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Authors: Hanya Yanagihara

To Paradise (41 page)

BOOK: To Paradise
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The day before, you said to me, “What time are we leaving?” And, when I didn’t answer you, “Da. Camp starts at eight tomorrow morning.”

“Talk to Paiea,” I finally said, in a voice I didn’t recognize.

You stared at me, disbelief on your face, and then got up and hurried over to Paiea. “Paiea,” I heard you say, “when are we leaving? I have camp tomorrow!”

“You’re not going to camp,” Edward said, calmly.

“What do you mean?” you asked, and, before he could answer, “Edward—I mean, Paiea—what do you mean?”

Oh, how we both wished Edward were teasing, were capable of teasing. But although I knew he was not, I never believed, truly believed, until it was too late, that he would always do exactly what he said he was going to do—yet he was the least secretive person I knew, the least conniving. What he said he was going to do was what he did.

“You’re not going,” he repeated. “You’re staying here.”


Here?
” you asked. “Where?”

“Here,” he said. “At Lipo-wao-nahele.”

“But that’s make-believe!” you cried, and then, turning to me, “Da! Da!” But I didn’t say anything, I couldn’t, and you didn’t try harder with me—you knew I would be of no use, of no help—before swiveling back to Edward. “I want to go home,” you said, and then, when he too didn’t respond, your voice took on a hysterical edge. “I want to go home. I want to go home!”

You ran to the car, you got in the driver’s seat, you began to pound on the horn, which made sharp little bleats. “Take me home!” you yelled, and by that time you were crying. “Da! Da! Edward! Take me home!”
Honk, honk, honk.
“Tutu!” you shouted, as if your grandmother might emerge from one of the tents, “Jane! Matthew! Help me! Help me! Take me home!”

Another man would have laughed at you, but he didn’t—the one good thing about his lack of humor was that he wasn’t a humiliator; he took you seriously in his own way. He simply let you yell and shout for a few minutes, until you slumped out of the car, exhausted and crying, and then he picked himself up from beneath the acacia and came and sat down next to you, and you sagged against him, despite yourself.

“It’s okay,” I heard him say to you, and he put his arm around you and began stroking your hair. “It’s okay. You’re home, little prince. You’re home.”


What did you think of Edward? I never asked you, because I never wanted to know the answer, and anyway, it would have been a strange and impossible question for a parent to ask his child: What do you think of my friend? But now we’re both adults, and I can ask: What did you think?

I’m still afraid of the answer. You knew, knew long before I did, that there was something to fear in him, something to not trust. Even as a very little child, you would look from your grandmother to me to your uncle Edward on the occasions he stayed for supper,
and although you were unable to articulate the tension between us all, of course you could sense it. You saw how silent I grew around him, you saw how I waited for permission to speak before I said anything in his presence. Once, when you were around ten, we were spending the day by the beach at Lipo-wao-nahele. It was late afternoon, almost time for us to leave, and I asked Edward if I could go relieve myself first. “Yes,” he said, and I did. It was unremarkable to me—I asked him whether I could do things all the time: Could I eat? Could I have seconds? Could I go home? The only things I didn’t ask him were things that involved you—and it wasn’t until I was tucking you into bed that night that you asked me why I hadn’t just gone, why I had needed permission. It wasn’t like that, I tried to tell you, but then I couldn’t explain why it wasn’t, why you were wrong, why I hadn’t just gotten up and gone when I had wanted to—when I had needed to. It is a terrible thing for a child to have to realize that their parent is weak, too weak to protect them. Some children react with scorn, and some—as you did then—with sympathy. I believe it was then that you realized that you were no longer a child, that you had to protect me, that I needed your help. It was when you realized that you would have to figure things out on your own.

