Tolstoy Stages

It’s 4 a.m., and I’m remembering my death.

“The Watcher becomes when watched.”

In the middle of it all, the roar of cannon fodder, I can still smell its residue on my skin blistered from heat and battle. The sound 10,000 hooves make when an army rides beside you, I will hear forever.

What am I doing in the land of the damned, this safe space of pixilated truths and curated melody? Domesticated trash.

At a certain point in time, it is always time to say goodbye, to — as they say in your movies of manufacture — let go.

“He loved you, because you were
You were the only woman in a man’s world.”

Until a man behind prism doors in circular hallways civilized me with the holy book, outlaw poetry, fucking romantic illusions… made me look in the mirror, every last one, hundreds of hundreds of idolatry reflections.

I imagined love then. Grandiose, false love of a man who could never look at me as anything but charity.

My hair, my long, thick, black hair…


Origami Heart: Whore Monster

Origami Heart

“You are a whore, just like your mother!”

I stared as long as I dared at my father’s face.

With those words, my father turned off a light inside me. What neither of us realized at the time was that the light had already dimmed considerably before I turned 16.

I don’t even remember now what set him off and what shut me down. Maybe it was a boy, maybe Mark. “You’re whoring around with that faggot again, aren’t you?”

Maybe I broke after one too many beatings that would come out of nowhere and never end, that horrible day when he kept kicking me in the stomach because I shit in a shoebox in my closet instead of holding it in while he took his time in the only bathroom in the two-bedroom shit hole we lived in back then with his Hustler and his chain-smokes, earlier back on Juniper St. when he slapped me hard in the face in front of William, a boy I fell in love with…

I simply couldn’t take any more of his shit. All those years of trying to read his mind, of trying to be perfect, so he wouldn’t hurt me building and building to this moment.

Without thinking, I blurted, “Then, I want to live with my mom.”

At this, my dad erupted into a full-blown rage.

His entire face changed then. He got uglier, meaner, spraying the most hateful things at me, things no father should ever say to a daughter. But he did, because it was only me, I didn’t count, I deserved to be punished, I was a bad, bad person.

As I rushed to throw my clothes in a back, any bag, my dad — the only father figure I had ever known, and the father I would soon learn was never mine — shadowed me, calling me every name in the book, goading me in the worst way, in the most colorful language.

Then, this, “You want to live with your whore mom? Even that fucking Korean cunt doesn’t want you. Nobody wants you. GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE! You’re a huge pain in the ass. You think she loves you? You’re a fucking retard…”

And on and on this went, until I grabbed the rest of what I could, picked up the phone (“Go on, call that whore, see what she says, she won’t want you either!”), hands trembling, dialing her number and half actually believing my dad was right, she won’t have any room for me, I’m going to be a burden, she’s going to say no, she’s going to say no, she’s going to say—

“What? You want to live with me? What happened??”

My mom took an awful long time to answer. Too long. Just when I thought she would hang up, forcing me to put up or shut up, I heard, “Okay, come over right now.”

I left and never looked back. My brother refused to go with me, fiercely protective of dad, naively believing that dad needed him. My dad would use my brother as a punching bag in the months remaining, taking out his thwarted rage on him.

I finished my senior year of high school living with her.

The next year, my dad died on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, his birthday. My mom took care of his remains, his effects, and the mountain of unpaid bills. He left a worthless insurance policy, days shy of the next payment, a large pot of spaghetti sauce in the fridge, and a pile of broken memories.

He also left me his terrible legacy, a curse I spent my entire life trying to erase.

Origami Heart: Happiness

“You’re never happy.”

He was the saddest sight, standing on First Ave. in his scuffed Nikes, Sears Levis, and polo shirt, staring back at me. His eyes this childish brown before making up his mind to put up with my ungrateful ass, “Eh, never mind. Let’s go get a cup of joe at SpeakEasy.”

But I stood my ground. I fought, even though I already knew I lost. He said it. He can’t unsay it. He can’t explain it away. I don’t want to be here.

“What do you mean? I’m happy lots of times,” I replied, tersely, hating the sound of my voice, yet knowing he was right, my “best” friend, my former fiancé, my long-suffering savior. I searched in my Rolodex of memories for one irrefutable piece of evidence to show him and go, “Here, asshole, look, you’re wrong.” I couldn’t.

“I’m not happy to you?”

He shook his head, sadly. “I can’t make you happy. I don’t know what will.”

“I thought you did. I thought I was.”

