Hawaii. It's hard to believe

by francine Hardaway on October 5, 2004

Hawaii. It’s hard to believe it’s one of the United States, despite the wireless

hotspot in the poorly lit non-alcoholic cafe at the Kalani Oceanside Retreat, where

I’m enjoying the yoga, the vegetation, and even the humidity.

The sun comes up every morning over the ocean like Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn”. Palms and banyan trees create a canopy over the roads. Surfers bob on the waves. We’re in a lava zone, near a recently active volcano, so the sand on the beaches is black.

I’ve got the old Sony Vaio Picturebook with me; the same laptop that has accompanied me to Mexico, Costa Rica, India, China and New Zealand. Yes, I have a new Mac Powerbook G4, but it doesn’t pack like the Vaio, and it doesn’t take pictures.

I’m on the Big Island, on the side opposite Kona, about forty minutes from Hilo. It

might as well be Costa Rica or India (except when you enter Hilo, which has a

Borders, a WalMart, and a Mickey D’s.

On Sunday we climbed down the lava rocks to a clothing optional beach

where people of all ages sported nude in the waves while two dozen gap-toothed, stoned, aging hippies drummed for four hours, accompanied by an occasional Rasta rapper. High school kids were offering us herb. Dogs accompanied their owners into the dangerous undertow.

In the seat next to me on the flight from Los Angeles was a man about my age, a

large man who overflowed the seat and looked as if he might have been one of them

(not the high school kids, but the aging hippies.) He had clearly not bathed in

weeks, and carried in his lap a large plastic shopping bag of prescription drugs.

I ignored him for most of the flight, but as we prepared to land, the flight

attendant handed out the agricultural forms you must fill out when you land in Honolulu; you can’t bring in any food or animals. My neighbor asked for my help filling it out, because he said he couldn’t see it. It turns out he is legally blind.

After I found out by filling out his form that he lived in Honolulu, I asked him how

long he had been there and if he liked it. He said he had retired to Oahu from Texas three years

previously, determined –as he said — finally to lead his life the way he wanted

to. I got the feeling he wasn’t married and didn’t have a brilliant corporate career behind him. He didn’t even have a phone number.

I asked him about the meds, and he said they were for his “sickness,” which turned

out to be post-traumatic stress disorder from his days in Viet Nam. As he opened up,

he told me at least six of the men in his town who came back from Nam had committed

suicide, and another had slammed into a tree with his car while dead drunk, killing

himself less forthrightly.

He said he had moved to Hawaii because, although thirty years had gone by, he was

still having incapacitating nightmares and flashbacks, and they could only be helped

by simplifying his life. I asked him what he did, and he said he fished all day. He

told his family he was never going back to Texas, because the calmness of the

fishing made him feel better.

As I listened to him, realizing how wrecked his life was by Viet Nam, I wondered how we could be sending another generation of boys off to war. And this generation will not get to escape to the dolphin-birthing beaches of Hilo, because the developers have bought all the land and they are building resort condos.

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