of camera equipment or another trip abroad, she would simply ask her mother next. Her mother would always pay… or rather her mother’s husband would always pay.

With Candy, I had a plan. We had a plan. I was going to be in her life for a while and no mothers were going to stand in our way. That moment, I thought of a scripture from the Book of Matthew, somewhere in the middle, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

I changed the word ‘man’ in the passage to ‘mother’ and then to ‘mother-in-law’ when I repeated it to myself. It was strangely satisfying to think that it would be a sin against a Christian god for anyone to interfere with me and my wife. It would also be a sin to interfere with me and Candy since it was likely a god that sent her to me. I drove Candy home with a smug sense of satisfaction. We had a plan for a long and prosperous friendship. My mother in-law was likely a thousand miles over the Pacific right now and I could return home to pick up the pieces and mend my marriage with Svetlana.

When I arrived home, I was tired, but happy and relieved. I unlocked the door to see Svetlana in the kitchen cooking dinner. I walked into the kitchen to give her a hello kiss. “Zdravo, bebe.” I cooed to in her native tongue.

After receiving a kiss back, I wheeled out of the kitchen and into the living room. There was still an air bed. There was still a mother-in-law smell. There was still mother-in-law stuff. Jesus. There was still a mother-in-law. I felt instantly dizzy and nauseous. I debated whether to faint or throw up. I looked back at Svetlana for answers.

“Sweetie,” She whispered sheepishly. “My mother was sad because she was sick for most of this last week of her visit, and we decided she should stay a little longer.”

“How long?” I asked vigorously, failing to hide my distaste for the news.

“Three more weeks.” She consoled.

I had just survived three weeks of this harpy and I was at my wit’s end. I did not know if I could stand another day. Three weeks would drive me mad and I was sure of it. Still nauseous, I declined to take any dinner and went straight to bed. No marriage could survive this. The red-haired beast had won the day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chapter 2 - The Pledge

Waking up with a hangover on a Saturday was not new to me; in fact it was becoming quite a regular happenstance. In the year previous, I had just barely managed to rescue my life and marriage from the brink of disaster. To do this, I had to put up Svetlana in a small apartment in Paris while I worked doggedly to restore our previous life here in Hawaii. To maintain the status quo in Hawaii, I sold my soul to an employer and subsequently lost the ability to make any extra income. I lost the ability to take time off to think about my situation, lost the ability to do any new deals, lost the ability to move, breathe, care. The hangover stepped in to remind me of each and every thing wrong with my life on a grand scale followed by a reminder of everything wrong that I had ever done… ever.

I needed a distraction and quickly. There was no sense in working on any of my business schemes, since I could not execute anything of importance with an employer for an anchor around my neck. I had my game. Computer games give me a lot of solace, since they provide one with a continuous set of small rewards for the simple act of logging in. I looked toward my bookshelf. Dante’s “Purgatory”? Ugg, not now. Asimov? Hmm… later. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Perfect. Everyone was asleep as I melted into the chapter before thinking to do anything else.

I guess I wasn’t surprised to find that it was a book about transformations. There were stories of gods and men transformed into beasts, beasts evolving into humans and humans ascending into godhood. Soon, my mother-in-law would awake and resume her bloody quest to transform my wife into a monster and me into a bachelor. I looked down at the list of friends in my phone. Breakfast with a friend would solve all my immediate problems. I love breakfast and I love my friends and these two things together would make all the bad in the world go away. There was one thing I was forgetting through the hangover mist, something I had to do. I remembered; Candy.

I called Jamie. She was my most loyal friend and usually available for breakfast at a moment’s notice. For her, hangovers and breakfast didn’t usually work well together, but with any luck I could catch her after her morning grumblings (she was not a morning person) and before she had eaten. I was in luck. She was still hungry and in reasonable spirits. We’d have a lot to talk about. I looked around the apartment. Svetlana was still asleep and I suspected she would not stir ‘til well after noon. My mother-in-law was sleeping on an air-bed in the living room. I shuddered to look at her; already a beast.

I’d hoped that the air bed that I provided for her would have been uncomfortable enough to shorten her stay, but to no avail. She slept as soundly through the mid-morning sun as her daughter. I doubted that she would stir for anything less than an earthquake. After a quick shower, check of my email and an obligatory update of facebook, I was off.

I met up with Jamie at my favourite breakfast nook. It’s a come-as-you are sort of café near the new theatres on Ward Avenue. Honolulu is a strange city in that there are not a lot of breakfast places and the few that do serve breakfast stop at 10 or 11am. This is not a good situation for a night owl or anyone that needs to party. I don’t want to eat a hamburger at the best of times and I certainly don’t want one for the first meal of the day. Café Java was different though. It was one of the few eateries in town that would serve breakfast all day long. The service was slow and the ambiance was far from noteworthy, but they served me the necessary hangover fighting fare; eggs Benedict, caffe latte and freshly squeezed orange juice. I could feel my hangover squeal in terror at the mere mention of Café Java.

Jamie. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. I could say this seventy more times. Unlike Candy, I really don’t believe that the combined efforts of Shakespeare, Voltaire, Freud, Nietzsche and a host of literary and philosophical greats could convene in an afterlife think tank, and produce one jot to accurately describe Jamie; not using mere words. They would need spreadsheets, video, pictures, diagrams and transcripts of expert witness testimony to explain only half of Jamie’s eccentricities. Here, I can only hope that with all the writing skills I possess, that I may relate to you a small but sufficient explanation of Jamie to include her in this story.

Anyone who has ever called themselves my friend has assuredly had something unique to their character; a certain je ne sais quoi that separates them from the norm. Undoubtedly, this is not coincidence, as I am attracted to those who stand out in a crowd. Unlike my other friends with but a single oddity, however, Jamie did not possess a single quality that might be considered normal. Her mannerisms, her hopes and dreams, her every breath seemed to separate her from normalcy as far as normalcy can be described. Certainly even the way our friendship began, with her fierce and penetrating hatred toward me was anything but normal; quite abnormal, to be true; even for me.

I met Jamie at a wine-tasting ball sponsored by the Australian Chamber of Commerce. Hawaii has its various ethnic and geographical groups and since the islands are halfway between Australia and the rest of the United States, Australia treats Hawaii like it is actually a part of the Unites States. The Australian government even built an embassy in Honolulu for some reason. Unless an Oahu event is Japanese in nature, as there are plenty of Hawaiians with a Japanese heritage and plenty of Japanese tourists to fill their ranks, these ethnic-oriented celebrations generally need extra outsider bodies to round out their numbers. The Australians were no exception to this rule and only about one in ten people at the soiree were of Australian origin, the rest being from just about everywhere else.