I think it was at this point that a part of me began to withdraw from the friendship. I mean, what’s the point of hanging around someone who thinks so little of me, so convinced, so convincingly? I could get the same therapy in a padded cell.

What if this wasn’t about me being happy but me not being happy around him?

Years later, a family later, he would almost gleefully announce that he was suffering from anorexia, like all the cool kids got this disease — with pictures in the fucking mail, no less. I didn’t know what to make of it then and I don’t know what to make of it now. I doubt I ever will.

I’m pretty sure he hates my guts, and that’s fine. I’m also pretty sure, he’s been right all along. I have spent the rest of my life after that incident somewhere in the late ’90s trying to prove him wrong.

He’s wrong.

Origami Heart

Origami Heart: Beautiful Today

“You’re beautiful today.”

I looked at him, a shadow until our eyes cleared. He held the face of a million would-be suitors, the face of my soul mate. Now, he was the one to look away.

“I mean,” he sputtered, “you’re always beau— ”

I couldn’t let him say that word again, no matter how good it felt. “Steven, is my order ready? Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, slide, four-color, and a dozen b/ws. Thank you, btw.” This last part I almost whispered, but he caught the drift, blushing and turning at the same time to grab a photo envelope covered in big red letters, my name.

“Merry Christmas, Carol,” he said, handing me my order. Before we could say any more, another customer jostled in front of me, an older, Chinese lady in a hurry. In downtown Honolulu on Aloha Friday, we’re always in a hurry.

As I drifted down Bishop Street, back to my second floor office overlooking the old and the new, Steven’s words covered me like the finest silk from Paris — a vision in cobalt blue, pressed against a young girl’s body on the edge of 22, instead of my mom’s frumpy brown muumuu hand-me-down.

Not Steven. He’s just a nice, friendly employee with a menial job, and he smokes. He probably lives with four other guys in a one-bedroom apartment in Kalihi. That rules him out. My dead father’s voice, the one who chain-smoked his way to an early grave a decade before the ’60s, just like my mom is about to.

Nobody love you now. That voice belonged to the Vietnamese psychic, a woman younger than me with a doctor’s-sized waiting list of desperate patients dying to find love, a better career, a future with the flick of her hands over a simple deck of cards… the one who lived in a tractor house among other dirt dives in the suburbs of Kaimuki. But one day, you meet a businessman. He love you with all his heart. 

The first time I met her, she scared me by bringing up Mark. I think my mom heard about her, this scary accurate psychic in Hawaii everyone swears by. In broken English, this young Vietnamese psychic welcomed me into a tiny room. I only remember an even tinier window, dirty with Kona winds, ocean and palms trees just beyond our reach.

She flipped a few cards. Asked me to halve a deck. I began to think she was playing me when, out of nowhere in her broken English, “You have boy watch over you. He dead now. He die after high school. He love you lot. He your guardian angel. He always watch, very protective.”

The only person that matched this description was Mark, a boy I met early on in high school, a boy who turned out to be gay, a boy who died after high school of AIDS (if what I hear is true). By my junior year, we’d planned to marry. I’d become a writer, a journalist, and he’d go into the lucrative field of computer science, the next Bill Gates. Hell, he could’ve been Bill Gates.

Mark was doing things on the computer most of us could only dream of in the early ’80s, things kids are getting into now. Tall, dirty blonde, thick, tousled hair, the warmest blue eyes, a crooked smile… that Mark.

We loved each other without question. But he didn’t desire me. One night, after two years in the closet, he told me so over the phone. Brutally. So unlike him. “When I look at you,” he said, matter-of-fact, “you don’t turn me on. I’m sorry but it’s the truth.” He then proceeded to describe in excruciating detail just what about my physical body turned him off, this kind, gentle, beautiful boy.

“I can change. I can have an operation to be a man. I never wanted to be a woman anyway!” I cried.

“Carol, you know that wouldn’t be right. You will find a man who loves you completely. You deserve a man like that. I’m so, so sorry I can’t be that man for you. I wanted to for so long, but I can’t live a lie.”

I don’t think I had ever cried as violently as on that day.

I would hear the same speech a decade later from the man who would become my first and only husband. Only, he wasn’t interested in other men, just other women who looked nothing like me, women who were taller, wholesome, and impossibly, boyishly thin like Elle MacPherson and Lori Loughlin.

So you’ll excuse me if I cut you off when you start in on how beautiful I am. I’ve heard that bullshit before.

Origami Heart