I will never forget my first time on Maui.  I had flown seventeen hours west and into a sun melting into the Pacific.  It was night when I landed and I stepped off the plane full of anticipation.  The airport was open air, and immediately I was overwhelmed by the smells of tropical flora and warm overly lush air on my skin.  A lei of  tuber-roses and roses was draped about me and a Guinness was waiting in the car.  To this day tuber-roses are still my favorite flowers, I wish I could describe their heady perfume.  We drove west on a road that hugged the ocean.  The moon was full and all I could see in the darkness was water etched with silver moonlight on the left, and high red cliffs to the right.  Eventually we drove through pineapple fields and up the mountain to a tiny wooden hut on a cliff.  The little Bali hut had a high domed round roof of metal, with woven palm frond underneath.  The floor was wood and there were windows all the way around, blue stained glass.   Red mosquito netting hung down from the ceiling onto a bed covered with Indonesian quilts. The french doors led to a wooden lanai, covered with tropical plants, bamboo, banana trees and plumeria that grew right up unto the cliff edge.  The moon glittered on every leaf and blade of grass, and gleaming on the wood.

I awoke the next morning to a flock of Myna birds singing from the forest.  I walked down a red dirt road and out of a gate guarded by giant Indonesian statutes.  Before me was the most beautiful view I’d ever seen in my life.  Red clay dirt and pineapple plants stretching over hills and down the mountain.  A panorama of the ocean and the island of Molokai, the sunlight hiding in and out of deep grooves created in ancient times by lavaflow.  It was like Dorothy stepping out of black and white and into technicolor Oz.

The man who brought me to this place was mostly silent.  He drifted away into his books and off on his surfboard.  I had come to stay for a month during my summer break and spent most of the time alone.  I spent my days reading, drawing, writing and painting.  I had never felt more peaceful in my life.  The tropical shores I had landed on were a balm to my soul.  I had fallen in love with Maui, and I knew that I had to come back.

I eventually went back to Florida.  I spent the rest of the summer working on various archaeology projects and then became busy with work and school.  But my heart was still in Maui.  So I bought a one-way ticket.  I would leave on New Years and arrive on New Years day.  Everyone asked me how I would pull this off.  “Hawaii is so expensive”.  “You’ll be so far away–we won’t be able to help you out there.”  “You don’t know anyone out there–you’ll be living with strangers.”  I was doing a semester that included two pre-med classes, Osteology and Biostatistics.  The classes were hard.  At midnight it was normal for classmates to be calling each other for help for a particularly thorny problem.  Null hypothesis.  P-value. Multiple linear regression models.  I spent 20+ hours in the lab every week with classmates looking at old bones and analyzing skeletons.  I would awake in the night feeling sick.  Night time is always when my doubts attack me.  In the silence of the dark, its impossible to not hear that inner-voice.  I was afraid that I was making the biggest mistake of my life.

Finally December rolled around and it was time.  I would fly into San Diego and spend a few days with my best friend Lola before jumping off into the unknown.  I had finally found a place to live.  I would rent a bedroom in a 4 bedroom house in Kahana and share it with another man and woman.  The man told me that they were looking forward to meeting me and he would pick me up at the airport.  My flight left at 4 a.m., I would fly to San Francisco before connecting to Kahului, Maui.  I chanced checking my email one last time before leaving for the airport.  An email from the man.  Apparently he just notified the female roommate of my imminent arrival, and she wasn’t happy being the last to know.  I felt panicked.  I was already stepping into an awkward situation.  I had never really had roommates, and have always jealously guarded my privacy.  The move to Hawaii was suppose to bring me out of my box and force me into uncomfortable situations.  “Well”, I thought, “here goes nothing.”

The first month there was incredibly hard and exhilarating all at once.  I had transferred my job, so I had at least one thing I could count on.  I was borrowing one of my roommates cars until I purchased my own.  The situation quickly became weirder and weirder with my roommates.  He was a strange man whose personality screamed circus freak show.  She was a money-grubbing professional girlfriend.  It became apparent that they weren’t just roommates, although they didn’t seem to have a physical relationship, she was allowing him to cover all her expenses.  The house was fraught with tension and although I was incredibly stressed, I was surrounded by beauty.  The wind coming down the mountain, the misty rain and endless rainbows on the ocean, whale calves playing in Napili bay.

I scoured the papers for another place to rent and a car.  Everything seemed out of my price range or sketchy.  The cars were all manual, which I had never learned.  Finally I broke down and bought a car that was manual, I taught myself in one day and drove myself home.  A few days later I saw an ad in the paper for a house with “female only” occupants.  I called in desperation.  I thought I was going to have to move back after only 1 month.  The man who answered tried to put off my interview for a few days, there were 11 people who were interested.  I begged him to see me that afternoon.  He was incredibly sweet and owned the house but only rented to girls.  We clicked immediately.  I had found a safe place, I moved the next day.  The house was in downtown Lahaina and a block away from the ocean.  I occupied the garage “studio” and shared the house with 4 other girls.  The house was an old hawaiian plantation house with wooden floors, a retro kitchen and an amazing backyard with giant avocado and mango trees.  I started working in an art gallery.  Life became easy and sweet.  The days passed, full of mellow sunlight and friendship.  My best friend Kate left Florida and joined me in the house.  There were many adventures to Paia, Haiku and Iao Valley.  We hiked up mountains, crossed icy streams, and ate strawberry guavas off the trees.  We explored Buddhist temples and walked the beaches.  There was no worries, no hardship and no responsibility.

They have a saying in Maui that I wasn’t aware of until I had been there about 6 months.  They say that the island either wants you or doesn’t.  If the island spirits don’t accept you then you can’t stay.  I had seen it myself.  There were several people I had known who had visited the island over and over again and for some reason or another had to leave after a few weeks.  They say that the Night Marchers, huaka‘i po, still roam.  On some nights when the surf is high and the mist closes in you can hear the spirit drums.

I was tested and found worthy.  I experienced the most beautiful year of my life, but things seemed too easy and home was calling.  I had family obligations and felt that I should go further academically.  People again questioned me.  “How can you leave this place.”  “You’re making a mistake.”

The following year was hard.  Heartbreaking.  Everything seemed twice as hard.  I was disappointed in someone I trusted, and he broke my heart.  I lost two dogs and I didn’t get into any of the graduate programs I applied to.  I began to question everything about myself and the direction that my life should go.  Do I give up on all academic aspirations and ‘grow-up’, find a ‘real’ job or continue to struggle for the dream?

I sat in my apartment looking out an old window, chipped paint on the frame.  I’ve always loved old buildings.  They have room for imagination, history.  Things have happened here.  People have loved, fought and been born under this roof.  A little imperfect but romantic, just like me.  I like the flaws.

I never thought I’d love the South.  It’s a different world down here.  A land of Spanish moss, laurel oaks and liquor, old-fashioned manners and plain speak.  Tall tales out on the porch, hammocks and Fat Tuesday, twisted literature and women with tempers–I could go on and on.

So many people asked me how I could come back to this.

I was driving down the road today.  I saw pine scrub and sand, run-down houses and men sitting on chairs outside their front doors, streets that seem somewhat faded.  U2’s “Streets with No Name” was on the radio.  Imperfect but romantic.


2 Responses

  1. You could tackle anything darling! And I am so very glad you came back to the South. No matter where your road takes you next, I’m privilaged for having met you. 🙂

  2. Brandy, that was beautiful and it made me completely homesick and long for Florida (or the south). Those are some of the exact reasons I miss that damn place!

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