by Nickolaus Sugai
There are few unconditional loves one acquires through life. There are the folks who birthed you, whom you cannot choose. There are the folks who do not biologically birth you, but choose you. There are also dogs who show up at your door one day and there are dogs who you choose by showing up at their door one day.
And then there’s the place you grew up in, your home.
I grew up in Hawaii and it is where I now and always will consider home. It’s a warm comforting blanket that has only grown more reposeful the longer I am away from it.
It is inherently mine. It’s a part of my identity. In the deep recesses of my dreams, one day I’ll write a screenplay that takes place in Hawaii that becomes a Sundance darling; the Gus Van Sant to Portland, if you will. I’m always careful that I’m never obnoxious about this part of me, there’s this running fear in my head that my unrelenting loyalty will manifest in obtuse ways, like someone’s college apartment with a Colorado flag draping above their couch, caricaturing the bong sitting in the center of their IKEA Lack coffee table. (The Hawaii equivalent is of having a tattoo of the Hawaiian island chain.)
I try to be tasteful about it, although sometimes it comes across more of an excuse to a behavior than an explanation:
Q: “Why do you need to eat white rice with everything?”
A: Because I’m from Hawaii. (Reason explaining a behavior)
Q: “Why are you so aggressive?”
A: Because I’m from Hawaii. (Excuse attempting to rationalize a behavior.)
The past two holidays, I invited my girlfriend to spend time with me in Hawaii.
I got the normal apprehension of bringing anyone home. Whether it’s Oahu or Los Angeles or somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, there’s the expected anxieties of bringing someone to your childhood bedroom. She thinks I’m cool. We do adult things like go to art museums together. Will she still think I’m cool after she sees my Beanie Baby collection.
We’re going to have to share a twin sized bed and she might look through my yearbook and see my awful prom photos or want to go through my compact disc collection circa 1995–2006. You are perhaps never as vulnerable as you are when you’re defending phases from your childhood.
“Oh, that was when I was really into the military and liked to play airsoft.”
“Oh, that was when I played Everquest and Dark Ages of Camelot for three years straight.”
“Oh, that was my turntabling phase.”
“Oh, that was a skateboarding phase.”
“Oh, that was when I was the third grade and I tried to write Command & Conquer fan fiction.”
Instead, not only she did she not judge any of the decisions I made prior to being become an adult, but she was amazingly accommodating of the things I was really concerned about. She liked the spam musubis, which are literally pieces of canned meat wrapped in seaweed and white rice sold at gas stations. She lovingly accompanied me as I constantly drove back and forth between my parent’s houses, trying to equally divide my attention to each. She came along while I ran trivial errands when the most beautiful beaches in the world were ten minute drives away. She accepted my dogs, although to be fair, they are the greatest dogs in the world and if you don’t think so then you’re terrible. Not only did she get along with my parents, but she was genuinely interested in forming a deep bond with them.
She did not, however, accept the twin bed.
Unbeknownst to me, I’m selfish of my home. It’s mine. Sharing my home with you means I have to share my time that I spend with my family. Suddenly, I realized if I want to eat this meal consisting of three hamburger patties, covered in brown gravy and elbow macaroni in mayonnaise, I had to explain it. I couldn’t merely take it for granted and eat it. I couldn’t just participate in speaking pidgin (a form of creole English); I had to explain it.
I was glad to do it though, and my girlfriend and I grew closer after the visit. Visiting your significant other’s family is a serious step no matter how you slice it. It turns seeing someone into a relationship. There’s a wonderful intimacy that comes from knowing where your boyfriend got his money stolen in tenth grade. There’s also a wonderful sense sense of trust that comes when you let someone in the room that you grew up in.
Your sense of place wraps around you. It becomes an envelope of safety and reliability. It is a part of you and you feel like you have to defend it when someone’s critical of it. It’s why people (uhhh, me) get so passionate about their local sports teams.
She knew that. She could tell how much where I’m from was part of who I was. It was impossible for her not to love how I called “flip-flops” slippers. It was impossible for her to not to love me as I sat and explained to my Dad how to use his new iPad. And it didn’t matter if we were in Hawaii or Los Angeles or in the middle of Nebraska. She would have accepted me in a shanty in Fresno, as long as I let her.
There’s something to be said about the untenable logic of worrying about everything. If I acted on all of my anxieties like this, I imagine I’d never leave the house. Time is funny because it allies you when you want nothing to do with it and then secretly abandons. One minute it’s there and the next you don’t know where the year went.
Your heart deals with the future and your head deals with the past. You feel what you want things to be like and you remember what things were like. Maybe it’s better to be nostalgic about things that haven’t happened yet.