It was actually my boyfriend who suggested I add a scene of Haleakala, which we saw when we were on Maui, to Finding ‘Ohana. (All of the photographs in this post were just a few of the ones I took while we were there.) I cannot express how happy I am that he made the suggestion and that I saw how wise he was for making it. Because now, I have to say, I think this is my favorite part of Finding ‘Ohana. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do.
Before the Thanksgiving when I had confessed to my parents, I used to go home to Michigan when the dorms closed for the summer. So the first summer I had no family was also the first time in my life I had nowhere to live.
I started looking for apartments a couple weeks before the dorms closed. “I don’t need anything that big,” I told Naali. We were looking over ads in the newspaper at the coffee shop where I had first seen her. “I mean, I am used to a one-room dorm. I just need something affordable. And I’d like to be able to be settled before we go on that trip with your family. I don’t want to have to come back to unpacked boxes.”
Naali nodded, gazing at the page but not reading it.
“Hey, Bun, have you thought at all about us living together?”
“What?” Yes, I know, very eloquent.
“You know, we’ve been together for over a year now. It wouldn’t be that unusual.” She nudged me playfully with her elbow.
The thought had never crossed my mind. I grew up thinking that I could not live with someone until we were married. Naali spent the night in my dorm room often enough, but somehow living together had not occurred to me. It would be like announcing our relationship to everyone. What would people think if two women applied for a one-bedroom apartment?
But how else would we be together? The one thing I never doubted was that I wanted to be with Naali, and eventually being together means living together. We could never get married legally, so I would always be breaking that rule anyway. And even once we considered ourselves “married,” we would always get the same reaction from landlords. What difference would it make to take that step now? All I should really ask myself was, “Are we ready?”
I looked up at Naali, at her kind eyes, her mouth that was always smiling, and I knew. We were ready.
We moved in as soon as Naali was done with beauty school, a full week before the dorms officially closed. And we were unpacked and settled with plenty of time before we took our first trip together.
We only flew to Maui, and we went with Naali’s family, but it still felt romantic, going away together. Her parents had been planning the trip to Haleakala for months, and they were so excited they were like children themselves.
“It’s the most beautiful sight in the world,” Kamea said, far too enthusiastic for how early it was. “It’s worth waking up early for.” With that, she swept the sheets from the hotel’s fold-out couch, leaving Naali and me no choice but to get up and get dressed.
It was four in the morning, still dark outside, although I guess that was the point. My body was screaming at me to lie back down, just for a moment. I stared longingly at the pillow, still warm from my head. It looked so comfy.
“It had better be worth it,” Naali mumbled, too low for Kamea to hear, and stumbled to the bathroom to change.
Once everyone was up, we piled in the rented car and Ihupani drove us toward one of the two mountains that, along with the valley between them, made up the island of Maui. ‘Apona and Hiapo were out like lights as soon as we started moving. My stomach was turning too much with the windy road to allow me to sleep.
“I wish you had brought something warmer to wear, Manaali‘i,” Kamea said from the front seat.
When we were packing, Kamea had warned us that it was freezing on the mountain. Not cold, freezing. I took that to mean I should wear two layers of pants, a light jacket, and my heavy coat which, until then, had been gathering dust in my closet. Naali laughed at me when she saw how much I was bringing. She was only wearing a light jacket, and had pajama pants rather than shorts to account for the freezing temperature. Instead of tennis shoes, like the ones I wore, Naali had flip-flops, or slippers, as she called them.
“How cold could it really be?” she’d asked as we packed. In the car, all she said was, “If it’s really that cold, Cinnamin and I can snuggle with a blanket. We’ll be fine.” She wrapped her arm around me and pinched my hip.
We spent a good hour in the car, winding up the mountain. Kamea worried we would not make it before the sun started to rise. Ihupani worried it would be too cloudy. I worried about my stomach that lurched back and forth with every curve in the road. I decided to pull out my phone and check how much further it was. As soon as I looked at the screen, I knew I’d made a mistake. I groaned. Naali asked me what was wrong. All I could get out was, “Pull over?” But there were no shoulders on the mountain road. I dug around the floor of the car and found a small brown bag that had held a pair of earrings Naali had bought the day before. I tossed the earrings at Naali and buried my face in the bag.
The situation would have been much worse without it, but that bag was not designed for what I had to use it for.
My face burned as the whole car listened to my retching. Even Hiapo and ‘Apona had woken up and could hear me. Finally I’d finished and tried to wrap the bag around itself so it would not drip. Hiapo passed me a few napkins Kamea had gotten from the glove box. My stomach felt better, but my face still burned. Naali rubbed my back. I had not noticed until then, but she had been rubbing my back the entire time.
