Carokashu: A Mother’s Hope of Paradise

Carokashu didn’t know what to do. Suddenly she was living in a faraway place with beaches, palm trees, and pineapples. The one-room house was so unfamiliar, on piers, the kitchen was the bedroom, at least the bathroom had a door and privacy. The steps led out to a dirt yard where the neighboring children etched bad words with a stick. She asked her mother what that word meant, and she was scolded, she’d never seen or heard that word before, the F word.

Her mother, expressionless sat at the small table her little 1-year old sister nestled in her lap. Her brother playing on the bed they all shared. There was one window above the bed, the house shaded beneath tropical trees. There were other small wooden houses on piers in this small area surrounded by downtown business buildings and high rises. She felt small and wary. The unknown encroaching and surrounding like the massive buildings towering above their small shanties.

She was hyper-alert and absorbing everything. The smell of diesel mixed with fragrant frangipani from the leis upon landing. The traditionally dressed Hawaiians who greeted arrivers. The shopping mall with a water fountain that had a giant clam with a large pearl glistening. The pineapple drinks. Riding an open train/tram in a zoo near a dark sand beach. Swimming there, the fragmented shells underfoot.

The hilly roads so unlike Louisiana, the Jack in the Box where they got fries, she saved a wrapper as a memento and had it in her junk drawer until she was 10 when her father threw everything away while she was gone for the weekend at her mother’s. That was traumatizing, to have all her treasures discarded with no warning. She cried and cried, feeling so betrayed and violated.

She began the school year riding a city bus by herself to get there. The class was small, bright, joyful. She marveled at how they sat on the floor and played musical instruments and percussion, so fun. It was relaxed and unstructured, she liked it better than school back home.

She played with the other children who lived in the same forgotten corner of shacks, dirt, and trees. One boy picked his nose and ate the boogers with dirt-stained hands. Another thin white girl her shirt hanging off her shoulder engulfing her thin frame always smiled behind clear soft eyes. She remembers Todd the most because she had a crush on him, he’s the bad boy who scrawled the F word in the dirt.

She recalls one day she and the other kids found some broken Koa seed necklaces discarded and they tied them into bracelets and more necklaces, draped them over tree limbs around the corner where there was city traffic. They then sold them for 10 cents to passersby. She was later scolded by her mother for venturing too far away, near traffic and all. It was thrilling, she loved exploring, her curiosity and impulses got the best of her sometimes.

It was shady, the air a still blanket pressing against her, the powdery dirt silky beneath her flat feet. The lush trees and foliage a buffer against the looming reflective skyscrapers that surrounded their little cove of forgotten weathered cottages. The sounds of cars and buses whirring in the background, echoes of children’s laughter in the distance. She watches her sister toddle on a patch of sidewalk, so cute in her pink dress, her hair wispy and flippy, eyes bright, face open wide smiling, so preciously sweet, she loved her so much.

Her brother was subdued, glassy-eyed, silent. So, unlike how he was at home, full of impish mischief. She barely remembers her brother during that time, he was like a ghost of himself, mirroring her mother’s flatness. How long were they even there?

Some memories are crisp, clear where you are transported back to the moment for an instant. You can see through the eyes of that long-lost person, another you encapsulated as a figment in your brain, a dream of long ago, yet you’re experiencing it again in the present. Disorienting.

She felt lost, dwarfed by the enormous responsibility of fending for herself while also worried in her 6-year-old way about her little sister, brother, and barely functioning mother. Her mother talked about finding a long-lost boyfriend she knew from the service. She went to Hawaii expecting some kind of sheltering paradise where everything would magically be better. Instead, she cycled from mania to depression in the blink of an eye.

Some moments are crystal bursting vibrantly to life swirled in blurring sequences of motion going in and out of focus playing in her mind’s eye while strumming the strings of her soul. She doesn’t know how long they were there in that little corner of a mother’s hope of paradise. The next thing she knew, strangers brought her away to some kind of processing office, and after they were staying at grandma Goo’s, a foster home.

Their mother was gone. The kind lady who knelt down and with expressive, soft eyes who asked gently if she knew her father’s work number had taken her mother away because she needed help. The girl replied obediently, she’d memorized the number somehow, maybe in her subconscious she knew she may need to call for help someday.

She and her brother were asleep in the twin bed on the second floor when they heard a gruff female voice call loudly over the intercom on the wall. Time to get up, or time to be quiet and go to sleep. It was grandma Goo. It didn’t seem they were there for very long, maybe a weekend, before their father retrieved them and they were just as suddenly back home in Baton Rouge.

She remembers she didn’t have to start back to school right away, she got to stay home for a few more days. It was second grade. The school year had already started.

They said her mother was in the hospital. She remembers visiting, there was a big lake nearby in Mandeville. Her Gonzales relatives would accompany them, the visits seemed short and infrequent.

They were divorcing. There was talk of custody and that her dad got custody.

In all her years prior to Hawaii, her traumas were typical, like when her little brother was giving her favorite doll a ride in his little red wagon under their carport and it tipped the doll into the round puddle of black oil ruining her red velvet dress and long brown hair.

Or going to the dentist and having fillings without any novocaine, they didn’t believe children felt pain in dental work back then. Or the time when she had to see a proctologist because she pooped a polyp. It looked like a strawberry made of skin. She screamed when he stuck his oversized finger in, but it only lasted a few seconds. Her mother was always after her to eat more corn and she had to drink Creomulsion or cod liver oil stuff. Bleh.

Or getting immunizations. They made what seemed like a lot of visits to the pediatrician. The office was all white, the curtains were white punctuated with zoo animals. The lions and sunshine faces stand out distinctly along with the antiseptic smell and sounds of lab jackets swishing. Her doctor was soft-spoken, gentle, and conscientious. Over the years she marveled at how his comb-over got longer and longer.

He was a comforting presence.

She mourned the last checkup there at the new posh office when she was 18. Leaving behind a reassuring constant in her life among the chaos was hard.

There were the scrapes and toe stubs that got painted with Merthiolate or sprayed with Bactine. There were ant and mosquito bites and bee/wasp stings. There were also the random hives she’d break out in, all red and itchy. There was also the tonsillectomy.

There were times she was fussed at and got some spankings, but all in all her world felt safe, secure, she felt free to explore.

Their mother was suddenly away, she was sad and didn’t fully understand what was happening. She just turned seven and the burden of looking out for her little brother and sister weighed heavily upon her small shoulders.

An excerpt from Carokashu a work in progress aka per the teachings of Anne Lamott a “shitty first draft” lol.

Been working on it “Bird by Bird” also as per Anne Lamott’s teachings.

Michelle Miyagi
%d bloggers like this: