After three days of business meetings and tireless socializing, I fled Ko Olina to spend a day in Honolulu. I planned to meet my cousin for dinner, but arrived in the city midday and so decided to wander Waikiki for a few hours in search of souvenirs.
Mark and I had exchanged several emails over the course of the week. He feared I’d forget him while basking in Hawaii’s beauty; I assured him this was not the case. He seemed taken with me after only a few weeks of online correspondence. I, in turn, became taken with the idea of dating a kindhearted, submissive young man. After three years chasing Portland kinksters for casual sex, it felt an appropriate change of pace to exchange sweet nothings with a romantic.
My thoughts of the Cuban reflected in the sun’s brilliance and warmth. I welcomed the heat as a foreign, complementary element, a relief from the dreary coolness I’d come to expect. Never before had I been to Hawaii, nor would I have planned such a destination for myself. But fortune had smiled and brought me here for business. I also felt as though fortune had brought a prospective love into my life. I wanted to return to Portland with a token of my hope for a new beginning—and to let Mark know that I thought of him here, under this auspicious tropical sun.
I found a shop that sold jewelry handmade by Native artists, both of Hawaiian descent and otherwise. I decided—a necklace was the perfect gift—and after perusing, found a pendant that suited my aesthetics. When I asked a sales clerk about it, she replied in broken English that it was a symbol of the rising sun, renewal and rebirth.
I didn’t buy the necklace until the following morning, after debating the purchase with my cousin. She advised,
—Buy what you would wear, just in case.
Indeed, like so many Portland men I’ve met, Mark disappeared after our first date. I sometimes wonder if he were, in some way, my Rosaline.
On the return flight from Honolulu to Portland International, I sat beside a man who introduced himself as Mark, a marine biologist. Although we’d never met, his name imbued him with an odd familiarity; in his face, I saw the faces of three other Marks with whom I’d been intimate over the past six months. In fact, ‘Mark’ had become for me a name that meant ‘a man that will sleep with you’ (when others won’t). I wondered if my interest in the Cuban—though younger, thinner, of darker complexion, and altogether physically different from the other Marks—was aided by a comfort I now found in the name. Another part of me felt as though perhaps I should keep this Mark, as I always found myself dissatisfied with the others, wanting more than what they could offer, or in truth, wanting someone else.
The marine biologist was perhaps in his early 40s, a slightly-larger-than-average white man and typically bearded. He called Portland home, though he traveled frequently for work. He asked about my stay in Oahu and about Ko Olina, and if I had per chance seen a sea turtle, as they were known to swim in and out of the man-made lagoons there.
—I dreamt of a sea turtle my first night, but no. I went with a buddy I’d met at the conference to look for them. While we were climbing on rocks above the water, he claimed he spotted one but only briefly before it dove deeper—and I missed it entirely.
—Ah, pity! he said.
His tone suggested disappointment rather than sincere empathy. I, in fact, felt sore about the fact that others at the conference had not only seen turtles but also gone whale watching. To behold a whale in the wild remains to this day one my greatest, as of yet unfulfilled dreams.
I also mentioned the hammerhead sharks and stingrays at the resort where I’d stayed, curious what he thought about keeping these creatures in captivity as tourist attractions. Instead, he seemed more interested in boasting about his personal experiences and knowledge of various Chondrichthyes.
Only one of his stories do I remember well, about a female-only tank of stingrays at the Sea Life London Aquarium:
—Did you know that a female ray can store sperm until she decides the time is right to give birth? A colleague of mine was in London last year when news hit about pregnant females who hadn’t had contact with a male in over two years—did you hear about this? Two years, those buggers stored sperm before they gave birth! Can you imagine? I tell you, women can perform miracles!
Always have I revered women, as if they hold greater power over life than men (and perhaps they do). I wonder to what extent the influence of strong-willed women in my life has overcast the potential for paternal or fraternal kinship. Rarely have I bonded with men, and those bonds I’ve known have always been eclipsed by a man’s inevitable lust for a woman. Despite my attraction, rarely have I looked up to other men as worthy of respect. Perhaps my poor relationship history can best be explained by my tendency to look down on those creatures I find desirable, as generally less significant, less intelligent, less emotionally capable, and overall the weaker of the two sexes.
As we circled Portland before landing, I gazed into the night sky and found Venus, then Jupiter.
—They’re getting closer, Mark the marine biologist said. In two weeks time, they’ll be one right on top of the other. Although, of course, they’re millions of kilometers apart.