The event was supposed to be “black-tie”, which by Hawaiian reckoning translates to “please wear a suit jacket if you own one, otherwise an aloha shirt is fine.” I arrived in a tuxedo, true to the spirit of the dress code. Jamie was already there when I arrived. She was single and single purposed. Like so many women I knew in Honolulu in the 35-45 year old range, she was perpetually single. At this black-tie event, she deduced that she had a good chance to meet a well dressed single man whose life goals would include advancement in his business career.

Having already sold my soul to an insurance company, I had no interest or ability to do anything new in business and took to watching the crowd. Drinking copiously, I noticed her for the first time stalking the men, like a cat; very much like a big cat. Naturally, I was attracted to this curiously odd behaviour and eventually dragged myself up and out of my chair to have a closer look and perhaps make an introduction.

I had no sooner closed in on her when an Australian friend of mine, Melinda, jumped in to introduce us. “Jamie,” she said. “I want you to meet Svetlana’s husband, Robyn.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Jamie said, her eyes darting off toward the field of prey.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were friends,” I said, looking surprised.

Melinda nodded and slipped away to make more introductions. Having been introduced as a husband rather than some potentially single guy, it was too late to observe Jamie’s curious hunting technique as a prospective victim. I tried to make a little small talk to give me time to rethink my introduction plan. She glanced back at me hurriedly, with an air of disgust.

“Look, I’m here to meet single men,” she scolded. “Leave me alone.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to…” I tried to add in.

“No!” she cried and hurriedly walked away to acquire a new hunting position.

How abrupt! I had imbibed too much wine to feel slighted by her reproach and grew rather fascinated by her technique. She moved. I followed. She moved again and like a naturalist on the Serengeti, I kept up behind her. Her hunting technique grew more and more nervous by the minute and she glared back at me with increased levels of agitation as I pursued. Eventually her looks turned to what I can describe as pure unfiltered hatred. In my drunken state, it was oddly satisfying.

Like in so many Hawaiian affairs, the island itself intervened to bring about the metamorphosis of this relationship that had started so beautifully. I learned that apart from Melinda, that a few other girlfriends of mine were also mutual friends with Jamie. Crazy Sally in particular, who was a consistent breakfast buddy of mine, claimed to see her at least once a week. She learned of Jamie’s enmity with me from Jamie herself. I had a running joke with Crazy Sally about how I felt so sorry for Jamie, being that she was probably so terribly in love with me, but could not have me since I was married. I would mime her lament and feign my own torment that I could not return Jamie’s true love since my heart was taken by another.

This running gag continued for months when Oahu finally threw Jamie and I back together again. Melinda and Svetlana shared a birthday that was only a day apart. We conspired to combine their birthday celebrations into one large party, inviting people from both of our sets of friends. We compiled a guest list of over 100, a short list and fully expected everyone on the list to arrive. They did arrive, nearly down to the last invite. Almost the first to arrive was the incredibly punctual Jamie. We had finished decorating by that time and there were few other guests. I decided to be a good host, brave her gorgon stare and welcome her to the party. If permitted, I thought I might let her in on the mutual Joke that Crazy Sally and I had been sharing all these months.

I was permitted and when Jamie heard the story she laughed. She laughed. I had never seen her so much as dare to brook a smile, but at that moment, the absurdity and longevity of this inside joke had melted whatever barrier she had built up against me. She poured out her laughter and I drank it in. Jamie and I began our awkward, frustrating and completely indestructible friendship from that day forward.

I was 5 minutes late for my breakfast date with Jamie at the Café Java. When I arrived, Jamie had been there waiting for exactly 5 minutes. She was picking at the menu board with her forefinger in her peculiar way, looking for the perfect breakfast. She would always go for something healthy, and toiled between the muesli and an avocado selection. I knew what I wanted before I got there. She went for an avocado omelette and I put in our orders, slipped the cashier my card and took our number 12 table marker outside to enjoy the weather, the food, the conversation, and the company.

Jamie sat without a word in the particular way that she always did. I took a long look at her, thinking of what to say. She was pretty, not beautiful, but pretty in that rare sort of pretty without makeup kind of way. She had wispy red-blonde hair that came down to her shoulders. It always looked the same. Her hair style never changed regardless of whether we were at work, playing tennis, or at a black tie ball. It looked carefully styled and yet messy at the same time. Throughout our friendship I would often find myself staring at it, wondering if this time I could make sense from the senseless-yet-ordered disarray.

“So what did you do last night?” I asked. “We all missed you downtown.”

“Oh I was on a date with this guy I met from,” she grimaced, looking down.

“And?” I said hopefully.

“I don’t think there is a connection,” she said.

Jamie and I had had this conversation before; several times before. Her dating rules were the hardest to follow in the history of dating rules. She had rules for how the first date was to be conducted, what was allowed on the second and the permissible features of the third. Everything had to be in its place for her or there would be fireworks. Her match from last night had probably never dated anyone with Asperger’s syndrome before; the poor bastard. In addition to what was allowed on a date, Jamie had come to many conclusions as to what was allowable for conversation, how the fork and knife must be used, when an how to order the food, pair the wine and a great many other things that a hapless date could never know in advance. As her friend, she must have had to forgive my thousands of transgressions against the order she had set up for the world around her.

Our meals arrived and Jamie began to arrange her napkin, utensils and plate in order to best consume her meal. As she prepared to carve off her first bite of food, I broke the silence.

“I met someone last night,” I interrupted.

Jamie stopped preparing her first bite and looked confused for a moment. She was ready to take a bite of her food and yet, had to respond at the same time. Her decision finally landed on a reply. “Oh that is bad, especially right now,” she added.

“Oh it’s not a ‘thing’,” I said. “Just a woman that I think is very interesting. She sang in my ear. It was quite unforgettable.”

Jamie finally took a bite of her avocado omelette and looked like she was thinking hard while she chewed. Finishing the bite, she asked. “Why do you need another friend? You have me.”

“I didn’t know that there was a limitation on the number of friends I should have.” I responded, a little agitated.

“Well if this new friend doesn’t alienate you from Svetlana,” she said. “She will take time away from your current friends, including me. How will this be any good at all?”

A metamorphosis occurred. Suddenly Jamie became the Rain Man. “Oh oh, this is definitely going into my injury book. Yeah. This is definitely an injury.”

