Despite the ominous dream, I awoke feeling sad rather than scared. I was truly sad. The English language is replete with words that mean “sad” and not a single one could really capture how overwhelmingly sad I was feeling. On this day, my sadness trumped misery, depression, grief, sorrow and wretchedness combined. I was, I believe, as sad as a person could possibly be.
My sadness wasn’t just an emotion floating around in my brain either; it was a particularly new state of existence for me. I was so fucking sad that my mind had made the whole universe around me into a sad and lonely… horrible place that could only fuel and satiate my sadness. The walls and ceiling of my lonely apartment dripped green with misery. The fake framed photographs mocked me with their toothy smiles and seemed to make the sound of shrill sardonic laughter.
Most mornings, I roll out of bed the moment my eyes are open. I wouldn’t say that I’m a morning person, but I don’t like to lie in bed without some reason for lying in bed. This morning I suppose I had a reason. Svetlana was sleeping as soundly as usual, but the way she was sleeping was somewhat unusual to me. This morning, she was leaning toward me with one arm draped over my chest. My god, she was so beautiful. I stared remorsefully at her perfect and beautiful face and knew, for my sadness was an oracle, that she would eventually leave me.
My eyes welled with tears. I rolled off the bed. The floor felt like a river of mud and every footstep I took was laborious and painful. Each step actually hurt, and not in a metaphorical way. I stopped thinking about my grief for a moment to consider my physical condition and came to realize that I was in real pain. Every muscle, joint and sinew in my body ached with a persistent and piercing pain. This was the pain of true sadness.
With no small amount of effort, I forced my body into the shower and fumbled with the controls. Too cold; too hot.
“Gaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” I roared.
The overwhelming pain of the hot searing jets ripped me in two as I screamed and fell out of the tub with the shower curtain and the snapped curtain rod twisting and fluttering to the floor around me. Only a thin bathmat broke my fall. After a moment, the amount of pain levelled off to where it was when I was in bed. I checked to see if anything else had broken, like one of my bones perhaps and climbed carefully back to my feet. I jammed the fucked up shower curtain mess behind the toilet and wondered whether I should attempt to shower without it. Fuck it. I set the shower temperature to the least painful setting and climbed back in. Gallons of water merrily splashed to the floor and I just didn’t care. They formed into sad puddles all over the floor.
Wallowing in depression as I painfully soaked, I considered my ominous dream. If Dante’s Inferno was still rolling around in my dreams, the ‘coming thing’ must have been the beast. Unlike Dante, there was no Virgil to guide me through my own personal hell. I didn’t know what was coming for me. I would never learn what was coming, unless I was to return to that dream. How could I? The coming thing seemed to be so terrifying. A worry arose that experiencing both fear and depression in my dreams would eventually kill me. I could not live if I were to lose my problem solving dreams to nightmares of frightful omens. These days, dreams were my only respite from hell.
When I finished taking a shower, the women were still asleep. I surmised that they were only pretending to sleep. No one could have slept through the hideous noises that must have emanated from the bathroom. The sounds I had conjured must have been frightful. I let them pretend and as had been my routine, I gave Svetlana her morning kisses and whispered, “J’ai envie de toi,” in her ear.
I detected a slight smile take shape on Svetlana’s face, but I did nothing to stir her. I carefully made my way out of the bedroom, tiptoed past the beast and slipped out the front door. Unlike previous days, however, once I had made my escape, I had no feeling of freedom; sadness loomed over everything. Sadness is a unique emotion in that the more one thinks about it, the more sad and upset one becomes. I would have to stop thinking somehow, but it is impossible. All I ever do is think.
It was an unusually grey day for Hawaii. A volcanic fog had rolled in from the Big Island. Vog, it was called by the locals. It made the air heavy and people with breathing problems would often have their lives worsened by heavy vog. It was appropriate to my mood; however. It was so appropriate that I wondered if I hadn’t somehow created it. Stepping out into the grey, I approached my very red car. Its indomitable redness lashed out against the colourless world. I wondered where I should go from here.
Oh, no! I remembered that I was supposed to go to the beach with Candy and Heather. I couldn’t let either of them see me like this. A soon-to-be-married woman would not profit from hearing the lamentations of miserably married man. Displaying my profound sadness would set a terrible precedent in my relationship with Candy. I had to stay on top of her training. After all, I had a lot of time invested in her so far.
The phone rang. Candy. Shit. “Hello?” I answered, awkwardly.
“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” She squealed, “Are you ready for a fabulous day on the beach?”
Didn’t she notice the vog? How could she be so happy when my sadness had changed the very perfect weather we were all so accustomed to? Who even thinks of the beach on a grey day like this? I had to think.
“Yes, baby! I’m at my car now and I can be there in ten minutes. Are you ready?”
I hadn’t thought of anything. I raged at my brain to invent an excuse between sentences; still nothing.
