Hale Koa

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         When I visited Hawaii just last year, I felt like I was returning back to all that was sweet. On the plane, I sat on the window seat. I edged over my arm rest to try and catch a glimpse of the coast of Waikiki. The clouds were too dense to permit me a view, but the blue sky outside indicated to me that we were near.  A little girl and her grandma sat on the outer seats from me. While I peered out my window, she watched me become enamored with the great white fields of clouds.
            “Enjoying the view?” she asked me.
            “Yes. I don’t see anything yet, but I sense that there’s something beyond those clouds,” I replied.
            “You talk funny!”
            I smirked the smirk of an adult. I knew exactly what she meant.
            “Is this your first time visiting?” I asked her.
            “No. I visited last year with my parents and grandma.”
            I looked over to her grandma in the aisle seat. Before we took off in Anchorage, I let her have the aisle seat. Her eyes were loosely shut as if she were on the cusp of a dream. She wore a purple and pink floral sundress, preparing for the sunny afternoon that we would arrive in. I imagined she dreamt of nothing but the clear blue water and coconuts filled with her favorite cocktail.
            “What do you want to do when you visit?”  
            “Probably just sit on the beach and let the warm sand run through my toes,” she replied. “I like the way warm sands slip through your toes.”
            “That sounds great! I’m here to visit a friend of mine,” I emphasized.
            I made sure to tell her that, because telling a child I had a girlfriend probably made him or her think I had cooties.
            “That’s very nice of you,” she said. “I wish my friends could come to.
For another hour or so, the little girl and I talked about where we were from. I leaned in closer to her as she talked, because the jet noise drowned out our conversation. She lived in near Anchorage, loved country music, and dreamed of riding horses. Her favorite color must have been purple, because her glasses and shirt were that color. She went to a private school, which meant that she probably could have afforded to ride a horse. 
           I told her I was from Ketchikan, hated country music, and dreamed of surfing waves. Although I had never surfed in my life, I couldn’t have now. When I was a child, I ruptured my own eardrum swimming in the water that prevented me all my life. Because of that, I lost 70 percent of my hearing in the right ear.  
          “I hadn’t swum since I lived in Hawaii” I revealed to her.
          “That’s a shame. Swimming is fun!” 
            Eventually the small talk died down between the two of us. When her grandma woke up, the little girl talked to her. Not feeling my legs, I stretched them. I yawned, scratched my head, and closed my eyes for a bit. That is until a great hue of red flashed across my closed eyelids. I felt an extraordinary warmth on my face. I peered out, and saw blue below. Outside the window floated the island of O’ahu in all its glory. Fields with massive rivulets meandered popped out of the land like a 3D image. Sooner or later, the coast of Waikiki came into my vision. From the corner of my eyes, I could see that the little girl watched me, knowing that it was a sight that I had been waiting to see once again.

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           The sight of the coast brought me back to 2001, when I was a short 4th grader on a beach in Waikiki. I was with my mom, dad, brother, and sister. We just arrived at the beach on a glorious Saturday morning. Tall palm trees as skinny as the girls in their bikinis stretched their green leaves, providing shade for people at the beach. Floral print towels, the smell of sunscreen, the bright yellow and white shimmers in the ocean. I could feel the eastern winds brush my chubby cheeks. It was going to be fine day. 
          Once I advanced closer to the ocean, I saw my friend Jay and his parents already lounged on the beige sands. He had recently been introduced to his baby brother that was born just a few months ago. His mother nestled him in her arms. His dad wasn’t around. He was on duty on an island in the Atlantic doing who knows what. He was no longer the only child. I walked up to him and gave him a high five.
         Although my family and his were in a touristy part of the island, I hardly noticed anybody around except my own self. But when you’re a child, you’re hardly aware of what’s around you. In Waikiki, a place known for its large crowds of tourism, there are many hotels near the beach that are lined up. This arrangement provided the tourists a view of the sun going down to the western hemisphere. With my family and the hundreds of tourists roaming barefooted, it really was a crowded that day. 
         I wove through the tourists with my friend. he was full of energy just like me. We were both the same height and prided ourselves at being extremely talented at playing basketball. Sometimes when I would play him at his house, I would win. I never won often, but it felt good to beat him at his own game. Racing each other, we ran from our parents to head over to the local ice cream shop, a delicacy known for its ice cream.
        I dug in my pocket of my still-dry border shorts. The gloss of the fabric shined under the sun, making the orange flowers look like tangerines. I felt four quarters in my fingers. I had enough for an ice cream cone I thought. Jay carried bills that his parents gave him, not knowing that later on his change would be soaked. I asked the lady from behind the counter for a green ice cream cone. It was my favorite flavor, a vanilla ice cream with green swirls flavored like lime. He gets a blue one, but it doesn’t taste anything like blueberries. I lick my cone, making sure I don’t waste one single drip. We returned to the beach with our cones and ate the ice cream as if it were our last one. 
       As I sat on the berm of the beach, I dug my feet into the warm white sand. I felt the warm sand slip between my toes like sand in an hour glass. It felt great. My fat toes pointed up to the sky like a hitchiker’s thumb.

