The first night back, I can’t sleep. Or maybe I can’t tell what sleep is anymore, such has been the languor of our days. The three-hour time change has something to do with it, but so does the preponderance of mammals on our bed. Only one of the two dogs, but both of the cats are very much in evidence. All have missed us, it is clear. One cat purrs like a small power plant, and the other does very much the same, until they collide and hiss like steam pipes exploding. It’s 12 midnight, it is 1 AM, it is 2 AM. It doesn’t matter. In particular it doesn’t matter when I awaken, feeling strangely rested despite the lack of sleep. Thus a good holiday, rest getting stored for long-range use.
Thus, the pleasant aftereffects of a week in Hawaii. And this time, some aspect of this experience seems to linger surprisingly long. The lulling of pounding waves, Oahu’s North Shore being fabled…as the hotel’s advertising agency keeps telling us…for just that. The endless rustle of windblown palms. And the daily breakfast routine. Invariably fresh pineapple. Kona coffee. And shall we have coconut bread or macadamia nut buns? And is it warm, or am I cold? It’s the wind, the body-temperature weather, it’s Hawaii.
It doesn’t take long for mental layers to slough off. Particularly the anxious one, the one I never know about most of the time. But it’s always there, and when it’s not, well it’s like this. My concentration back, engaged in both writing and reading. I am “myself,” whatever that is.
Jane has much to do with this, being here in every sense. There is no work. There is no schedule. When one or both of us are tired, we sleep. When the opposite is true, we wake. Admittedly, the latter seems incredible, but one morning it just happened. Jane was rested, I was rested, and soon we were up, coffeed and off to the pool by eight in the morning. This being our days.
The Turtle Bay Resort thrusts itself into the wild Pacific with the help of an enormous lava flow. With the swimming pool and deck and bar projecting into the surf, it’s hard to miss anything marine. Young people line up their surfboards right at the end of the point to begin the wave-borne journey toward the beach. They know the point without getting the point, perhaps the very definition of youth. Something about their presence is both jaunty and reassuring. I don’t pay much attention to them, but they are pleasantly there. I attend to the pool.
That’s because the pool, and my anxieties about it occupy my mind, what’s left of it. Even here, fears can waken me in the tropical night. What if I drown? How would I drown? This is the question Jane keeps asking. But it is harder than ever for me to right myself in the pool, turning from face down to face up. Jane’s answer is a consistent one. She is never far when I, when we, are in the water. For whatever historical reasons, it is difficult for me to rest on this knowledge. To float on it, as I do with the strap-on blue plastic device I bought months ago that now keeps my head well above the waterline of the Turtle Bay pool.
So what is there to do in such circumstances but persevere? A lifetime philosophy, in my case, and as good as any. And the result? There are several, that is the thing. I swam every day at Turtle Bay, describing increasingly wide arcs in the pool, until four full laps become the norm, and on the final day, even five.
Swimming is a full-body experience. And for someone whose full body is rarely engaged, it’s particularly welcome. No pool outing is like any other. On some days the trade winds are blowing so violently that several deck chairs skid on the concrete. For those of us in the water, those being held aloft by flotation devices, we are in fact windblown and windborne. The blast of air speeds me toward the deep end of the pool, then makes it almost impossible to get back to the shallows. Almost. Actually, it’s only a bit slower, and I have given up steering, Jane now does that. One of those subtle shifts that occurs with age and disability. And probably occurs with marriage, at least a good one. We are a nautical team. And, yes, I still worry about some gust of Hawaiian wind flipping me over so that I can drown in the tropics. But there are moments, whole moments, when I don’t worry about this either. The point is that I keep floating and moving. And I find other things to worry about, naturally. Such as what’s happening with my leg. Why doesn’t it move? What’s happening to me? What paralysis or weakness or both is now engulfing me in the deep end?
The thing is to keep moving, even the leg. Which in time proves to be highly revealing. I can’t lift my left leg to kick in the pool the way I would like to…for the very reason my physical therapist has suggested. I’m not moving my left leg enough. I’m not walking enough. I’m not even doing the exercises he gave me to do with my left leg…enough. It’s that simple, and worrying about it doesn’t seem to do much good. Which is why it’s good to just keep doing whatever I’m doing. Which is trying to kick, albeit weakly. Which by the end of the week is paying off, for I am kicking more strongly. That’s all one can ask. And I didn’t ask. It just happened.
On our last day we drive along the northern edge of the island to visit Dick and Joan, parents of my late wife. They are 88, and now they have a stair-glide elevator, which I happily use. Joan arrives just as we do, having spent several nights in the hospital with pneumonia. Dick does his best to converse, but his oxygen tube and general fatigue and depression prove too much. He is present, letting us know when it’s time for us to depart. But he can’t, or won’t, say much. I feel disappointed. Surely there’s something he wants to tell me, something I can do. But no. This has been all there was to do. Just being here. And as Dick has said himself, probably for the last time.
Not that anyone knows. Not that anyone ever knows. Except for one thing. This final afternoon in Hawaii, complete with an arduous crutching into Dick and Joan’s bathroom, nothing about it has thrown me off. Death has been in the air. But it’s also been in the water. It will be in the plane ride home. It’s blowing off the sea, right across our table in the small cabaña restaurant, Ola, where we have our final dinner. It’s okay. It’s part of things. And meanwhile, I keep swimming.