“I’m already ready!” She said with her usual glee.
“On my way, baby.”
En route, I thumbed at my phone to call Heather. She’d understand that I wasn’t feeling up to a visit. Maybe she had already cancelled her plans for the beach. It wasn’t beach weather after all. She answered.
“Hey handsome,” she cooed.
“Hi, Heather.” I spoke with a bit of a whine already inflected in my voice. “I’m not so sure about the beach today. I had a really rough night. It’s hard to explain really, but I’m really not feeling my best. Are you still going?”
“Oh, Robyn! I go to the beach every day. I never miss a day. It’s impossible for me to miss. You have to understand that it is such a ‘healing’ place. Come! You’ll see why, when you get here.”
For all my grief, I had no will for resistance. They wanted me to go and I didn’t really have anything else to do. No sooner had I hung up with Heather than my car had somehow steered me to Candy’s. I called up and she said she’d be ready in ten minutes. I wondered how that was possible, since she was ready when I called twenty minutes ago and now she was… Oh, it was too stupid to think about.
Candy appeared in the rear view mirror, a vision in a red bikini and a red translucent wrap. More wild redness allied with me to rage against this grey world. She hopped into the car and presented her cheek for a hello kiss. I wondered how odd it was that after three weeks of consecutive days, each with at least one hello and one goodbye kiss that she was still quite careful to turn her head away from me each and every time.
This strange behaviour could perhaps use a little context. In Canada, or at least in the parts where I have lived, hello and goodbye kisses are very uncommon. There, even good friends and family members will avoid their use whenever possible. By contrast, in Hawaii the aloha kiss (the word ‘aloha’ means both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ among other things) is used between men and women and women and women for all personal hello and goodbye occasions. Even perfect strangers, upon meeting for the first time will give one another an aloha kiss. Only when a man greets another man, will a handshake suffice. Male friends will often give an aloha hug, which consists of a handshake with the right hand and mutual close-fisted back pat with the left.
There is one more thing that needs to be explained. The aloha kiss itself can vary immensely from one set of kissers to the next. The standard form is where the aloha kissers will touch cheeks momentarily and kiss into the air making a pleasant and familiar kiss sound. More familiar kissers will tighten the kiss up a little and will make lip contact against each other’s cheeks. Personally, I consider the air kisses to be too ‘Hollywood’ and I’m usually quite determined to at least make lip-to-cheek contact if I am expected to engage in form of greeting kiss. Lastly, there are those aloha kissers who, even with a stranger, will kiss on the lips.
A curious sense of disillusionment would come over me every time Candy did her kiss charade. I would plant my kiss, striking the back of her jawbone and invariably hear that empty smack whistle past my left ear. It was maybe the first clue for me that there was something else to Candy, as thought she might be someone completely different than the person I thought I was experiencing.
We took the long way up to Bellow’s beach, past Hanauma Bay and around up the east coast of the island. I wasn’t in a hurry and refused to look at a map. Besides, it is a beautiful drive. I did my best to bite back the sadness that was still gnawing at my flesh.
“How long have you known Heather?” Candy began.
“I think nearly three years, though I’ve only run into her here and there. I’ve always felt like we should have been better friends, but she’s been too busy to chat every time we’ve found one another again.”
“Her fiancée is much younger,” she said with an expectant face.
“I remember her saying that, but I don’t think it’s a big deal. I’ve dated women that were older than me and Svetlana is the same age. I really can’t see how an age difference will affect them if they have a good relationship.”
“Much younger,” she stressed.
“Well, I guess we will see how that works for them, won’t we?” I nearly laughed, but my misery caught hold of me and prevented it.
“Do you know what else? “
I doubted that I would ever be able to guess what was on Candy’s mind except for the very obvious.
“No I can’t imagine, what?”
Candy smiled broadly. “They are going to have their wedding reception at my boyfriend’s ranch.”
I immediate impulse was to slam the brakes and skid my car sideways to a halt. This is exactly what happened in my head, though my body somehow managed to keep the car purring gently around Oahu’s east coast.
“Oh I didn’t know you had a boyfriend.” I said, choking back my astonishment.
“Yes, he’s my soulmate! My mom chose him for us at our church. He has his own Christian radio talk show. Basically, we’ve just been waiting until the time is right. Do you know what else?”
Christ! An infinite room of monkeys, having just completed Shakespeare’s complete works could not have typed a plausible guess for Candy’s ‘what else’.
Candy continued. “When Heather asked Raymond… That’s my fiancé, Raymond. When she asked Raymond if they could have the wedding reception at his ranch, he said ‘No’. He doesn’t like to do events out there anymore. Anyway, Heather mentioned it to me the other night. After I got home, I called Raymond and told him that I was Heather’s friend and that he should say ‘Yes’. He did! Now we get to tell Heather the good news! Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t this going to be a great day?”
