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Days of Fifteen

Hawaii has a tradition of ease. It’s not what I imagined, or what the advertising suggests. It is more the ease of having a low-wage part-time job, a pickup truck, a place to sleep. Work is over (pau hana) and there is time to get some beer, maybe some other things, kick back, slow down. This is a constant across socioeconomic strata, though the higher you go the more elegant and discerning is participation. Hawaii is like this all the time.

My landlady is convivial and misses her upstairs. She has had an interesting life and is happy to share. Sometimes I have the forethought to have bought a six pack or have some wine, praise Safeway. Other times we go to the preferred gas station where she knows the guy’s name for forty-ounce Kona Longboards, then return to the kitchen table to talk. The iHome speakers play Santana or They Might Be Giants from my phone and we look out at the lushness and the seawall breaking waves.

We sit like this, her after work and me after whatever I have done, the last weeks. It is a calm time. She discusses her divorce, upbringing, dislocation on going to high school on the mainland. Flow and forgiveness of others and yourself. Sometimes you have to stop to go forward. Yes, right, yes. It is calm to be here. I am happy to be here. It is not exactly right, but it is very, very close.

I have not been in this place since college. I was very careful then, deliberate and worried, never really feeling safe but needing how time halted. That’s what I remember. Now time doesn’t quite move, or not-move, that way, but it is dramatically altered: not slowed so much as broadened in all dimensions. What I most notice is that the anxiety, the little bit left I can still perceive, dissolves. It’s completely gone in a way I have to struggle to remember, but when I remember it is startling.

Cops learn early that eyewitness testimony is garbage. Science has long deflated the idea that memory works like a mechanical recorder. Memory is subjective and malleable and changes all the time. We do not remember what we think we do, and the most solid certain things, with enough time, become something very different.

These weeks I feel the very firm and certain truth of what the high of middle adolescence was like. There is a powerful but agile energy, a sense of ebullience, an unbridled sense of wonder. Around the edges I can sense the fear too, but it hangs back, shuffling. Most dominant is what I still remember of that sense of overwhelming strangeness and magic: the sure knowledge that things are happening and you are missing them, but the ones you are seeing silent in front of you are the most momentous in the world.

I suspect this is what old folks mean when they talk about the golden times of youth when things were happy. For me there is no gold but more that all the blues and greys are deep and rich and that is all–color and texture. Nothing brittle or isolating.

It takes a couple days, but I realize something very powerful about memory. If I am feeling what is the certainty of that time, of being and perceiving that age as it truly was, then my working adult basis of what those times were like must be flawed. It was not all grim anger, not all worry about school and work, not always feeling overwhelmed with the coming responsibilities adults droned on and on about. At least sometimes there was not an overwhelming sense of oppression and doom. Sometimes, it felt like this.

Those first days the feeling was strongest. It muddled later, lessening and flattening out, but it was plenty anyway. You can’t always be back in that time as an adult. Seeing adults who try are ample cautionary tales: happy and innocuous but a little too soft, a little too dirty. There are better ways to be in adulthood and not let it get you down, but I am grateful to have gone back, and really have been back, for a few nights. New memory should always be a repair.


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