I woke from the daydream. Jamie was Jamie again. The daydream was cruel and I scolded myself, but bit on my tongue a little to suppress a laugh. Jamie was right. I needed another woman for a friend like America needed another war. Jamie was wrong. A person can’t have too many friends and my wife was spending all her time with her mother anyway. I needed other new perspectives on my problems and to get those I would need more friends.

“I’m going to call her, I think.”

“Well you know the rule,” she pointedly reminded me. “You are not supposed to call for 3 days after you first get someone’s number.”

I didn’t know this rule. I’m not sure that even is a rule, yet here I was being reminded of it. I considered whether it was possible to be reminded of something that was never in your head to begin with. Why would someone wait three days anyway? What sort of person would wait like that? I pictured Ovid’s telling of the three-day-rule. I wondered if Pyramus and Thisbe would be alive today if Pyramus had waited three days before talking to Thisbe through the hole in the fence. No, definitely not. I thanked Jamie for joining me on short notice and she thanked me for breakfast and we headed our separate ways.

“What does Jamie know about relationships?” I muttered to myself while I watched her walk away and called Candy the next moment.

One ring. Two rings. Three rings. I grew impatiently nervous. Just before the fourth ring there was a click. Answering machine? No it was Candy! “Hello?” she sang inquisitively.

“Hello, Candy? It’s me Ro…”

“Robyn! Hi!!!” the excitement in her voice pealed like the bells at the gates of heaven.

“I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t wait three days to call.” I nervously joked.

“Oh, my God, no! Oh, we should go for coffee. Three days! What is that all about? Are you busy right now? Let’s go for coffee. I had such fun last night.”

It was magnificently simple. I arranged to meet Candy at the Starbucks on Kalakaua Avenue at the end of Waikiki. No time to waste. Like Apollo pursuing Daphne, I dashed to my chariot, engaged in a brisk and spirited ride, and was at the end of Kalakaua in record time. I daresay that Apollo himself could not have managed the trip so quickly. The corner was filled with beach-goers of every description from the overweight and terribly sunburnt tourists to the perfectly formed gods and goddesses of the surf.

Nothing was as amazing as what I was about to see though. Candy was there; so pure, innocent and angelic, gracing the Starbucks doorway. Most importantly, she was waiting for me. Sporting a flowing wrap and a bikini top, her warm and inviting smile was so… so touched by the heavens that once again I had to check that I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t, and greeted her with open arms and shared the traditional island greeting of a hug and kiss on one cheek. The dulcet ring of her greeting reminded me of the aria she whispered from the previous evening. My knees weakened once again.

Taking the lead, I sallied up to the bar to order coffees. Mine, a caffe latte. Candy’s, a grande chocolate macchiato in a vente cup with extra whip cream and a chocolate drizzle. Could I have expected anything else? We retired to a table and began to chat, exchanging life stories from childhood to the present day. We spoke in grand swaths, skipping details. Candy had lived most of her life in Hawaii. Her mother was an important figure in a church and was off travelling. Her father had passed on. She was working at an engineering company doing books or paperwork of some sort. Her passion was singing and she had some professional work in California, but it sounded like that was long since over.

I told her about my life in Canada, how I had a large family and about how I was mostly raised by women, about my terrible relationship with my father and how I came to be married to Svetlana. Candy was easy to talk to and she seemed to be terribly interested in every detail of the conversation. When she spoke, her melodious voice was so hypnotizing that she could have been reading from the phone book and kept my full attention.

Our coffee talk concluded with a pledge. “Robyn?” she asked. “Promise me that we will see each other every single day from now on.”

I hadn’t even considered such an agreement with my wife and didn’t know what to say. Her eyes gleamed with sincerity. “I promise,” I said, vowing to myself that I should at least try to keep this most preposterous of promises.

Times were changing. My relationships were changing. My feelings were changing. My attitudes toward work, marriage, friendships, Hawaii, and life were all changing. I parted with Candy at that very same shop and went home to finish my book, knowing that the next day would be another day of changes, another day of Candy and I wanted to know as much about metamorphoses as I could.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chapter 1 - Addiction

I’ve steered my life through countless strange turns, but I had never encountered a series of curves quite as perilous as Candy’s. I met her on a Friday night; First Friday in downtown Honolulu, when the city descends on Chinatown to meet up with good friends and look at bad art. I was entertaining my wife, her mother and a collection of girlfriends at Le Baron Noir, an intimate little French brasserie-inspired wine bar that had just opened. I had fashioned the place into an office of sorts, making a personal haunt out of the small bar in the back room. The back room bartender was a sommelier-in-training and my wife, Svetlana, was a wine aficionado having spent most of her adult life in France and other points throughout Europe.

Svetlana had an appetite for fine wines and our bartender was always holding very interesting bottles under the bar for “testing”, as the bar hadn’t yet settled upon its final wine list. She and I made a point of spending as much time there as possible and invited other friends there to meet us regularly, in order to support the growth of the place. We had seen too many good and inspired places in Honolulu shut down for lack of selling their concept to a decidedly provincial Honolulu populace. On this First Friday our wishes were fulfilled and the place was full from wall to wall and the din of jubilant conversation echoed from the rafters.

Svetlana was also strikingly beautiful and it was customary for her to command the attention of the room. She was doing just that when Candy swam through the crowd and up to the back bar with a few friends giving chase. A high pitched chirp danced in the din and her presence could be felt by everyone, whether they had noticed her countenance or not. My mother-in-law was fascinated and drew in on her first to introduce herself. Svetlana was next and the three of them were soon engaged in conversation. Almost jealously, I shifted around to her other flank to make an introduction of my own.

“Hi there, and welcome to my bar! I’m Robyn.” I added.

“Hi!” She squealed with piercing exuberance, as though I was the first person she had ever met in her life. “I’m Manby!”

“Manby?” I asked, never having heard of such a name.

“No, Manby!” she happily squealed a little more loudly this time. “Who names their kid Manby.” I wondered, but I could do little about it.

I was already addicted to the sweet harmonious pitch of her voice and the sparkle in her eyes that lit up everything that she deigned to cast her glance upon. I was lit up and that was all that mattered. I didn’t have any trouble hearing the rest. She had just come from a church meeting and had a pair of her Christian friends in tow. They looked around the bar at the revellers and imbibers disapprovingly. Candy introduced them to me and without a second thought and I asked them if I could treat them to a glass of wine. The shorter and more belligerent looking of the two explained that she didn’t drink. I told her that I found that to be somewhat astonishing since Jesus was a drinker.