Two weeks came and went. I forgot about the upcoming conjunction of Jupiter and Venus.
But a girl I’d not seen in over fifteen years, had not forgotten. Sunday, March 12th, I received a phone call from Harmony Rae.
I met Harmony at Starwood, a pagan festival in western New York state that my brother and I attended with our mum the summers of ’92 to ’94. My brother and I were in high school, and Harmony, roughly our same age, but she lived as a sort of Appalachian gypsy, visiting various friends and family members throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. She said she was home schooled but never lived anywhere she called home. She referred to parents now and again over the years, but whenever my brother or I spoke to her on the phone, or when we received her postcards, she’d mention someplace new, living with so-and-so for an unspecified length of time.
The Starwood of ’94 was our last. That summer, my brother fell in and out of love, and I witnessed a man jump into and out of a bonfire. We were traumatized, each in our own way. We began to plan for college and adulthood. But we kept in touch with Harmony; she in fact, stayed with us June 1996, the summer after I graduated high school.
—Hello, my fellow wayfarer, she said when I answered my phone. Do you remember that summer we ran away together?
—Yes, I grabbed you by the hand, and we fled the small Ohio towns that were the world you knew—and I promised you the moon and stars. C’mon, tell me you remember.
I began to remember the story, as we’d decided to tell it.
The week after I finished school, I told my mum I needed to get away. I headed toward the hills, to the forests, into the Appalachian Mountains on foot. I went and went and went, until the sun fell and moon rose. I ran until lost, then found an old, very large tree stump. I ascertained from its wreckage that it had been struck long ago by lightning, and that the weight of its life suddenly became more than it could bear.
I sat there beside the tree stump and counted the rings of its interior. It had lived a very, very long time, and I imagined it reached up toward the sky and begged for lightning, after having lived such a full life.
While I rested there, Harmony appeared to me as a gray fox. She cocked her head as does a cat, and looked at me. Never had I seen a gray fox, and as I knew foxes (especially those of the gray variety) were in the habit of not being seen, I knew her visit must have been deliberate.
I held out my hand, as one does for a cat to sniff. But rather than sniff my hand, the gray fox stepped forward, and from her mouth, dropped a small white bean into the palm of my hand.
I looked to the bean, as it glimmered like moonstone. Then I looked to the fox which had become the girl I knew. She sat there cross-legged and naked, her long, dark hair falling over her shoulders and breasts. She smiled and said,
—Keep this with you for many, many years, until after you’ve forgotten you’ve kept it. Only after you’ve forgotten this gift, will a fish tell you the truth about your great loneliness. Only then will your bean be ready to sprout.
Harmony then stood. I caught a glimpse of her nipples, large as they were, and swollen as if ready to suckle. But she spread her arms—which then became wings—and she flew into the night sky as an owl.
—Do you still have the bean? she asked.
—I’m not sure. I’ll have to look for it in my box of keepsakes.
As I dug through my closet for the appropriate box, then dug through the box in search of the bean, I asked Harmony how she had been over the years. She told me she was married but said little more. I told her about Hawaii, about Mark (the Cuban boy), about how I’d reached a point in my life where I felt ready for a long-term relationship, but no longer could I identify with the prospect of romantic love.
She was quiet a moment, so that I almost thought she wasn’t there, that perhaps I’d imagined the entire conversation. Then she told me another story,
—Once upon a time, there was a salamander that lived in a pond in the forest. So excited was the little amphibian, when he was able to swim from the water and walk onto dry land, that he climbed to the very top of the tallest tree beside his pond. There, if he squinted, he could see the fields beyond the forest’s edge, the horses and pigs and cows which basked in the hot sun. He clung so long to that tree, wishing to meet these new and beautiful creatures, that he began to bake—and nearly all the liquid evaporated from his fragile body.
—How awful. I don’t like this story.
—Well, it isn’t finished.
—So tell me, what happens to the tree-climbing salamander? Is he struck by lightning, eaten by an owl?
—Have you been outside to see Venus and Jupiter in the night sky?
—Oh no, I’d forgotten about that! Is that tonight?
—You have three days. They’ll be within three degrees of one another on the 15th.
When the sun fell and the moon rose, a veil of clouds cried for the dried salamander, wetting its body with tears. The dark blue sky became liquid as the ocean, and through the tree tops swam a herring. The salamander blinked its bleary eyes then exclaimed of the herring, as it swam beautifully at such a height,
—Did my heart love ’til now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty ’til this night.