“We’re almost there,” Ihupani said. His voice was so sympathetic. I looked up and saw that everyone in the car was worried about me. Their faces all reflected each other’s expressions, the same expression Naali had. Not disgust or embarrassment, but sympathy.
“Sorry,” I said in a small voice.
Everyone immediately jumped in to reassure me.
“No, no, don’t be sorry.”
“We just want you to feel better.”
“Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”
When we did finally get to the top of the mountain, I scrambled out of the car as soon as Hiapo and ‘Apona cleared the way. I tossed the bag in a trash can and breathed in the cool air.
It felt like home. The morning was crisp, only barely beginning to lighten at the edges of the sky. The air felt almost as though it had tiny icicles in it, but they felt refreshing as I breathed them into my lungs. It reminded me of winter mornings when I would walk to the bus stop before the sun was fully up. I did not even zip up my coat to shut out the cold, it was too refreshing.
“J-j-jeeezz.” Naali’s teeth chattered behind me. I turned and saw her still sitting in the car, hugging herself, the door open and letting the mountain air in. “It’s fr-r-reeezing!”
“You’re right,” said Kamea, snug in her warm coat. “In fact, I think that’s the exact word I used to describe it.”
Naali glared at her mom and grabbed the blanket ‘Apona had been sleeping with during the drive. I decided to wear my tennis shoes without socks so Naali could wear them with her flip-flops. She slid her arms in my coat, squeezing herself close to my body heat.
“It had better be worth it,” she said for the second time that morning.
“Hey, if you didn’t barf today, you can’t complain about it to me.” I smiled. The coldness of the mountain had raised my mood. “C’mon, let’s go find a good spot.”
We tried to walk a few steps connected by my coat, but Naali had to shift to be on my side before we could make real progress. She walked with one arm in my coat, the other wrapped in her blanket. It was still dark, but we followed the sidewalk and it led us to a cliff. Already there were crowds of people covering every inch of the guardrail. Naali wanted to watch from inside the small visitor’s center, but it was crowded too and we could barely see. So we went back out into the cold and had to stand on a rock to see over the crowd’s heads. I knew from Kamea and Ihupani’s description that past the cliff was a valley set deep in the mountain, and we had come all this way to see the sun rise over it. But when we stepped onto the rock, we could not see the valley at all.
It was as though we were standing on the lip of a bowl, and the bowl was filled with clouds. Everywhere we could see, for vast expanses of space, it was as though someone had filled everything with soft, billowy white. I could see now why Ihupani had worried about the cloudy day.
But as the first rays of sunlight appeared, all those worries melted away. The sun painted the clouds, so that each one it did not touch was filled with deep blue and indigo.
And the parts of the clouds the sun did touch, they turned bright with orange and pink dusting their sides. And the sky. The sky became yellow where it reached the clouds, setting the shadowed ones in intense contrast. Further up, the yellow melted, faded until it was almost as white as the clouds once were, until the white shifted to the brightest blue I’ve ever seen.
As the sun rose higher, every color became deeper, more intense. Even the clouds high above the sun, the ones which should have been out of its reach, even they were painted a vibrant pink. The clouds below us looked almost solid, like hills rolling across the valley, where I could see what must have been the other side of the mountain. But with the clouds covering everything, it looked more as though I were gazing at an enormous white waterfall tumbling into the valley.
I struggled not to look directly at the sun too long. It was so perfectly round as it peeked over the horizon that I felt more like I was watching a painting. It rose until it reached a cloud floating just above the others, and when the sun hid behind that cloud, everything surrounding it turned golden. The cloud itself looked black, and the valley became a deeper indigo than before, but the light above it looked like it was burning, like molten lava maybe. And within moments the sun appeared again.
We watched in silence, too awed to say anything. What could we say? Words could not describe the feeling we had, looking at this masterpiece.
With the beauty of the view, a song nudged its way into my mind. I had not heard it in almost a year, since last summer, the last time I had been to church with my family. The words had never meant much to me, but the tune, the music used to ring through me like truth. Standing on that mountain, gazing at Haleakala, which means The House of God in Hawaiian, breathing in the cold air that reminded me so much of home, with Naali’s shivering arms around me, that song came back to me and I felt something I had never felt before: connection to a higher power.
Encourage my soul, and let us journey on.
For the night is dark, and I am far from home.
Thanks be to God, the morning light appears.
The storm is passing over.
The storm is passing over.
The storm is passing over.
Halelu— Heleluja! Haleluja!