The secret was out. I knew more about the Bible than a drunkard from a wine bar should know. Alas, it would take many chapters to explain how I came to read and reread the Scriptures myself. The woman remarked that if I really knew anything about Jesus or the Bible, I wouldn’t drink either. We had trapped one another in a cage and it was time for the cage match to begin. I decided to launch the opening volley. “I don’t know you,” I confided, “but I’m certain that I know more about the Scriptures than you do.”

This was a bold opening to make to a woman that goes to church on a Friday evening and is not Jewish, but I knew the die was cast. The short woman’s eyes lit up, not expecting such a bold assault. I gave her moment to compose a rebuttal and for the first time noticed the odd French a capella music in the background. “Duppy duppy duppy duppy dup dup dup, duppy duppy duppy duppy dup dup dup,” went the song in repetition.

I braced for impact while Candy’s eyes were wild in anticipation. She had never seen a worldly person challenge one of her Christian friends before and certainly never over scripture. It was taking too long. I supplemented my challenge with, “I don’t like the way Protestantism is practiced in the United States because the scriptures are heralded as the ‘unerring word of God’. They simply take the Bible to literally here when it is rather littered with mistakes.”

She had two openings available to make her charge. She paused, looked up to the left and nodded in an upwardly motion as though to acknowledge a thumbs-up from Jesus himself. Resolute, her nostrils flared with a spark of confidence. “There is not a single mistake anywhere in the Holy Scriptures!” She retorted. The proof was back on me.

I love these types of challenges. My friends know better than to assail me when I make a bold statement out of the blue and they certainly know better than to make bold statements of their own that are not well researched. They prefer to ask me what I have to say before risking the loss of a beer bet or a humiliating dare, because all too often they have suffered Wikipedia proving my case before they had the sense to back out. I usually do a special treatment when a Christian takes me up in a challenge, however. I’ll like to show them the proof of my case (and their folly) in whatever Bible they might have on their person. “Let me show you in your own book.” I’ll say.

Judas was on my mind at the time. I have a morbid fascination for betrayal. This was newly aroused in me because I was finishing off Dante’s Inferno at the time and recently learned that the betrayers get the worst treatment of anyone in Hell. Also, the National Geographic Society had just uncovered a set of scrolls that make up the Gospels of Judas, the legendary betrayer of Jesus. Among other things, they suggest that Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus at all and that he was requested to perform his act of betrayal to bring about the resurrection. It suggests that Mathew and Luke got that part of the story wrong. The Christians I’ve met consider these newfound gospels spurious of course and I knew I wouldn’t win my bar challenge if I were to even make mention of them. I had another idea. I quickly asked her an old standby. I asked if she knew how Judas died.

“Everyone knows that his bowels exploded,” she said, purchasing a number of strange glances from around the bar.

“Yeah, if you read the book of Acts, I think it says something like that in the first chapter.” I grinned ever so slightly and asked if I could see her Bible. “But if you look to the Gospels for the answer, you’ll find that…”

I flipped to the end of Matthew and looked around. Thank God her copy was annotated. I can’t quote chapter and verse with more than one glass of wine in me. “Here it is in Chapter 27. According to Matthew, who had the most to say about this whole affair, Judas went and hung himself. I wonder why the book of Acts got that wrong, don’t you?”

She came back swinging, saying that perhaps Judas hung himself and then exploded. I laughed aloud. It was a good retort, but leaving it behind I pointed out that was only one of hundreds of mistakes and other absurdities. I chided her about how Matthew kicks off the New Testament with the genealogy of Christ, listing 27 generations between David and Christ. Later on in Luke, it takes 43 generations to list the same family line and all the names are different. Later still, in 1 Timothy, it says that people shouldn’t even look at genealogies.

My rival had had enough. She could not stand to watch me flip through her personal Bible looking for mistakes any longer. Bowing her head a little; I don’t know if in shame or respect; she nodded to Candy that it was time for her to leave. She clutched her Bible, lowered her head and snorted out of the bar. Svetlana had been watching in her periphery and caught the end of the conversation when my rival was dizzied, reeling and leaning on the ropes. Svetlana chirped her customarily supportive “Good job, Sweetie!” to me over the din.

Candy looked at me in awe. It was a look of admiration that made me wonder if I’d just saved the life of a small child. I glanced around to be sure. No small children. I can’t say exactly what it was that fully captured her attention that moment; her adoration really. Ironically, by playing the devil’s advocate, I had won her Christian soul in under five minutes.

The night wore on and Candy floated around the room, always coming back to Svetlana and me between her dances from one group of people to the next. She explained that she hadn’t been out in years and wanted to see and do more. I agreed that we should go out and look at some bad art and perhaps try another watering hole. Svetlana took her mother to one event and I took Candy to another resolving that we would meet at a third. On the way I asked if she could spell her name for me. “C-A-N-D-Y,” she replied.

My brain could not have been working properly back there. I asked if her name was actually Candice and if people called her Candy as a nickname. No. As politely as possible, I asked if Candy was some sort of “stage name”. It seemed to be a good name for a stripper. No. Candy said that she did perform from time to time, but as an opera singer. I gazed back at this revelation in amazement and disbelief. How could I be so lucky as to meet an opera singer? “I love the opera,” I said enthusiastically.

I must have revealed some of my disbelief just then. Candy took up the challenge. She leaned over to me and putting one hand on my shoulder and the other on my ear, whispered Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria perfectly, fluidly and gently into my soul. Her voice managed the high F in the piece without any indication that she had a hint of difficulty or that there anything unusual about having performed this miracle. I was weak in the knees from having heard such a sweet voice applied so perfectly and beautifully in such a personal way. The turnabout was complete and she had purchased my soul for a song.

The rest of the evening we tripped from one First Friday venue to the next, sometimes finding and sometimes missing Svetlana and her mother. On our travels, Candy explained that she was single, 36 years old and that she spent most of her time between work, church and singing with the Honolulu opera company. I learned that she had her own condo in Waikiki and that this was the first time she had been out having fun since she could remember. In kind, I told her that I was married, mostly happy, gainfully employed, full of big ideas and ready to take on the world.

These might have seemed the kinds of things that a person would say on a first date, assuming that they are enamoured with the other. I personally made the delineation that it was at best, an advanced flirtation on my part, having filled my side of the story with praises for my wife. It was rather a birth. The new and independent Candy was being born before my eyes; born again for me and the world to partake in her sweet and sickly Candy-ness. I was the midwife at the birth of my own calamity.

