First job I took after active duty was as a security guard at the Coca-Cola plant in Moanalua. It wasn’t what I lived for. Work had never been that for me or anyone I had known. What I lived for in those days, I thought, was college. I had just enrolled part-time at Honolulu CC. I might have been half a decade older than the kids sitting at the front of the room, and I might have been dumber than them, too—high school math in Panama isn’t what it is here, not even for you suburbanites who spend adolescence too drunk to apply for university—but every time I walked into that building, I felt as if I was getting payback against those predatory fuckheads who had recruited me on a promise that I’d be able to go to school while serving in the infantry. After I had spent eight weeks crawling in the mud and busting out of dryers which confederate grandsons had shoved me into and then turned on, I asked the fuckhead recruiters how I could start classes. And what did they say? Nothing. They were busy cackling. But that’s another story. The point is, I thought, and would tell Maria this during our late night phone calls, that I had finally found some kind of purpose. And that much was true. What wasn’t true: school wasn’t really it. Ass was.
This was nowhere clearer than in my spending. Maria’s income had been nominal, so when we split, I didn’t lose much. No dog food, more money, and even with the new cost of rent, you’d expect my standard of living, or at least the amount that I was sending home—same shit—to go up. But I swore, long distance calling cards got more and more expensive, and even when I did make time to call my mother, her complaints grew louder and more incessant. Julianita es la mejor en la clase con pies llenos de vejigas porque sus zapatos no le quedan, she’d say, or Renato está creciendo como futbolista, y como quisiera poder meterlo en una liga—both of which meant the same thing: wasn’t I going to send something their way again soon, or, if you want to go deep, I hadn’t forgotten about them, had I? And man, how I wanted to send more, how the heat hit my face every time my card bounced in line at Moanalua 99 with only eggs, spam, and rice in my cart. It hadn’t occurred to me that the money I spent at nightclubs was real. I saw no connection between my being broke and my clubbing.
Even my friendships were about ass. Some friends are brought together by music, others by drugs, and while those certainly brought us together too, they were only our ayahuasca— there to enhance our worship of the Ultimate Good. It was what we talked about, what we chased, and why we hung out: collectively, our individual stocks rose. The only dude in my friend group more sex-crazed than me was this salvadorian guy named Yeffrey. I met him through another buddy, Tommy, who had been in my platoon and who had met Yeffrey I don’t know where. Tommy and I had been tight until I found out that Maria was fucking him, along with some other dudes in the barracks, and from that point on, even though I never brought it up to him, I kept a distance between us. Again, another story. Yeffrey, on the other hand, I drew myself to. We would work out together, hit the beach together, and, of course, club together. He was the kind of guy who would scream while he lifted and who would let his free weights crash onto the floor, the kind of guy I had always fantasized about punching in the face, but he got more ass than me, and so, for a brief while, I became his loyal, albeit hesitant follower—more witness than apprentice. I couldn’t dig the tight-fitting neon-colored t shirts he wore, and I would always refuse when he offered me the syringe that he’d jam into his ass cheek—and, except for once, I never did coke with him.
Yeffrey was the kind of guy whose compliments didn’t depend on the amount of respect you
had for him. One moment, you’d be cringing at him for eating cereal in water, and the next you’d
be red in the cheeks, glancing down at your biceps and flexing lightly or toying with your
crucifix pendant because he had said you looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tupac. Maria
was like that too.
I think I liked hanging out with him because he was the only person I knew who appeared to
feel emptier than myself.
Aside from what I could observe during our weekends out, I knew nothing about his personal
life—what he actually did for a living, why he had immigrated to Hawai‘i—and I didn’t ask. I
prefer to keep people out of focus.
There was nothing special about the night I met Maria. We were at Rumours—and then we
weren’t. After we’d finished, she put her hands on my waist and giggled the word petite. I got
pissed and put on my clothes and left. The next day, I called and apologized. So began us.
HAND IN HAND
“You’ve got to quit that shit, man.” Yeffrey poured skim milk into two jars already filled nearly
halfway with chocolate protein powder. He twisted the cap onto the carton and put it back onto
the shelf in his fridge, which he had left open. When he shut the fridge, a few droplets of the
protein shakes spilt onto the white countertop.
“I know,” I said. “I know.”
After tightening the lids on the jars, he shook them vigorously, as if there were stones in them
that he was trying to grind to dust. “Moving on. Fucking your ex. The two don’t go hand in
hand.” He offered me a shake.
“Thanks,” I said, grabbing the jar from him. I took a swig. The powder clumped at the back
of my throat like small chunks of mud.
“You married too young.”
“You always do, don’t you?”
I didn’t consider telling Maria that we should stop seeing each other for good until I met
Mamaisa at my first AA meeting. She told the group a story about her last relapse, which had
occurred a few weeks prior. She had started drinking again—in secret. She would hide in her car
in the parking lot outside her apartment and get drunk while her husband, also in recovery, and
eight-month-old slept through the night.
Me, I gave few details about what had brought me there.
After the meeting, I approached where she sat alone at a table on the other side of the hall.
She wore a Death Row t shirt and a pair of over-the-ear headphones, and she watched the wall on
the opposite side of the hall like it was a tv. When I sat down next to her, she pulled one
headphone off her ear and sipped the brown liquid in her dixie cup. “What?” she said.
“Oh, I didn’t say anything,” I said to her. “You can keep listening.”
“Thanks for your permission,” she said, pulling the headphones down onto her neck, “but it’s
all right. I should, er, interact with other humans.”
“I’m not human.”
“I fucking knew it.”
She smiled and set down her coffee.
“So you have a....”
“We all make mistakes.”
“Jeez,” I said. I took a bite from the stale wafer on my plate. “You’re....” I held out an mmm
“What a name.”
“Hitting on married woman at an AA meeting, are we?” she said, reaching for her headphones. When I blushed, she pulled her hands from her headphones and said, “I’m fucking
with you, dude.”
I laughed sheepishly and immediately hated the sound that emanated from my throat. “I just
liked your t shirt.” She held it between her thumbs and examined it. “Have you heard Pac’s new album?”
I shook my head.
She reached for her headphones and actually put them back on. We both laughed, the noise
in my throat now warm and round. The shuffle of the other members filled the hall.
“And you are?
“Alone-so,” I said. I studied her face. “You look familiar.”
She brought her lower lip and her brow toward her nose. “So do you.”
“Yeah. Another guy who thinks Asian women look alike.”
I blushed again.
After laughing, she said, “Nah, you’re right. I think we’re actually neighbors.”
It wasn’t until I learned that we lived in the same apartment complex that I began noticing
Mamaisa—on the elevator, in the laundry facility, you know, the usual spots. That was the extent
of our contact, and yet, especially given the nature of my job, which involved little more than
staring at a clock for several hours a day, be it in a factory or a classroom, this was more than
enough to send my mind into long bouts of fantasy. What was her life like? I only knew what
little I’d learned from our conversation after that AA meeting, the first and only I had seen her at.
Her mother was from Guam, her father from New York, she had graduated from the University
of Hawai’i a few years back, and she worked for a nonprofit downtown. She drove away from
that meeting in a run down Mazda. I pictured us rolling down the highway, her car rushing into
the green mountainscape like a parakeet into a hurricane.
On workdays, I would eat small meals during lunch breaks—rice, tuna or spam, a hard boiled
egg, a strip of seaweed—all heated in the microwave of the office in the facility where I worked.