This day was shit. Despite the new Candy revelations, which were too unbelievable at the moment to be appreciated in their entirety, I had not forgotten about the pain that was going through my every joint and muscle. I had not forgotten about my ravaged marriage or the beast living in my home. I had not forgotten about the shower curtain I’d ripped off the wall or the gallons of water I’d left on the floor. I had not forgotten that life, as I knew it was going to get worse and worse for as far as my mind’s eye could see.
“Great news!” I managed to blurt out with a hint of feigned joy. “Anything else?”
I braced my mind for anything; literally anything.
“No, that’s everything. You know you don’t seem as happy today as you usually are. Is something wrong?”
I’d been outed. I have the good fortune to possess a good imagination, but outright lying is not something that I can do with any conviction. I didn’t want to tell Candy what was wrong, but I would have to offer some sort of a clue.
“It’s my mother-in-law.” I offered. “This visit has just been too long and the strain is starting to wear me down. I’m sorry, I was going to call off our trip to the beach so I could stay out of sight, but that didn’t seem to be an option for anyone else.”
Perhaps for the only time that I had ever known her, Candy had nothing to say. She was silent for the rest of the trip. She reached across and put her hand on my shoulder, squeezing it while rubbing reassuringly with her thumb. The warm and generous caresses would normally have been a welcome salve for my misery, except that like everything else, my shoulder hurt. Ever stroke of her thumb sent a shiver of pain through my chest and into my heart. I counted a hundred and fifty-two strokes by the time we arrived.
We parked at Bellows Beach and hopped out of the car, leaving our shoes behind. The sky and water ahead looked grey but the air was moist, warm and inviting. Candy and I tiptoed over the pavement and grass toward the beach and by the time we had our feet on the moist sand we could make out Heather’s outline in the distance. Her long tresses were easy to spot from a distance. As we closed, I could see that she was wearing a flowing golden-brown silk wrap around her waist and a tan crochet bikini top. She was certainly easy on the eyes.
“Oh perfect timing!” She shouted over the sound of the ocean. We closed in and leaned toward one another for our aloha kisses. Candy’s was first, the standard cheek-to-cheek affair. Mine was next. Heather kissed me on the lips, gently. It was an overly long kiss for an aloha kiss, which is supposed to be more of a peck. She knew. I forgot that I had told her how miserable I was feeling. Her kiss was an aloha kiss, a comfort kiss and a flirtation all rolled into one very tender kiss. She was a master of flirtation, I had to admit.
“It was such a good idea for you to come.” She said comfortingly. “You are going to feel better in a little while. I just know it. The beach is a place to heal. You’ll see.”
Candy gave me a look of wonder. Of course she wondered how Heather could have just known what I had so painfully revealed to her in the car. She probably wondered if there was more for me to tell.
“Now Heather. We have come to hear about this new man of yours and I don’t want you to spare any of the details, especially everything you told us the other night, because we probably have all of those facts wrong by now. When you are finished, Candy has some good news to share with you, so start from the beginning. How did you meet him?”
“In time.” She said, and touched her index finger to her lips thoughtfully. “Let’s walk for a bit.”
Heather put her arm around my waist and guided me toward the ocean. Candy followed her lead and put her arm around my waist from the other side. Arm in arm in arm, we walked up the beach in ankle-deep water. The water would rush out and our feet would sink in the sand. Other times the water would rush in and rise above our knees.
We held our tight formation for about a mile without saying anything. It must have been a beautiful image to see the three of us, with Heather flowing in her golden earth tones and Candy in her red wrap. There was no one there to record the event and it remains mine alone to savour. While I can’t say that my sadness had melted away, the pain had certainly subsided. As we walked, I grew less and less conscious of the arms around my waist, which at first shot pain into my legs. I became more and more aware of the arms around my waist and the genuine affection that the embrace represented.
The beach had been a good idea, after all. We turned to walk back in the other direction, still arm-in-arm-in arm, breaking occasionally to escape a large wave or to pet a curious dog. Heather started to spill the details of her romance on the way back. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the early details. She was serving wine at a military function. Their eyes met. They fell in love and he got shipped to Iraq. This was a very typical story in Hawaii at the time. In these modern times, he would have been shipped to Afghanistan. The very minor detail that stuck in my memory was that her fiancé was twenty years her junior.
“So why marriage?” I asked, for so many reasons. “Did you consider a longer courtship? He won’t be back here very long before his next deployment.”
“Well, it is love.” She replied.
I knew exactly what she meant. Candy’s face looked quizzical. She obviously didn’t understand.
“So I guess that your life won’t change much, since he’ll be away so often. No?” I asked.
“No. I quit my job. I know he’s younger and not a high-paid colonel or anything, but I decided that it was time for me to be a housewife for once in my life.”