When the night was through, Candy and I parted company by taxi. She went home to Waikiki and I walked back to my darling wife who messaged me to say she was home. This was the beginning of my addiction to Candy.

To continue this story, I’ll have to explain a curious series of events from the past. This story is the result of an intersection between two very different forces of nature. The first and most influential force in the story is me, your humble narrator and as you have learned, the second is Candy. Candy defies description at every level and when I contemplated the telling of this story, I confess to you that the only people qualified to capture Candy’s essence in poetry or prose have been dead for a very long time.

Shakespeare could have certainly written a play about her. Freud could have written a world renowned paper. Many sociologists and philosophers alike would have been forced to rethink their theories about gender relations, had they even met Candy for an afternoon. As it is, these great writers died too soon. When Candy crashed into my life, the obligation to tell her story became mine. I alone possess the tale and I alone have the onerous duty to relate it to you.

Now it would be impossible to tell a story about a shark without describing the ocean. It would be more difficult still to tell a tale about chlamydia without describing human genitalia and it would be impossible to tell the story of Candy without describing life on the island of Oahu. In this particular saga, there are really two locations that are important to the story from the beginning; the island of Oahu itself and my marriage; a virtual sort of location in space and time, which was being physically conducted for the most part, from our luxury condominium, a short brisk walk from downtown Honolulu.

Oahu, nestled in the middle of the Hawaiian island chain is important to the story not so much on its own accord, but for how it affected me. Over a period of about 10 years on the island, I had the good fortune to acquire a rather large collection of friends, almost all of whom were women. Now it’s true that I may have been predestined for such a fate. My family was matriarchal and I was raised in an environment where women ran the household and made all the major decisions. Any boys born to the family quickly made an escape and were rarely seen around the home except at meal times. By the time I was in the first grade, I regularly had no less than 2 grandmothers (one great), 4 or more aunties, the neighbour girls my mother and a countless friends of theirs all under the same roof at any given time. Uncles, fathers, grandfathers and the like were scarce and reflecting back, probably for good reason.

Growing up alone with women for my only company certainly affected me in such a way that I am necessarily comfortable around them. I enjoy their company and because I’m not constantly in the mind of sexual conquest, they are comfortable around me. I not only endure the contrast between their likes and ambitions, I enjoy the difference in perspective. As it happens, the psychological weather conditions on Oahu formed the perfect storm for me to create a large and diverse collection of women for friends. With a garden of women in my life and in my household at all times, I believe I had created the only sort of ground fertile enough to make a bed for Candy’s flower.

It’s not easy to explain Oahu in an empirical sort of way, because it can be a very different place for the different types of people that live here. The basic facts are commonly known. Oahu is part of the Hawaiian island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no land mass of any size for more than 3000 miles in any direction. Honolulu is the largest city and capital and is on the south shore of Oahu. Hawaii is the 50th state of the United States and both happily and angrily joined the union in 1959. Angry secessionists linger on the island to this day, under the certainty that the U.S. annexation and occupation of their sovereign state was illegal.

While I personally don’t think that being part of the United States is really a boon to Hawaii, the secessionists tell a stranger tale. The first secessionist to make my acquaintance was an angry fellow from the town of Wai'anae. In an emotional speech, he told me that his mother cried the day that Hawaii joined the union. Engaging him further, it was easy to tell that he didn’t really seem to care so much for the politics of secession. He was at a loss to describe the kind of government that he would prefer to be subject to. The only noteworthy sentiment he seemed to carry was a strong distaste for Asians and out of politeness, a limited distaste for haoles (the Hawaiian name for white people), of which both groups seem to visibly outnumber the pacific islanders that first colonized the Hawaiian island chain centuries ago.

In subsequent conversations with secessionists, the only recurring theme seems to be that under an independent Hawaii, some resolution would be enacted to prevent Asians or haoles from ever voting or becoming full citizens regardless of whether they were born here or not. It was of little surprise to me that during the last secessionist rally I witnessed, they hoisted the red-white and black colours of Nazi infamy. I only mention this because in Hawaii, racism is mainstream. It can be very difficult for haoles to get work in Hawaii and the odds are stacked against any colour of newcomer to the islands. It is actually a common occurrence for a mainland haole to have an island lifespan of about 6 months. This is an important factor that has affected my life ever since.

Apart from the beautiful scenery, I learned the hard way that Hawaii actually had very little for a fortune seeker. In truth, to invest in any Hawaiian company that does not hold real estate is folly in the highest. Hawaii has a dearth of quality professionals and many common business sectors are completely absent from the island chain’s rolls. The only non-real estate sector that ever thrives in Hawaii is of course, tourism. Fortune seekers soon learn that there is no manufacturing, no product distributors or wholesalers, no advertising agencies, no software houses, no investment banks, no research companies, no national headquarters for a mainland company, no convention businesses, no fishing fleets, no export businesses (except pineapples). For some, the Hawaii business climate is no more fertile ashore than for someone who might be nearby and adrift at sea.

My talent or gift is to create computer software. Somehow, I manage to force computers bend to my will and when I write software it is the closest thing to magic that exists in the modern world. I create something out of nothing. Despite Hawaiian employers being stingy with their wages, this skill afforded me a series of reasonable paying jobs. For a while I thrived and eventually gained the courage to strike out on my own start up my own consulting company. Being independent and able to set up my own jobs relieved me of the quiet desperation that I was constantly in as an employee.

Like it does in so many relationships that land on her shores, Hawaii intervened to wreak havoc on mine. Many couples come to Hawaii to live their dreams and all too often it’s the husband or boyfriend that soon comes to the conclusion that they cannot make enough money here to feel useful. The man concludes that money is more important than sunny weather while the woman decides that the island is more important than the money and the relationship ends in six months with the man returning to the mainland while the wife remains in a low, but just sufficient paying job.

I’ve made friends out of both men and women here and the men are all gone, save a few. Every man –jack of them left because of money issues. I’ve lost my male friends to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Zurich, Ft. Lauderdale and even Portland; Portland, for fuck sakes. The women have mostly remained, having only lost one to Arizona, one to Mexico. At least they went somewhere warm. Those that remain make up the core of my closest collection friends to this day.

The matter at hand for me had always been as follows: not to become one of the broken Hawaii-bound couples that I had witnessed time and again. Having been on the island for half a decade already, I decided against a new relationship with anyone local and imported Svetlana from Paris. We had sailed past the 5 year mark by this time in the story and were past struggling to survive financially, but the islands had taken a toll on our marriage in every other regard.

