The Dark Side


“You can’t even do Hawaii right,” screams the voice in my head. Its been yelling at me for hours. I’m driving 65 on a twisting, single-lane highway, speed limit 55, some jackass or other kissing my tail the entire way. Clouds hover at eye level. The sun is threatening to set. But right now, the hills and sky are story-book greens and blues. And I’m speeding by.

I’m coming from a long walk across a smoking crater. Shades of black on black on a hard, rocky floor that feels like another world, another planet. First, I walked around it and watched people who were the size of colorful, chaotic ants wind their ways down and out to the other side. And when I found the path to the crater, I joined the ants in process.

Now I’m speeding through the mountains to Pahoa and the tree hut I’m staying at, one eye on the road, the other on the car behind me. I am in no position to be overwhelmed by beauty. I am cursing myself for landing on the dark side of Hawaii.

One night before my trip, when I was falling asleep, it felt like I was being pulled to the Big Island, that some truth awaited me. But now, while I’m driving, driving, driving, I think I might be mistaken.

My first morning in town, when I walked into the tin shack cafe at the edge of the main drag, people turned to look. I was a new face, not yet softened by the rain. Each subsequent morning, when I sit with my coffee and write on my pad, they smile and check to see if I’m staying.


I have a plan to meet someone on the beach the first day I’m in town. A date. I clamor down the cliff at Kehena beach and wait. I’m early. He’s late. I watch the tide and the people. I try not to think about anything but black sand and blue waves until a man a pitted face tries to sell me pot.

“I don’t smoke,” I say. “It doesn’t agree with me.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s okay. Some people are like that.”

He stares at me, as if he’s trying to recollect where we’ve met before.

“I’m reading a book,” he says.

“That’s good.”

“I’ll be back.”

A group of Germans clatter down the cliff, shed their clothes, and dive into the ocean. The pot-seller returns with a sandy book. He sits with me on the log.

“I been in and out of prison since I was eight,” he says, as he thumbs through the pages. He has a prison tattoo drawn all the way up his leg. It’s a chain link fence with birds flying just beyond. “They want to keep me here. This island. You think it’s paradise. It’s a prison too.”

He reads out loud like a child, stumbling on the big words. Making some up, asking me what others mean. The book’s on indigenous shamanism and he claims that he is a shaman, misunderstood, bursting with magical powers.

A girl with matted hair taps his shoulder. “I heard you have pot.” They disappear behind the rocks.

I’m tired of waiting. I’m pretty sure it’s time to leave. And then he arrives, my date, with painted black toenails and a burlap bag.

We share a durian, gorge ourselves on ramubutans. I tell him how it feels like there’s an unlatched doorway calling to me. And even though the lights are off and I don’t know what I’ll find, I want to push that door open and expose the room to the sun.

“I find this island is less a doorway and more a gaping hole in the fabric of time and space,” he says, scooping out a handful of durian goo. I’m inhaling rambutans, one after the next. “But then I’m a huge fan of rabbit holes.”

Later, we drive. I drive. It’s night. Even the main roads are dark. There are no street lights, no house lights uncovering the way. I can’t find the brights in the car, so we inch along, nearly blind. Pahoa is darkest at night.

And when we finally reach a stopping place, a market with live music near a different beach, we’re ready to admit that neither one of us understands anything at all. He says it best: “it’s probably impossible to get a good perspective. You’d have to travel so far into space and through time to understand why anything happens at all.”

“And that’s just not possible.”

“Afraid not.”

We talk about the inherent struggle between cynicism and magical thinking. We are guilty of both. I don’t think it’s a problem. He’s not so sure.

I’m considering all this between my bouts of self doubt. I drive up the hill, down the hill, through the valley and into the clouds. I’m neck and neck with the mountain for a while and I try to catch glimpses without slowing down.

There’s too much driving, I think, and though I’m coming from a six-hour hike, not enough walking.

IMG_0718The tree hut lives down a wooded path, guarded by a red Buddha head, in the backyard of a woman with a man’s name who is an online psychic. I climb up the steps, unlatch the door and sit on the corner of the bed. The frogs haven’t yet started their nightly chirp.

Beyond the trees, the vines, and foliage, a man’s voice carries.

“Where’s my fucking Vicodin,” he screams.

Someone else mutters an answer. Another man. Soft spoken.

“I come home from work and I need my Vicodin. I want my Vicodin.”

I hear a sound I’m not accustomed to at all. The dull thump of fist hitting flesh. Over and over again.

A few weeks later, the morning after some kid punches me in the face on the subway, and tries to steal my bag, I have an uneasy feeling that it’s all connected. I’m trying not to make too much of it, trying not to blame myself or anyone else, trying not to be angry, even though I hope he broke his toe on the subway stairs. I try to philosophize and even suggest to a friend that it might be the best thing that ever happened to me. Somehow. That maybe the spirit of Pele, who the locals in Pahoa both honor and fear, reached through that gaping hole in the fabric of time to teach me a lesson.

And I wish I could fly out into the darkness of time and space to the edges of the universe to get a good long look to see what it all means.



10 thoughts on “The Dark Side

  1. I think we all would like to know what it all means – but does it mean anything, or is it even a fixed meaning that has any lasting beyond the fraction of a second that it means that and then that is gone and there is a different meaning just as elusive?

    You say it here with the rushing through the scenery pushed by another who is hurried and therefore forces you to go faster and miss all about you. Cherish the journey not the destination. Just accept and admire but be careful in how you observe not to interfere with that you’re observing…

    Terrific post – really got me thinking. Hope you’re feeling better after the assault on the tube train.

      • Too often even in the world close to us we think we are just observers but our being observers is changing the world through the act of observation – there is virtually no passive act… ever…

      • So is there a way to change the world for the better through the act of thoughtful observation?

        This is shifting my whole paradigm. And it’s still early in the day…

      • To be honest I’d have to say yes. If you observe something in a way that makes those in the act consider the act differently then you have changed it

        well that’s what I think

  2. Well, it sounds like you got a pretty authentic experience of Hawaii, specifically the Big Island. It’s definitely something I cannot even begin to explain to people who I meet while traveling when they find out I’m from Hawaii (Oahu). All everyone wants to hear about are hula girls and umbrella drinks.

    • I’m glad I got to see some of her darker secrets. Hawaii, I think, is a magical place, but not in the tourist-brochure-don’t-stray-far-off-the-road sort of way. And I didn’t see one umbrella or a girl tromping around town in a hula skirt.

  3. You are so brave. Thanks for weaving your quiet observations in to a meaningful story. Sometimes I feel as though I were there with you.

    • I don’t know if I’d call it bravery. I do think that certain places have secrets and that they sometimes like to wink at the pairs of eyes that really watch and see and want to learn.

      • See, there you go again. Beautiful description! You’re so lucky to catch the wink.

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