“Oh wow!” I said in astonishment. Part of the astonishment was my inability to think of something more clever to say. “I have to say that there is something to the man/housewife model that works. Svetlana and I have been living like that for five years now. I have to say that I like it for the most part.”
“Well, we got this tiny little house up on a hill near the base. Robyn, it has the most incredible view in the world. You have to bring Svetlana up for a visit when Brad gets back.”
“Oh nooooooooooo! Unless Brad get’s back soon, Svetlana won’t be here. She’s going t back to France for her bi-annual visit.”
I had more to say on that topic, but decided to spare the women my inevitable rant. To keep Svetlana’s European work visa active and alive, she had to return to French soil ever 6 months, whether we could afford to send her or not. The combination of my desire for unfettered access to Europe and Svetlana’s penchant to see her European friends made the trips a necessity. Alas, they were an incredible strain on an already strained budget.
“I’ll come with you!” Candy sang out.
“Oh, of course!” Heather said. “You guys look so great together. How are you feeling, Robyn? Better?”
“Yes, better. Thank you.” I said as Candy squealed and turned a little turn in the sand in delight.
“So we’ll all be together again in about two weeks. Perfect. Now Candy has news for you as well. I’ll let her tell you. I’m going to walk up ahead.”
“This is goodbye then.” Heather said, and she kissed me goodbye once again on the lips.
One doesn’t have to get far up the beach before voices get lost in the ocean sounds. I glanced back a couple of times to see Candy and Heather talking, holding hands and then jumping up and down together. It appeared that Candy’s news had worked wonders on Heather, who glided away more gaily than she had arrived. The ocean had cured her, as it always did. It had given me more relief than I had ever expected and Candy just floated above it all in the way that only angels can do.
I had made it to the grass when the jumping stopped and I sat to rest. Candy stole her way up to me on tiptoes.
“Oh what a perfect day!” She exclaimed, believing that it was.
As we drove back, I turned the car radio to a loud setting to drown out the possibility for conversation. I’d had enough conversation and I’d managed to hide the better part of my misery from Candy. I was concerned that my act would not last much longer. Song after song on the radio taunted me, bringing back and refreshing the pain. The sad songs inevitably reminded me of my impossible situation. The happy songs mocked me. Every song worsened my condition until I was as miserable as I had been when I woke up in the morning. Candy was oblivious to this, as far as I knew.
When we arrived at her home, I kissed her jawbone goodbye and drove myself to Ala Moana Park. I sat there for what seemed forever. The sun hadn’t set, but was about to. I knew I should be hungry. I was too sick to eat. I had no idea where to go. I couldn’t go home and it hurt to even move. For reasons I can’t explain, I kept the radio blasting, fuelling my misery to ever more perilous depths.
I stared out at the ocean. I was looking but not seeing anything. My every thought was directed to the next song on the radio. I wondered how and where it was going to hurt. Unexpectedly, my cell-phone buzzed in my pocket. The tiny screen read ‘Svetlana’. Jesus, the last thing I needed was to be bitched at. I debated whether to answer. I answered.
“Sweetie, come home,” was all she said. Her voice had pleading tone to it.
The words stuck me like a lightning. For all the hype and the angst and the shouting and the general state of commotion, I’d forgotten that she did still love me.
I went home. When I arrived, an apologetic and almost repentant mother-in-law greeted me at the door and commented that I looked good when I got some sun. Svetlana was stirring over a pot of fresh cooked pasta and I could see that she’d already created a Russian salad, one of my favourite dishes. I walked into the kitchen and she took a break from her cooking to give me a hug. A smile brushed across her face.
“Sweetie, we need you at home. OK?” She whispered.
I was speechless.
“Mom promises to behave. Just stay home.”
“OK.” It was all there was to say.
My pain suddenly melted. The sadness dripped away. When I went to the bathroom to freshen up, I noticed a nice new shower curtain, complete with the new plastic smell that filled the room. My universe had been turned upside-down, or rather rightways-back-up by two words, ‘come home’. I ate and drank with a beaming wife and a considerably more polite and courteous mother-in law. We talked about Heather’s wedding and her much younger man and all joked together about the time that they would have.
When the hour of night came, to my surprise, Svetlana followed me to the bedroom. This was a rare occurrence, since she stayed up most evenings long past my bedtime. On this day she came. I find that men and women are very different when it comes to describing love, particularly acts of love. Women are terribly graphic and are demanding for details. Men are quite the opposite and are content to hear little more than, “The deed was done.” In the hopes of satisfying both genders, I’ll say as much as I can in as few words as possible.
That night, Svetlana and I made love for the first time in a very long time. It felt like a first time. We savoured the passion unreservedly deep into the night. When we had exhausted ourselves, we collapsed together into a pool of contentment and satiety and did not stir for many hours after.