To understand this, I’ll have to explain the marriage from beginning. Svetlana, was no less complicated a person than myself. She was born in a tiny land-locked country called Macedonia. Through a pair of marriages and intrigues she ended up living in Paris. She lived on her own and between the steady pay of working in sidewalk cafés and would sometimes make a little extra when employing her talents for photography and design. Her mother, also a Macedonian, had met a Parisian businessman many years earlier and escaped the fate of most of her countrymen through marriage, becoming a French citizen. Svetlana followed suit and eventually had secured a life in Paris, but somehow never managed to get her French passport, a circumstance that dogged us throughout our marriage.

I met her in a coffee shop in London. I was in London to take a course for a database product that I was using. I was getting my usual Starbucks after a long day in class and I noticed her working on a laptop, engaged in what appeared to be the design of a web page. The design was stunning. So was she. “Oh are you a designer?” I asked.

“No, I am just making a design for my mom,” she replied.

Her voice was so unexpectedly sweet. Her accent was not like any that I had ever heard. It was simultaneously Eastern European and French, but on top of that had a lilting quality that was unique and her own. I looked at her brown eyes and knew at once that I was in love.

There are those that don’t believe in love at first sight and I wish that they would have been there when my gaze met Svetlana’s. Nothing else mattered at that moment in life for me except that I must possess and be possessed by her. Coffee turned into dinner and dinner turned into a late night stroll through the city. Svetlana extended her London visit and stayed with me in my hotel in London. It was summer and the rooms were hot and sweaty and Svetlana and I made them hotter and sweatier still. After a few days later she swore her love to me and our fates were sealed together in glass.

When my courses were finished, we toured London, southern England including a nifty trip to Stonehenge and then took the Chunnel to Paris to meet her friends and family. I headed back to Honolulu secure in her love. 3 months later I returned to Paris. We took a road trip to the north with her family and friends and were married in a small ceremony in Denmark, the marriage capital of Europe (for international marriages). After a few tearful goodbyes, we shipped her things to Honolulu and headed there ourselves to start our new life together.

We were a sickeningly sweet couple. “Combien doux!” her friends would say, dragging out the d-o-u-x for several seconds every time they thought to say it followed by a laugh.

We called each other “Sweetie!” without exception, using each other’s real names only for complaints or admonishments, which for us were quite rare in the early going. I had been in many relationships and this one was by far the most free of complaints. Perhaps it was my love for her or perhaps it was just that I was determined to keep and maintain the perfect marriage.

Problems did arise for us in about our third year of marriage. My Canadianness required a work visa to live and work in Hawaii and mine had expired. My former employer had declined to renew with me again, since I was doing more contract work on my own than work directly for them. They had so little work that I’m not sure if that was the reason, but I had no recourse. My biggest contract was with an insurance company and I needed a visa and they needed me. We worked out a deal and they made me an employee. For an entrepreneur, nothing is worse than being an employee.

Being an employee gave me a new lease on Hawaii, however. The pay was still quite reasonable. I was granted a new visa and my visa had the magic stuff needed to get Svetlana a new visa as well. On her own, her Macedonian passport was of less use to the Immigration and Naturalization Services than if it had been issued by Al Qaeda. I was used to sending Svetlana abroad without me. Her work visa in France was similar to the Green Card in the United States in that one had to be on American soil for certain periods of time or the card would become void. I grew accustomed to times being apart from her, but this time it took seven months to resolve the visa issues.

When I finally brought Svetlana back home, I was spent; emotionally, physically and financially. Her visa would not allow her to work, nor could she support my efforts in Hawaii and the entire weight of our relationship was on me. After months of fighting with lawyers, the INS, and clients who always found ways not to pay, I had no energy for anything, including my marriage. “I gave at the altar,” was a phrase that commonly popped into my head… and maybe into a few conversations.

The following year was a period of adjusting to an employee’s wages and lifestyle. Despite being highly paid, taxes and deductions kept us from the high life. Svetlana’s biannual trips to Europe were our only real luxury, except for my car. It was a bright red Porsche Carerra and neither of us were willing to part with it after all we had been through. My life became one of servitude to my new employer, to the newly defined marriage, to the airline companies, the landlord, the bank and credit card companies, the auto loan company, and the list never ended.

I was no longer self-employed in any real sense and could not make any extra money to satisfy the growing pack of wolves at the door. Svetlana was loathe to leave Hawaii after the troubles we’d gone through to get her here. My employers refused to budge on my salary, since I was making nearly as much as the CEO already and was not likely to get more money soon. Further my employers were reticent to let me leave for periods of time to make more money, since they wanted me all to themselves. I was trapped like a rat with nowhere to go but financial oblivion and I suspected that my marriage would enjoy the same slide down.

With my course charted for Hell, it was at this time I decided to read Dante’s Inferno. My fate was out of my hands and I decided to enjoy the ride. I concentrated life on something I could control, which was my social life. Svetlana and I added to our friends through social events and every other kind of event, all of which distracted me from my fate. Just at the time when I was peering down into my own personal descent to oblivion, Dante’s leopard pounced into my life to greet me. Her name was Candy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chapter 0 - The Lost Chapter

Oahu wasn’t the sort of place known for its high society events and its Sunday polo matches would be considered quite provincial by European standards. Some of the polo players displayed talent, however, and the matches were fun to watch. Oahu’s polo crowd was an eclectic mix of the island’s who’s who, Honolulu’s social climbers and whatever can be found lurking at the North Shore. I made up my mind to go early in the morning and being dateless as I all too often was on a Sunday morning and I texted out my designs on the day to the usual suspects; Emili, Sandy, Amy, and of course Candy.

It was no surprise that Candy called back first. She probably wanted to “borrow” money. I waited for more replies. Dammit. Dateless, and with only the one reply, I arranged to pick Candy up in Waikiki, a treacherous place to take my car. It seemed to me that the police prepare for my arrival in Waikiki in the same way that Wile E. Coyote prepares for the Roadrunner. Oh well, what wouldn’t I do for Candy?

Running a bit late, I picked her up without incident. No police. No drama loading her into the car. She only suggested that we needed to pick up a candle for a votive that she was carrying. Having arrived later than I had hoped, I made the error of picking her up before having collected snacks and wine. The resulting stop at Safeway was considerably dearer than I had hoped for. Apart from the votive candles, she started filling a huge container with olives and feta from the deli.

“Baby, I don’t like olives.” I said.

“It’s only a few!” She retorted, with a look that didn’t quite justify the gallon-sized drum of food she was filling like some sort of refugee you see on late-night TV.

