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When I was twelve, my mother gave me a ring. She told me, without hesitating, that it was her wedding ring. To me, it didn’t look very special. It was a thin golden braid that meekly offered a cluster of tiny diamonds, feminine and almost childlike. At the time, I slipped it on and off each of my fingers, marveling at how it almost fit. Like any twelve-year-old, I didn’t understand the significance. Within a year, it was “misplaced” at my aunt’s house, never to be seen again. In the years following its loss, the horror and disappointment in myself subsided until it seemed a gloomy memory rather than an unfortunate occurrence.

I have never lived with my father. It was an unspoken understanding between everyone in my family—that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take me in. It was taboo to talk or even think of it. Even my father knew that. It would have been pointless, anyway; he worked for a trucking company, a type of work that had him constantly traveling to various states, but mostly on the coasts. When he did return, it was only to buy trinkets of no real value, pay the minimum for child support, or to gift me with a handshake, as if that means anything to a twelve-year-old. Shortly after my birth, he shunned my mother unless company arrived, as if afraid to touch either of us. She looked for love elsewhere, and found it. That love from other sources deteriorated what little love she had left for my father. A few months later, she filed for divorce.

The only things I knew growing up were Pokemon games, bar food, and ramen noodles with strange cartoon chickens on the front.

My mother was angry at first that it had been lost, but she was also somehow liberated. It was a physical reminder of a mistake she could not escape, no matter how she tried to put it out of her mind. I was also a product of her indiscretion, but to her, I was more an extension of herself than the product of herself and a man that didn’t love her enough.

I didn’t remember the ring until the summer of my sophomore year leading into my junior year, when I was at my grandmother’s house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a miserably hot and humid summer that set the stage for recounting memories and bringing up the past. The type of weather reminded my grandma of Koae, Hawaii, where she was born and raised for the majority of her life. She would tell stories of her mischievous childhood adventures all day long, sitting outside by her in-ground pool, trailing her toes through the cold water. At night, when I was supposed to be sleeping, she told the wilder stories, and brought up my mother’s mistake.

What I hadn’t known is that it was as much her mistake as my mother’s.

On one of the nights, I hadn’t been able to sleep. In one of the guest bedrooms at her house, I played Hanafuta[1] for a while. I heard the adults talking loudly downstairs and I opened the vent to listen in. Almost as soon as I had, their voices got quieter, but I could still make out the words.

“Da mistake you make a’ your own,” my grandma said resignedly, as if repeating it from some other source. Her voice was heavily diluted with a dialect my family called Hawaiian Pidgin English[2].

“But you don’t have to remind me, Mom,” my mom replied with thin patience, her voice slipping in and out of the Hawaiian dialect in response to the weeks we’d been there. “I did good job raising my daughter, and I’m proud of what she is even if you and Kooch are not satisfied.”

“I nevah say dat I am no proud, Gi. I tink she do bettah wit’ a real faddah, not da kine[3] mahulani[4] you keep now.”

“He’s not mahu[5], Ma, and you was the one who want me to hitch it, get it? I was hapai[6] and no had choice to make.”

“You always have a choice! I no want illegitimate child, you no can blame, is it?”

The argument continued for some time, but I closed the vent. It squeaked a little, but not loudly enough to interrupt the flow of their conversation. For a long time, I sat on my shins with my hands folded across my lap. I pushed myself off the beige carpet and looked into the chestnut vanity where my aunt Annette had looked thousands of times. Even though my parents had been married at one point, I was technically illegitimate. Sitting on the dark green bed, I couldn’t look away from my reflection. My face was like a child having been caught doing something wrong. I stared for a long time at myself—at the physical traits I had received from my father, which were many. Our noses were of similar shape, our faces were both round, and we had thick lips. My hair was fine and brown, haole[7] hair as my grandma would say. To them, I probably looked exactly like him. It hurts me to admit this, but I was ashamed to look so much like a man that hurt my family and me, even if he is my father.

At the end of the vacation, on the last day before we left, everyone went to sleep early except for my grandma and me. We stayed up together and she told me stories. Eventually, I got the courage to ask her about the argument with my mom. She put her hands on the table, staring at them for a long time. I thought she wouldn’t tell me, but she took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes.

“Da mistake she make is ha’ own.”

“I know, Grandma, but . . . I’m . . . a bastard.”

She looked up from her hands, her eyes flashing with anger. “Nevah say dat kine no more!” I stared into her tired eyes, seeing my mother in her. Their mistakes were the same, and that was why my grandmother was so pushy. She folded her weathered, rough hand over mine. “No mattah what da faddah do oah say, da Japanese side always accep’ you.”

It was her way of saying that that the question of my legitimacy didn’t matter to her anymore, and because of that, the ring and everything it represented also faded into a slightly-unpleasant memory.

It wasn’t as if the ring never existed, but it no longer holds that accident over their heads. Now my mom can finally forgive herself.

[1] A card game originating in Japan that is also very popular in some parts of Hawaii. The literal translation is “flower cards”.

[2] A dialect of English spoken in the Hawaiian Islands. It is a mixture of the Japanese, Hawaiian, Chinese, and English languages. Much of the English used in this dialect is grammatically improper.

[3] A use-all noun that can refer to anything or anyone, much like the word “it”.

[4] An abusive term for “homosexual”, literally translating to “drag queen”.

[5] A neutral term for “homosexual” as an adjective.

[6] “pregnant”

[7] A slightly-abusive term for “Caucasian” as either an adjective or a noun.





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greatfriendsinger4 said...
Sept. 21, 2012 at 5:48 pm
Hey!  I just wanted to say how much I love your writing and hope you still are! Love, Lauren
 
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