“See you next year!” we call to one another, jittery with equal parts Christmas break excitement and Christmas party sugar. I still laugh really hard at the joke, though I am becoming aware that the other girls are not laughing quite as much. We're in seventh grade, after all. We are supposed to be growing up, our senses of humor with us. Or something.
This year I get a pink Le Clic camera. I immediately load a disc of film into the back of the plastic case, delighting in its slippery newness.
My sister gets a blue Le Clic because Mom insists on getting us matching presents. Celine gets blue because she refuses anything not blue. She owns blue, as if that's possible. I get whatever other color there is because I'm not particular, only that's not quite it.
Mom doesn't have to tell us to open our gifts at the same time anymore; we've learned for ourselves the lesson of a spoiled surprise. There are few surprises these days anyway, since Celine and I are both relentless and clever about guessing our presents. Sometimes Mom just laughs at our pre-Christmas antics. Sometimes she get truly angry. This year she is more angry than amused.
I start first grade and feel apprehensive. I don't know that word yet, but I know what it means. My mother's ʻōpū swells around the baby she's carrying and I don't know if I want to be happy. I'm too big for her to carry now, she tells me. But I know it's actually because of the baby.
My cousin Candace asks me if I'm excited to be a big sister and I shrug.
"Well," I tell her plaintively, "I guess I won't be the baby anymore."
Mommy said I have some time to get used to the idea. It's only September and the baby won't be here until right before Christmas. She seems excited about it.
After breakfast we pile into the car and drive to the Pay 'n Save at the bottom of the hill. If it was just me and Celine, we'd have walked down, maybe stop at the Goodie Korner for some Haw Flakes on the way home. But it is the day after Thanksgiving and there is a tree to be had, so Mom and Dad tell us to get in the car.
We are on our way, talk show hosts telling us all about the commute we're already fighting. Perry and Price in the morning. Michael W. Perry is my boyfriend, which means he is a man I know of who I think is handsome. Charles Bronson is my mother's boyfriend. So is Richard Chamberlain, though we argue over him.
We are in the bend towards the Wilson tunnel, in a race between traffic and the next song. Once we slip into the tunnel, we'll lose the AM radio signal. My sister and I hope they don't play Menudo while we're inside.
"Mom, what do I write here?" I pointed to the line on the emergency contact form, blinking back tears I didn't want her to see.
She glanced at the rectangular card. "Retired," she said impatiently. I wrote the word in tiny, smushed together letters.
I felt a strange heat in my cheeks as I continued filling out the form, the rest of the information second nature by then. I wrote Supervisor in the space asking for my mom's occupation, directly under my dad's new title. Wrote the phone number for my cousin's flower shop on Castle Street.
Today would have been my dad's 70th birthday, so I wanted to share a little bit of him. Happy birthday, Dad.
"My turn, my turn!" I called as I stretched my arms out towards him. He took my tiny hands in his strong, huge ones and pulled me up. My feet left the carpet, landing on his shins. I walked up over his knees and thighs, making their way to the round belly that became my springboard. Then, my hands still held tight in his, I launched myself from his sturdy torso, flipping over to land back on the carpet with a thud.
It's a long way from the dunes to the shore, and I laugh at myself for the weepy anticipation that grows with nearly every step. It's been years since I've seen the Pacific and I am all caught up in the moment.
Mom taped up another box and laughed. "Kona luggage," she said again, as if had ever been funny. But nobody told her to stop, because at least she was smiling.
She got an offer on the house barely two weeks after it was put on the market, and we were moving. It was time, she said. She seemed so excited.
From our all-girls school on Waialae Avenue, my sister and I would catch the number one to King Street, and wait for Dad to finish up his day at the Bureau of Conveyances. Set behind Honolulu Hale (City Hall) and across the street from the Capitol building, the Bureau was surrounded by expansive green lawns and tall, leafy trees that cast circles of shade against the steady tropical sunshine.
It was next best thing to having a backyard of our own.
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