I don’t eat olives, but suspected that she may have not eaten a full meal for days. I didn’t know. For the first time in a long time, however, I resisted her desire and talked her down to a snack sized portion of any food I wouldn’t eat. Negotiations followed that upped our picnic fare from a large sub sandwich to brie, port cheese, pate and a freshly baked and sliced artisan loaf along all the picnic things that she somehow, albeit not surprisingly, neglected to bring. After adding one new votive candle, the total summed up to little too much money for comfort, but I knew it would and we headed out on the road.

I took the long way to the North Shore, half on purpose and half by accident. I’m well known by my friends for always forgetting my way around the island and I made a mistake this time. Ending up in Kaneohe, we buckled in for the long drive over the northern hump of the island. It was fortuitous in a way; I wanted to talk to Candy about her life and about her marriage proposal from months earlier. It was still a laughable topic but I wanted to get to the bottom of it. It was still so incredulous that I had to hear her flesh out the offer one more time to see what it was that made her propose it.

The road to the North Shore has one lane with a lazy 45 mp/h speed limit that is usually driven at about 35 by most of the even lazier motorists on a Sunday. We had time to talk. Perhaps fearing too much talk she popped a CD into the player and turned up the volume to where it hurt my ears. I turned it down to where it didn’t hurt, but it was too loud to talk. We wrestled with the volume switch for the rest of the way. I turned it down whenever I wanted to talk and she turned it back up again, presumably to hurt my ears, but despite the prolonged battle for the mastery of the volume, we did manage to slip in some conversation.

The music was a mixed CD of what I can only assume is the most unusual mix ever assembled. There was gospel, opera, 50’s music, 80’s pop and nearly everything in between. One unusual track started to play; Don Felder’s “Heavy Metal” from the movie and soundtrack. I remember it very vividly as it was set to the background of a scene from the movie where an astronaut is performing orbital re-entry in a white ’55 Corvette. Who could forget such a scene? I was 16 years old when it came out and had to sneak into the theatres to see it because of the ‘R’ rating. Candy lit up when the song began.

“How did this end up in your collection?” I asked?

Unthinkingly, she blurted out “When I was fifteen… no FOURteen, I went to the drive in with my boyfriend and saw this and we had both smoked some pot.”

“I’m 36 now.” She added.

I remarked that it was probably a good movie to see while stoned, based on the testimony of others. I’ve never smoked the rare herb and told her so, probably for the hundredth time. Once again I decried my brand loyalty to my drug of choice; alcohol. It was then that I started doing a little math in my head. Despite cries of “Bullshit!” from girlfriends of mine who seemed to think she was older than 36, it seemed to me that she had been 36 for 2 years now. Hmmm… if the movie came out in ’81 and I was only…

“Hey! She has to be in her 40’s!” I concluded to myself silently.

Candy and I rocked out to the tune and I pretended in my head that I was also performing an orbital re-entry. A group of cars got in the way and I dropped into 2nd gear and passed about 4 of them at a go. Candy forgot to feign fear as she usually did when I drove fast, explaining that she trusted me now. Good. It was time for some trust and hopefully for some truth.

I made some small talk and then tried to resume the ongoing conversation about the marriage proposal Candy had made to me. It was a six month old offer and desperate sounding at the time, though she seemed to have no hint of desperation now. I had to hear the justification though. I had to hear it.

“So Candy, do you want to talk about that thing we’ve talked about before?” I started.

She knew what I meant.

“Well I don’t see the sense of it,” she replied. “You won’t even support me now.”

“You mean I’m supposed to start paying your bills the moment you ask?” I asked. “Why would I do that when we are not in a relationship?”

“That’s just how it works.” She said, adding that I would also have to give her an allowance and she would have to live in Hawaii most of the time because her mom needed constant support.

It was funnier than I could have imagined. I bit my tongue ‘til it hurt. She explained all of this bullshit with a completely straight face. She logically explained that without a shred of romantic feeling toward me, that I should find some sense of duty within me to start supporting her. During moments when I could talk without laughing at her I rebutted that her current boyfriend didn’t have any money and didn’t pay her bills. I reminded her of her failed career and what someone like me, if not me specifically, could to get her back on track to a life more in keeping with her talents. Apparently, that was not relevant to the discussion. Then, thinking about the call for financial support I recalled an old Lou Reed song lyric and blurted it out.

“Love is trust, no money down.” I explained.

She allowed herself a chuckle and we changed the subject to who would be at the match and how she had not been getting calls from her, or rather our, or perhaps more accurately, my friends lately. I suggested that because she was so involved with her boyfriend and her work that they were not too happy that she was never available and that showing up at the polo match would fix everything.

We arrived to find the Bob the polo guy coordinating things at the gate. He told me that I had at least 150 friends in attendance already and I was in for a good time. Candy giggled and I swear that she glowed for a moment. We parked and unloaded our precious kit, catching a view of Amazon as we headed for the field. Amazon was a tall and delicious redhead with friends at every level of Oahu society. Few people knew her real name, but her party name suited her to a tee. Like the Amazon she was grand, breathtaking and impossibly untamed.

Candy and I joined Amazon with our blankets, food and wine. She had arrived ahead of us and was already sitting with other friends of mine, most of whom knew Candy, either in person or for one of her many infamous stories. Candy shovelled olives for a second time on this day, this time into her throat. A pint of olives and feta was gone before I could empty the Safeway bag. Satisfied that I didn’t want any olives anyway I dug into the wine, brie, pate and the artisan loaf which smelled divine. No power on earth can satisfy a man more earnestly than the smell of fresh baked bread.

Having fed ourselves and having made a small dent in the wine, Candy and I agreed to take a walk around the field to see who else we knew. In the expensive seats at the middle of the field sat Johnathan Baker Smith, who was the first recognizable fellow we came across. He was an older, benevolent and well-to-do gentleman who kept the most extraordinary company, most notably beautiful women. I was aware that Candy had been part of his entourage for a while but was not any longer. I can only assume that she breached some sort of social contract, and perhaps ditched him at events as she did everyone else at everything else she ever attended.

Nonetheless, he was polite and introduced us to his current entourage, which was a mixture of beauty and power with few of them possessing both. We wandered a little further and found more mutual friends; Michelle, Sandy, “other” Amy, Angelica and a couple of women I didn’t know… yet. Candy, upon seeing her collection of old friends, groaned heavily and lamented that we had already made the mistake of sitting ourselves with Amazon. She pointed out that sitting with these friends would be a far superior way to spend the afternoon and that we should fetch our things at once. I replied that it was best not to slight anyone and that we would all be at the dance together anyway, besides we still have more of the field to tour.