Sometimes Edward would give you lectures, clumsy versions of the ones Bethesda had given us. He would try for Bethesda’s poetry, his sense of rhythm, but aside from a few borrowed lines, which he repeated as punctuation—“America is a country with sin at its heart”—he was incapable, and his attempts were disjointed and repetitive, dull and circular. I would hear myself thinking this and feel guilty for my betrayal, though I never said it aloud, never said it to you. “No land is owned land,” Edward would say to you, forgetting, or perhaps ignoring, the fact of Lipo-wao-nahele, whose ownership was central to his fantasy of it. “You have the right to be whatever you want,” he’d say, although this too he didn’t mean—you would be a Hawaiian man, a young prince, as he called you, though he had little conception of what that meant, and neither did I. If you had said then, as you had every right to, that you wanted to grow up, marry the blondest woman you could, live in Ohio, and
manage a bank, he would have been horrified, but would he have been horrified by your choices or by your ambition? How brave you’d be, to go all the way to Ohio, to leave behind all the privileges your name guaranteed you, to go where you might as well be Prince Woogawooga, foreign and laughable, your status vanished as soon as you climbed into your little coconut-tree canoe and pushed off the sandy shore of Ooga-ooga!

His idea of what Hawai

i was, what we were as Hawaiians, was so shallow that, of all the things I am ashamed of today, it is that which affects me the most. Not the fact of it but that I blinded myself to it, that I allowed him to play, and that I sacrificed our lives for that play. All those years he tried to teach you Hawaiian, using an old primer stolen from the university library—you never learned, because he never learned. His lessons about Hawaiian history too were mostly invented, projections of what he hoped had happened rather than what actually had. “We are a land of kings and queens and princes and princesses,” he would say to you, but the truth was that there were only two princes on our land, and they were you and I, and that you cannot have a land full of royalty, because royalty needs people to revere them, or they cease to be royalty.

I would hear him give you these lectures and I would be unable to stop them. With each day, I felt myself less capable of undoing what I had allowed to happen. It was as if I had been delivered to Lipo-wao-nahele—I had not chosen to come there; I had been deposited there, as though some wind had blown me across the island and dropped me beneath the acacia tree. My life, where I lived, had become foreign to me.

It was the Sunday after I had failed to take you to robotics camp that we heard the car. We heard it, and then we saw it, jogging along the stony road. You had spent the last three days stunned by what had happened to you: On Thursday, the day you were to be at robotics camp, you had woken to find yourself still at Lipo-wao-nahele—I think you had hoped that it might be a dream, that you might wake up in your bed at your grandmother’s house—and had flung yourself down upon the ground and sobbed, actually striking your arms and legs against the earth like a parody of a temper tantrum. “Kawika,”
I had said, creeping toward you (Edward was walking along the beach), “Kawika, it’ll be okay.”

Then you had sat abruptly upright, your face wet. “How will it be okay?” you had shouted. “Huh? How?”

I had sat back on my heels. “I don’t know,” I’d had to admit.

“Of
course
you don’t know,” you’d snarled. “You don’t know
anything
. You never do.” And then you had returned to crying, and I had crept away. I didn’t blame you. How could I? You were right.

On Friday and Saturday, you lapsed into a silence. You wouldn’t leave the tent, not even to eat. I was worried about you, but Edward was not. “Leave him alone,” he said. “He’ll come out eventually.”

But you didn’t. And so, when the car arrived, you were slow to emerge from the tent, blinking in the sun and staring at it like it was a hallucination. It was only when Uncle William got out from behind the wheel that you gave a weak, animal cry, a kind I’d never heard from you before, and began running toward him, wobbly from dehydration and hunger.

He hadn’t come alone. Your grandmother was in the passenger seat, and Jane and Matthew, looking scared, were in the back. It was your grandmother who took you, pushing you behind her and standing between you and Edward as if he might reach out and hit you. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, I don’t know what you’re doing,” she said. “But I am taking my grandson, and I’m leaving with him.”

Edward had shrugged. “I don’t think that’s really up to you, lady,” he said, and I had stepped backward, despite myself.
Lady.
I had never heard my mother addressed so disrespectfully. “It’s up to your son.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Mr. Bishop,” she said, and to you, more gently: “Get in the car, Kawika.”

But you wouldn’t. Instead you looked around her, at me. “Da?” you asked.

“Kawika,” she said, “get in the car. Now.”

“No,” you said. “Not without him.”
Him:
You meant me.

“For heaven’s sakes, Kawika,” she said, impatient. “He doesn’t want to come.”

“Yes, he does,” you’d insisted. “He doesn’t want to be here, do you, Da? Come home with us.”

“This is his land,” Edward said. “Pure land. Hawaiian land. He’ll stay.”