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           When I finished sitting in the sun, I took my hat and sunglasses off. I threw off my tank top and ran towards the shallow end of the current. I plunged into the ocean like a scuba diver. Before I went in, the ocean glimmered, shining into my eye and leaving a blare of white light when I closed my eyes. The water shocked me to my nerves. I shivered a little bit, but bared the tingling sensation. It was cold, but refreshing in the 80 degree weather. I held my breath underneath with eyes closed, feeling the bubbles from my nose emerge to the surface. After trying to hold my breath forever, I popped out of the water with eyes still closed. The water in my hair dropped down to my body, soaking my once glossy shorts in the process. The white light in my eyes turned into a red hue. I opened them and was enveloped by rays of sunshine. 
         I splashed the water at Jay and he splashed back. I crawled out of the water towards where my parents sat at. I lied on my green towel as grains of sand stuck to my soaked brown skin. 

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         But the truth was, I wasn’t there to swim in the ocean. The ocean was just a warm up. I was there for the Hale Koa. At the Hale Koa, many military families vacationed there. It was known for its cheap rates, which garnered lots of attention from mainlanders. Although locals looked down on them, I saw myself in a lot of them. They probably enjoyed their time at the Hale Koa, because they moved around a lot. At the Hale Koa, people had the opportunity to stop time. They had the opportunity to sit around and soak up the dream of not moving, or not dealing with their superior officers, or not having to pack up trucks filled with their homes. 
        Once, I saw my childhood crush at the Hale Koa. Her name was Sierra. I went to elementary school with her at Hickam, an Army base that connected to the more well-known Naval base Pearl Harbor. She had a smile that was missing one of her two front teeth. The last time I saw her at the Hale Koa, I waved at her and she ran away. It was only fair that she ran away, because she once tried waving at me at school. She was with her friends at the hopscotch station. I blushed, flushing with an extreme embarrassment and ran towards the kickball field to kick my frustration out on red rubber balls. 
        The best part about the Hale Koa was the pool. I don’t know what it was about it. Thinking about it now makes me realize that it must have been a pool filled with pee, spit, and filth. But before, I was never concerned with how dirty the pool was. No amount of pee was going to prevent me from diving in. In fact, I peed a lot in the pool too. There, I admitted it. Strangely enough, with the rules and reality of the pool that could have restricted me from having fun, I couldn’t care less. I was unbound.
        From where I sat on the beach, I could tell that the ocean was clearer than earlier. Clouds shifted a bit to the east, giving room for the sun to penetrate the ocean blue with its yellow rays. It was now midday. Our parents brought out the food they made the night before – rice, lumpia, and spam musubi. The taste of soy sauce melts on my tongue. “Yummy!” I muttered with rice all over my lips. After I finished, my parents told me to wait 30 minutes or so before swimming again. I crossed my arms and turned my head. Jay did the same. 
For a couple of minutes, I sat there in silence. I let the rice on my lips stay on my mouth. My mom tried wiping it off, but I turned my head away from her. 
            “Okay, you can . . .” my mother says. Before she says “go” I darted towards the Hale Koa. Jay dropped his musubi and followed me. 