I didn’t see much more of Candy for the rest of the evening and what I did see, I wish I hadn’t. Before we could get more than a few steps from Michelle and her group, a young and broad-shouldered photographer had caught Candy’s eye. Candy wanted to stay and be photographed with her new friend and I insisted that she wait until we had toured the field. It was folly to argue. Candy gushed over her new find and would not leave his side. Michelle rose to the occasion and agreed to walk with me around the field in Candy’s place, to see who we could see.

The rest of the Candy encounters for the evening were fleeting. I saw her offering the last of my brie and pate to young men around the field. She stopped by me briefly to light the votive candle and say a prayer for our friendship. Later I saw her dancing with the photographer. Lastly, she said she was taking a quick walk to the beach. I waited. The band finished playing. They turned out the lights. Candy was gone. I phoned and texted. Gone.

Driving home was much faster. No strained conversation. No need to bite my tongue. I plugged in my audio book and let it take me back to Ancient Greece while I carefully managed the road home. It’s most of the way across the island from North Shore to Hawaii Kai. On this part of my vacation, I was staying at a girlfriend’s house, who was out of town on business. Tired from the day and perplexed by Candy’s antics I undressed and climbed into bed with my book still blaring the exploits of the Spartans and Athenians into my brain.

Just a little before midnight I stirred… phone. Again it went and again: Then a text. Candy, I thought. What could she possibly want at this hour? I didn’t recognize the number and picked up, maybe it was a real emergency, I thought foolishly. No, it was Candy.

“You have my keys and my phone and my laptop in your car!” She cried.

“I don’t care, it’s late. Call me tomorrow. I’m in bed.”

I was really upset at the combination of being ditched when she knew I’d have to be summoned in the middle of the night. Perhaps I was more upset than I am used to being, but I was not about to get dressed and drive out to deliver her things. I was in for the night.

The phone rang again. I was livid.

“I told you that I’ll give you your shit tomorrow. Goodbye.”

Still lying naked on the bed, on top of the covers, listening to the stories of ancient Greek battles, I fell half asleep. But before my head fell to the mattress, the door kicked open: Candy. She walked in resolutely and started sifting through my clothes, taking the car keys from my pants. Her new photographer boyfriend came in behind her. I told her to “fuck off” and get out of my room. She did, with the keys, but not before her new friend suggested that the three of us all get naked and have a good time together.

Pissed off, though strangely flattered by the offer, I called 911. 911 is very complicated when you are in a situation and have a cell phone. I think it’s a better thing for when you have all your information written down and have a lot of time to talk to the police. It’s the kind of thing that you can do much after a crime is committed, but not during a crime. The police wanted my address. I can’t even pronounce the name of the stupid highway in Hawaii Kai. It has to be 240 syllables.

“This is a waste of time, isn’t it?” I challenged the dispatcher and then hung up.

When the boyfriend had left the room, I donned a towel and walked outside to see what Candy was doing. It looked like she was only taking her things from my car and I demanded the keys back. I was glad I went, she had already lost them. They turned up under the seat and keys in one hand and towel in the other; I retreated back to my room. There was nothing to say to her.

The next day was a new day. I wasn’t sure what to do about Candy, but my usual method is just to forgive and forget. Honestly, there is no way to forget a Candy story and anyone who knows one can tell you how memorable they are. I forgive, and pretend to forget. I think she pretends to forget too if she doesn’t rather delude herself into a completely different version of a story that defies the eyewitness testimony of over a dozen people complete with pictures on facebook.

Oh, I forgot about facebook. I checked it to see if there were new pictures of me after a gathering from a few nights earlier. The pictures were there and I thought about one of the new friends in the group that I happened to have sat next to; Nicole. She had mentioned that evening that she had also met Candy on a previous occasion. “Small island.” I thought.

Nicole was a tall slender long-legged thing that would likely steal eyes from Candy even at her craziest. It’s hard to plumb the depths of Candy’s mind but I suspect that she felt threatened by Nicole, having made such a good impression on so many of her friends at once. Reminded of her, I called her to see if she had a good time and if she’d heard from anyone else in the group. She said that she had only heard from Candy. She said she only laughed at the time, but that Candy had told her that she and I were still and item and considering a very serious relationship, adding that Nicole should not consider being my friend until I keep my promises to her.

“Very funny.” I thought, not thinking it was funny at all.

I started to wonder about other near-miss relationships I’d had where Candy eventually met the person and eventually they cooled off to me. Then I thought back further and thought about how I was married when I met Candy. I started to wonder if Candy was the difference between my being married and being divorced. I quickly dashed off a couple of emails to the ex. I’ll be old before those get answered, but at least that is out of the way.

With some kind words and a humble disposition I asked Michelle if she could help to smooth any strangeness that might have arisen for Nicole, which she did most willingly and expertly. Nicole returned a call to me and apologised for any suspicions that Candy may have raised in her. I apologised for Candy in general, explaining that this new development was going to be very hard on my friendship with her. Nicole suggested forgiveness. I laughed.

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” Recited itself in my head.

Candy couldn’t be finished with her malice, I thought. I checked facebook again for nasty posts, unfriending or the trappings of the familiar rage that I had seen her unleash on others when she felt the least bit slighted. She called at about 2pm on the following Tuesday. I just let it ring and a message was left. When I got around to listening to the contents it was a threat by some guy, who I presume is her boyfriend. He said that I was “not a friend” for having ditched Candy at the polo match and that if he ever saw me…

I called Candy back to ask how this message came to be. Her boyfriend answered and started into a tirade. “Friend!” I exclaimed, “Your quarrel is not with me, but with Candy. I took Candy to polo yesterday and she became smitten with a photographer. She walked to the beach with him. I waited until the band finished playing and they turned out the lights. No Candy. I had to leave.”

There was silence on the other end. Then I heard Candy grab the phone. She screamed that I left her and she could have been killed, presumably all for her boyfriend’s ears. After a minute or two of screaming, she hung up the phone. I thought it should be me hanging up on her, since she was screaming and I was just listening, but the rules don’t work the same with Candy.

As with the Candy stories of old to this very last chapter, I have no way to know if Candy believes her versions of the story or tells different versions to save face. I think that perhaps she believes that her versions are true. I don’t know for sure and I expect that I never will. That is the nature of Candy. With little left to bind me to her, I concluded my relationship with Candy by unfriending her on facebook. For me, this is the final story of Candy.