They began to argue, Edward and your grandmother, and I turned my face to the sky, which was white and hot, too hot for May. They seemed to have forgotten that I existed, that I was standing there, a distance from both of them, the third point in the triangle. But I was no longer listening to them, to Edward’s pablum or your grandmother’s commands; instead, I was looking at Uncle William and Jane and Matthew, the three of them staring not just at the three of us but at the land itself. I saw them noticing the tents, the blue plastic tarp, the cardboard boxes. It had rained two nights before, and the wind had made one side of the tent you and I shared collapse, so that when I slept beneath it, the nylon covered me like a shroud. Our boxes were still damp, and the contents of them—our clothes and your books—were scattered across the field to dry; it appeared as if a bomb had exploded and everything had been tossed about. The tarp was muddy; from the acacia tree hung a dozen plastic bags containing our food supplies, protecting them from the ants and the mongoose. I saw what they were seeing: an unremarkable piece of scrubby land littered with ugly debris—plastic bottles and broken plastic forks, the tarp rustling in the breeze. Lipo-wao-nahele, but we had planted no trees, and the ones that were already there we were using as furniture. The place was now worse than unloved; it was degraded, and it was Edward and I who had degraded it.

They took you away that day. They tried to have me declared incompetent. They tried to declare me an unfit parent. They tried to take away my trust. I say “they,” because Uncle William was the one who was dispatched to (discreetly) talk to someone at Child Protective Services and then to consult an old law-school classmate of his, now a Family Court judge, but I really mean not “they” but “she”: your grandmother.

I cannot blame her now, and I couldn’t then, either. I knew that what I was doing was wrong. I knew that you should stay where you were, that there was no life for you at Lipo-wao-nahele. So why
did I let it happen? How could I let it happen? I could tell you that it was because I wanted to share something with you, something that—rightly or wrongly—I had created for us, a realm in which I made decisions for you that I thought might help you in some way, that might enrich you in some way. But that would be untrue. Or I could tell you that it was because I had initially had hopes for Lipo-wao-nahele, for the life we might have there, and that I had been surprised when those hopes were unfulfilled. But that would be untrue as well.

The truth is neither of those things. The truth is far more pathetic. The truth is that I had simply followed someone, and I had surrendered my own life to somebody else, and that, in surrendering mine, I had surrendered yours, too. And that, once I had done so, I didn’t know how to fix what I had done, I didn’t know how to make it right. The truth is that I was weak. The truth is that I was incapable. The truth is that I gave up. The truth is that I gave you up, too.


By fall, we had come to an agreement. I would get to see you two weekends a month at Lipo-wao-nahele, but only if proper accommodations were built for you. You would otherwise reside full-time with your grandmother. If I challenged this in any way, I would be committed. Edward had raged about this, but there was nothing I could do; my mother was still able to circumvent certain processes, and we both understood that if there were a fight between us I would lose—I would lose you, and I would lose my freedom. Though I suppose, by that point, I had already lost both.

My mother came to talk to me just once more, shortly after we had both signed the agreement. It was November, a week or so before Thanksgiving—I was still trying to keep track of the days then. I hadn’t known she was coming. For the past week, a crew of carpenters had been building what would be a small house on the northern edge of the property, in the shadow of the mountain. There would be a room for me, a room for Edward, and a room for you, but furnishings would be provided only for your room. This was not an act of meanness—it had been Edward who had refused
Uncle William’s offer, telling him we would sleep outside on lauhala mats.

“I don’t care where you sleep, as long as you sleep inside when the boy’s here,” Uncle William had said.

Our experiment was being tested, Edward said; we must not surrender. We would continue to live as our ancestors once had when you weren’t with us. When you
were
here, food would be delivered and we would eat it, but when you weren’t, we would catch or forage only, and we would cook it over a fire. We would grow our own taro and sweet potatoes; it was my responsibility to muck out the trench I had dug for our feces and to use it to fertilize our plants. The phone, which had been installed at great expense—there were no telephone lines in the area—would be unplugged once you left; the electricity, which Uncle William had somehow arranged with the state, would go unused. “Don’t you see they’re trying to break us?” he had asked. “Don’t you see this is a test, a way for them to find out how passionate we are?”

BOOK: To Paradise
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