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            I ran on the stone slabs with my bare feet. The sun had lit them to make sure they sizzle my soles. The slabs rid of the sand particles that were stuck to my feet, drying them in the process. I also felt the wet footprints of other children eventually. I must be closer I thought. Just over the bridge, I saw shrouds of coconut trees. I noticed that there weren’t any coconuts in them. Underneath them, a big sign that read “POOL (I.D. REQUIRED” came into my vision. I smelt the chlorine and basked in it as if it were the perfume of familiarity. 
Before entering, the guard asked to see my military ID. I pulled mine out. I handed it to him and he observed it from beyond his shades. I imagined if he took off his sunglasses, it would had been whiter than the rest of his tanned body. On my ID, my face was chubby. It was physical proof that I loved sweets. My hair was cut like a marine. I wore a facial expression that looked like a squarish frown. When I think about it now, it makes me laugh.
         Flipping it over, he handed it back to me. He motioned a thumbs up to me. Jay gave his ID to the lifeguard after me. Without waiting for him, I slowed down as I approached the pool. I tested the ground around its circumference to see if it is slippery. The footprints had dried up. 
        Backing up a little further, I crouched just a little bit. I wound up and picked up speed, launching myself into the air as if I were a catapulted rock. I cannonballed into the mid-shallow end. The impact wet the dried up spots once again. The girls hollered. I opened my eyes underneath, and I see a blurred vision of legs kicking around to stay afloat. The clearest thing I see are my hands, my body and most especially my big fat toes.

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Prompt: The thoughts of an Introvert

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I raised my hand. With a response on the cusp on my lips, I heard my professor call a different name. The girl behind me raised her hand higher. I dropped my hand and pretended to scratch my ear as if it was really itchy in the first place. 

My instructor dismissed our class when the intro-discussion on Medieval age ended. I never studied it before, but a lot of it involved people cutting into each other’s lives. A lot of white people murdering each other, having sex with each other’s wives and husbands, and mystical creatures shapeshifting beautiful people into ugly hags. It sounded a lot like the stuff I watched on television. 

I intentionally packed my bags as fast as I could, making sure to clasp the side-release buckle on my bag as swiftly and quietly as possible. The buckle pinched my finger. I shook it, eliminating whatever pain I feel. Some students that already left the classroom stood by the elevator outside, interacting with each other about their plans for the week. They were enveloped in their conversation. I strolled past them to take the fire exit stairs. I whistled some random notes of some song I made up at the moment and they echoed in the staircase. 

When I arrived at my next class, I opened the door and plenty of eyes stared at me. There were brown and green and blue and hazel ones.They probably expected the professor I thought. After all, no matter how bad or a good one was, professors had the ability to keep students at the edge of their seats. Disappointed in the fact that I wasn’t there to teach, my classmates reverted their eyes back to their pixelated cellphone screens. 

(I wore a red and gray striped sweater in the sea of glum faces and black-and-gray clothing combinations. If I were Waldo’s student, he would be pissed at me for sticking out like a thumb.)

I chose a seat at the front of the classroom. I always liked the front because I heard somewhere that you were more than likely to get a better grade if you sat in the front. This meant your focus would be imperative. Front, back, side – it didn’t matter. I knew I was smart as a whip, but I also knew that most of the seats in the back were already taken or reserved. It’s like being on the subway: you either stand the whole ride or you sit right next to the bearded man with smelly fingers. The front would work for now. Considering the fact that I was studying poetry for this class, I needed to focus more than usual. 

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I had trouble focusing, because there were so many more things interesting than studying poetry itself. Take for instance: the people in the class. At one moment after I arrived, a lanky man walked through the door with the confidence of a racehorse. He wore an herringbone overcoat and a bowler hat made of wool. When students thought that he was going to stand at the front and address us, he took a seat.  Looks could be deceiving. 

