She and Pete had taken pains with this room, their bedroom, when they built this place. As bedrooms of newlyweds should, it had as its centerpiece the biggest,softest, bounciest bed they could buy then on their budget. This bed is in front of Dina now, lumpy and unmade, its soiled linens hiding a mattress stained with life: dried menstrual blood, semen splotches, circles left by wet babies’ urine and amniotic fluid when her water broke with their first child, Matt. These can be seen when the bed is stripped but Dina knows that silent recriminations have also left their mark there.
There is a lot of work to be done today, but Dina sits down on a small chair-shaped piece of foam covered with chocolate brown fake- corduroy knit before beginning it, Her conversation with Pete this morning plays itself over and over again in her head, alternative endings explored endlessly. If only she had said…? What if he had responded…? Maybe if he hadn’t said…? Fruitless, futile musings, all designed to obfuscate the final, inevitable conclusion.
Dina is leaving, going back to where she came from, leaving her seven year marriage and leaving the island of Oahu. Leaving Pete.
Driving up with Pete after he picked her up at the airport this morning, returning from her parents’ home on the mainland to this house on a street with a name that contains all 12 letters of the Hawaiian alphabet, Dina had seen the house they built together as if for the first time. This two-story redwood house with a corrugated tin roof echoing the deep grooves of the Koolaus just behind it. Bright red slashes of birds of paradise, crotons with variegated yellows and oranges, red torch ginger, all provide camouflage for the faded wooden sides and the unfinished front entry of their home. There, high above the sloping front yard, is a door with a landing and no steps leading to or from it, unfinished still for all the years that they have lived here.
Pete dropped her off, didn’t even make a gesture to stay. He hadn’t said much on the drive back from the airport. The empty suitcases had done it, Dina surmises. She sees it again, Pete lifting those empty suitcases off the baggage carrel and almost tumbling backward because they were much lighter than he expected. The boys, their two children, had danced around their Daddy’s legs, begging for the treats of dried cuttlefish and li hing mui seeds he had brought to the airport for their arrival.
“What the hell? Dina, where is your stuff? Why are the suitcases empty?” Pete demanded.
Before Dina could explain that she was going to fill them with her and the boys’ possessions from home, then return to the mainland as soon as possible, she saw his face. A parade of emotions passed over it, reflecting sudden knowledge, then shock, then anger, then something approximating relief. It was the relief that revealed the most, and that assured Dina that she had made the right choice.
After dropping them at home then speeding off, Pete reluctantly agreed to return to stay overnight, to help put the detritus of a decade of marriage into separate bins to be carted off to separate lives.
Dina tries to rouse herself now to continue with her packing. A folding table next to the brown chair has days of Pete’s shorts and jeans, ratty T-shirts stacked alongside of the Princess phone, a relic from Dina’s teenage years. A vaguely Chinese-y chest from Pete’s folks bares open drawers spilling out undergarments and beach clothes. The chest had been newly painted a distressed antique white to match hand-me-down rattan chairs. Blue bamboo print lines up in columns on the matching bedspread and drapes. The drapes are held up by rods with ornate finials, bulbous and bronzed, jutting out atop the jalousies. These windows are always open to catch the elusive trade winds in this bottom floor room, but catch also the dust and minute spiders that come along for the ride.
The crowning glory in this room is the headboard, the macramé headboard, stretched on a rod high above and high across their big bed, balanced on white painted shelves at each end, filled with knots with crazy names, like double half-hitched and over-handed and Chinese Crown. Dina had tied these knots for weeks, during the kids nap times and into the late nights when Pete was “working” late, following a pattern in a hippie magazine for a tablecloth and pieced it together with hemp cord. It was a labor of love then, and therapeutic, too.
Dina’s thoughts are like little paper airplanes, circling, sometimes gracefully, sometimes erratically, landing their clipped noses onto the same magnetic spot. My marriage is over. I have come back to leave. I must pack away my life her and go.
Giving up on this room, she climbs slowly up the back steps into the house. On the top floor of the house they built years ago with so little money and so much hope, Dina steps into the living room, with its sliding glass door overlooking Kaneohe Bay. The room has high ceilings and windows impossible to keep clean by any human effort. Fueling up on coffee for the packing chores awaiting her downstairs, she looks out the window beyond the kitchen countertops, countertops covered with a jarringly bright royal blue Formica that goes with absolutely nothing in the harvest gold and avocado green ‘70’s kitchen.
Is there a way to pack up this view and take it with me? Dina wonders. She sure won’t miss this crappy decorating decision; never again wants to see a Formica countertop, in any color, anywhere. Another thing she won’t miss is the bugs, the creatures that thrive in the tropics. She sure won’t miss turning on the lights at night to see cockroaches skittering across the floor. Behind the toilet in the downstairs’ bathroom, as a permanent resident, the cardboard roach house often traps little field mice who work their way easily through the redwood tongue and groove walls. She won’t miss their little squeals and squeaks or her own involuntarily repeats of these sounds when she releases them back into the wilds of the empty lot next door.
Dina looks out the glass door to see a tropical storm beginning to brew. When it rains, as it does almost every day in this shadow of the Koolaus, the rain beats on the tin roof, creating a cacophony that doesn’t allow conversation, even when most of them right before her trip to the mainland had been loud enough to wake the neighbors.
to be continued….