It’s tough to focus with a view of the window from my desk, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was like outside. The tree scratching at the surface of the window pane sounded way more depressing than Poe when he talked about dead pallid women. When trees swayed, they swayed with the winter winds. When they stood still, they were enveloped by sun rays. When they were naked in the hue of red and orange, autumn probably arrived. It must be lonely to be tree in the city.

I slouched in my chair, toying around with my pen as if I were in my room. The professor eventually entered the room. “Hey class,” he says. “How y’all doing?” He must be from the South.

I straightened my posture a bit and opened the pages to my notebook. He asked us to introduce ourselves, tell him a little bit about ourselves and what we studied.

What was something interesting I could tell the class? I thought about all the adventures I’ve had. I’ve lived in many countries before. Maybe I could say that I’ve climbed Deer Mountain in Alaska and camped atop of it during the Summer Solstice. Perhaps I could tell everyone that my first kiss was in Italy. Or I might let them know that I worked as an elementary school librarian in South Korea.

“What’s your name?” the professor asked.

“Kris. I’m an English major. Don’t know when I’m going to graduate.”

“Name one interesting thing about yourself, Kris.”

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“Interesting? Well, I went to Vegas this Christmas break. Got addicted to craps. And it was pretty fun” I replied unconsciously. 

Silence pervaded the room. No responses or laughter. Is that a sweat bead on my forehead? Too much of a gamble I thought. Now everyone thinks I’m a lying douchebag. 

I stretched my legs and I put my hands in my pocket. They were the same pants that I hadn’t washed since that rooftop party at Caesar’s Palace.

Class continued with twenty more other people introducing their own selves.I tried to listen to each and every person, but it proved hard because there were just too many people to remember. It honestly didn’t matter because half of them were going to drop the class anyway, and I was right. A week later, the classroom looked less like the express train on a Monday morning. 

The last class that day was certainly not too memorable.

As an icebreaker I was supposed to write about a book that had affected me in my life. While I listened to most people talk about their lives, rambling on about why and how the book changed their life, class time was running out. I was one of the final people to speak. Everyone had already clocked out mentally, because class was about to end. I told everyone about a book that changed my life. The response was the same as the previous class. Now everybody thinks I’m a pretentious douchebag. 

You probably already know that I took the train back, so no need to explain that too much. Everyone takes a train every now and again, but in the city only those that need to get to point B.  The only feeling that I felt on the commute back was invisible. But who doesn’t feel invisible these days? Well, to me that ain’t so much a rhetorical question. It’s pretty clear why I would feel invisible, but I wouldn’t burden you the time to tell you why. Just know that I’m listening. 

I walked out the first day that semester feeling invisible. Yeah, invisible is the right word. Too many times can I recall what it means. According to some racial studies classes, my place in society is at the back of the line. I’m the unwanted presence outside of the discussion circle.  But let us not resort to the easiness of a race argument. Let’s make it about my own experience.

It harkens back too many times when I was a new kid. I always have been the new kid, and so many of you too have felt this way.

Hell, I recall the times in high school when I sat in the library with a book in my hand. During lunch, barely anybody went to the library. Yet, when someone would walk past me, I would pretend to be reading the most sophisticated book I could possibly find on the shelves. I would furrow my eyebrows, rub my chin, and clear my throat. “The Sun Also Rises” is first book that I tried to read. It’s the one book that I never read, yet told everybody to read after that day. The librarian, a man with neatly combed and curly hair, told me the writer’s prose was terse and straightforward. I connected with terse and straightforward. It was what I was all about.

That time I became a Librarian

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Although I moved to Korea, I grew into a slump. It must have been the fact that I spent a month in a hotel room as if I were Bob Harris. I wished I was on a trip towards self discovery, but I really was lost in translation.

I found myself taking online courses that alienated me from the prospect of human interaction. The crazy part was that this was self voluntary. I had the option to take physical classes on the military base a bus commute away, but I told myself “I didn’t need any friends. I’ve lost too many of them already.”

 I thought that I escaped the question mark that was the future. I thought I would avoid the troubles of a postindustrial economy in America. However, I was still adrift in a metropolis in the Far East. Unemployed, not having enough “experience,” and not having many friends, I was wondering how the hell I was going to get back to fighting shape.

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As a result of this slump I began to read more. I picked up novels that I only got halfway through in the past. Books like Catcher in the Rye or The Sun Also Rises. I took to reading almost a book every day, receiving the proper education that I needed outside the constraints of a thousand dollar tuition. I dissected a number of Eurocentrip books as well, some Satre, some Nietzche, and some Shakespeare. There was nothing more out of place than reading a bunch of dead white men’s manuscripts in an Eastern Asian country.

Because I wasn’t in America, I didn’t have to groan at the prospect of people telling me I was a hipster for reading these kinds of books. I was a foreigner once again, gobbling up American literature.

With a gym downstairs, I also made sure to keep in physical shape. I jogged for three miles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I did weights on the days between. While I exercised, I listened to musicians I have never really delved into: a little bit of Prince, some Simon and Garfunkel, and plenty of Scott Walker. This cycle went along for a good month during the winter. Winter was a period for my own deep meditation, a time to weather the snow.

When my parents asked me what I was planning to do to return back to America, they interrogated me into a state of extreme self loathing. My chance for deep meditation was disturbed by the prospect of my future. Where was I going? What have all these books been teaching me in the first place? I wasn’t even writing as much as I was supposed to either.

I retreated deeper into the books, searching for the answer. At that moment, I wished that I had spiritual guidance, a person that would lead me to the end of the yellow brick road. I needed my wise old man. As a result, I picked up Kafka on the Shore, a book no other than the Haruki Murakami.

I identified with the fifteen year old protagonist throughout the whole text. Like Kafka, I felt a strange disconnection from everyone around me – my parents included. Employers from multiple trades rejected me like an orphan asking for spare change.

After I completed the book, I felt compelled to stand in front of a mirror and give my best thousand yard gaze. There were bags under my eyes. My hair was disheveled from lying down for a while. My eyes had been glued to the page for at least a couple of days, and I needed to take a walk. Being inside was the last place I wanted to be.

I brushed my teeth. I combed my hair. I washed my face. I tossed on blue jeans, a Hofstra hoodie, and brown Wallabees. I went out the door.

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As I took a stroll onto the military base, I passed by the elementary school that my mom worked in. She had been working there ever since we moved to Seoul. She specialized in kids that were mentally challenged and needed extra patience that a normal teacher didn’t have. In other words, she was saint-like.

Passing by the school, my head went into a whirlpool. I sensed a complete flush of all the negativity from the rejection that I had been given. It must have been from all this fresh air I thought.

That’s it! I thought. That’s what I’ll be! If Kafka could do it, I’ll do it too!

On a whim, I entered into the elementary school’s front office and asked about volunteering for them. Money became the last thing on my mind. My prospect of finding a job finally went out of the window.

The front office responded with enthusiasm as they gave me paperwork to fill out. I filled out what seemed like 30 pages and handed it to the receptionist. She told me to come whenever I felt.

“Can I introduce myself to the librarians?” I asked

When I walked into the library, I noticed that it looked smaller than what I remembered as a kid. Of course, the only thing that had grown was me. I looked at my hand and imagined the size of a Harry Potter book in it then (in my small hands), and how it would look like now (still small hands).

“Hello, I’m your new volunteer. I was wondering when it would be convenient for me to come in” I asked.

“Oh, great. What’s your name?” they ask.

“Kris Santos,” I replied.

I shook their hands with great enthusiasm. The librarians responded with smiles. I exited the library with a profound hunger. It was the late afternoon, and I decided to treat myself to lunch.

*

As a few months passed, the kids came to the library and didn’t leave empty handed. They would run through the library, and I would tell them to slow down. It made no sense for them to be in a rush for anything. This one time, I sat behind the desk with a book on the counter.  “What are you reading?” a kid asked.

I looked up and responded.

 “I’m reading the story of my life!”