Nearly everyone told my wife Dawn and me about the daily rain showers in Hawaii during the summer. Afternoon showers roll in like the soft summer waves off of Oahu. The drops fall from the sky while the sun glistens from a distance. Drive five minutes in any direction and the rain disappears. But this isn’t that sort of rain.
A storm takes over Oahu, the most popular island in Hawaii. Roads and highways flood overnight. Waikiki Beach, Honolulu’s famous tourist spot, will close. Runoff from the rain floods the sewage system and empties into the ocean where tourists populate and leave their trash. We are oblivious to that, though. We are in search of one of the island’s most popular beaches, Lanikai.
We drive along the highway through the middle of the island, and head east in search of the beach. The rain hasn’t started as we drive northeast through the foggy volcanic center of Oahu. We check the weather report and know it’s heading our way, but we expect the typical afternoon rain.
The constant clamor and neediness of children wears me out. How could I spend the rest of my life dedicating most of my time to another human being when I couldn’t hold down a job for more than a few months?
A few days earlier, a woman selling Hawaiian macadamia nuts at a farmer’s market told us we needed to visit Lanikai. “Don’t buy any nuts that aren’t whole. They’re not fresh and will go bad quicker,” was her other advice. She said to arrive early; parking is scarce. Unlike most beaches on the island, there is no public parking lot, and because of the beach’s popularity—it’s often on “best beaches in the world” lists—it fills fast with tourists, even though it lacks bathrooms. It’s the beach President Barack Obama and his family visit when they visit the island.
We never intended to wait for parking or get up early to get to a beach without bathroom facilities or easy parking. If we wanted to do that, we could have gone to Cape Cod, an hour from our home, and suffered in long lines to park and overcrowded beaches. This was supposed to be our last vacation before our first child was born. It was our last hurrah as a couple, unencumbered by the stresses of parenting.
I was unsure of becoming a dad. I’m selfish by nature. I want my space and have certain phobias about food. The parents who could live with their children covered in dirt and spit frightened me. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law eating the mushed food from their four children’s plates made me nauseous. The constant clamor and neediness of children wears me out. How could I spend the rest of my life dedicating most of my time to another human being when I couldn’t hold down a job for more than a few months? I’m living on pennies making this writing thing work, or not work, depending on how you look at it. Dawn is constantly frustrated by my frivolous need to feed my craft beer addiction and other bad spending habits. I wanted nice dinners in fancy restaurants and late nights drinking with my friends to never end. I didn’t want to become the Facebook newsfeed covered in photos of your child doing mundane things that somehow excited the few parents in my orbit. I know this is a choice, but choices scare me. I half-ass nearly everything I do because I’m afraid of choices—the first words out of my mouth when I asked Dawn to marry me was a stuttering of “So, you want to do this?” She made me do it over and said “yes.”
It took me years to get ready to even think of that question. I thought it would take me decades to be ready for a child. I was unsure even as Margo was developing inside Dawn that I could become a father, a dad, someone responsible for the upbringing of another human. We had a few tense conversations in our car about my wanting to see a psychiatrist because I was afraid. So afraid that some nights I’d stay up staring into the pages of a book but reading nothing for hours, paralyzed. I was not only afraid about the possibility of a child, but about all the things that can go wrong and all the mishaps that can come with raising a child—the illnesses, the schools, the broken hearts and injuries, the boys and girls, the teasing and the stress it can put on a marriage. I barely reacted when Dawn told me the pregnancy test was positive. I stood stuck in the moment seeing myself from outside my body trying to formulate the proper response. Instead of hugging my loving wife, I stood wooden and Dawn cried because she could sense my unease and lack of excitement.
The feeling of dread washed over me last July as we began planning our annual spring vacation when we realized our newborn would only be a few months old and we didn’t want to risk hopping on a plane and going on a new adventure. The stress would shatter us. Instead, we decided to take an impromptu trip in August, before our baby was born. We knew going to Hawaii with a child was far-fetched. The plane ride is miserable as an adult, never mind a small child stuffed in an uncomfortable box with no exit or escape until it lands. Dawn barely made this flight without losing her mind, shifting in her seat nearly every 15 minutes, waking me from something that resembled sleep and asking how much longer as we crept over the Pacific Ocean with no end in sight.
As we drive around the east coast of Oahu in search of the beach, hoping to find a parking spot, the rain begins. We had decided ahead of time that if there wasn’t any parking, we’d continue down the road back to our hotel in Honolulu. We could stop anywhere along the coast to relax if this spot didn’t work out. As we pull up to the beach, we see that the roads have already begun flooding, forcing traffic to a crawl. And swaths of people are leaving the beach. Families load up mini-vans with their floats and noodles. Couples run to their cars. This is the kind of moment to seize on your final vacation. We’re going swimming anyway, so what is a little rain?
I half-ass nearly everything I do because I’m afraid of choices—the first words out of my mouth when I asked Dawn to marry me was a stuttering of “So, you want to do this?” She made me do it over and said “yes.”
I pull our car into a spot and park it, pop the trunk and grab our swimming stuff to change into. We wrap ourselves in towels and change. We put on our sandals and leave everything behind except something to wrap the car keys in so they won’t get wet and head to the beach. The water glows like a blue night light, lighting up our view amidst the gray sky. The sand is light and airy, the finest I will probably ever set foot on.
I was unsure of going to Hawaii when we made the plan. I wanted to go back to Europe. I wanted to enjoy all the wine and beer I could before we became responsible parents. I wanted to see art and ride trains and be in a place where I didn’t know the language. I love feeling out of place, on the periphery of society, taking in my surroundings with the filter of not belonging. Dawn wanted to relax and slow down. I wanted to hustle and explore and see as much as I could in the moment. My wife and I are different people—she hates poetry and soccer and I hate reality TV and can’t sit still. We embody the William Carlos Williams poem “Marriage”:
“So different,/this man,/and this woman:/A stream flowing/in a field.”
My wife and I met seven years ago while working at a summer camp. I was the young lifeguard going into my senior year of college and dreaming of being a writer. She was a middle school math teacher working a summer job. We barely spoke for the first six weeks of camp. She worked with the older campers while I taught swim lessons to the younger ones and the more difficult personalities. She has five years on me, but we finally bonded over a T-shirt of a local band that I wore to camp one day. Somehow we knew the same people but had never met. We’d been to the same local shows and saw many of the same bands, but successfully avoided one another. Six months later, we started dating. Our first official date was on a snowy New Year’s Eve. We spent the whole night watching movies and eating pizza. Now, we were on the brink of being parents and in need of one last escape before committing our lives to raising another human.
We decided Oahu would be a perfect spot. It would satisfy both of us. We could explore the island with a rental car, go hiking and relax on the beach, watch the sunset turn the perfectly blue ocean sparkling reds and yellows when we needed the rest. We just needed to stay outside of the city limits, away from the crowds of families with their inflatable rafts. We’d searched the island far and wide for something different, new, far from the corporate culture that seemed to infiltrate every crack, and found some peace among the crowds, but nothing felt quite like Lanikai.
We jump in the warm water and swim for hours. The rain comes down on us and thunder claps in the distance. A few hours in the water at Lanikai puts me at ease, pulling the anxiety from my bones.
We’d been told over and over again the myth of Hawaii. The beauty. The vacation capital and destination all East Coasters dream of. I found it all a bit overwhelming. The flight was long and the humidity was claustrophobic. But life is lived in moments and not in myths. We remember things as if we’re looking at them through a View-Master. It’s the unexpected moments that stick out the most. I can see Dawn floating and giggling as the raindrops fall around her, her baby bump just starting to poke out from her bathing suit, barely noticeable to anyone but me.
That moment, floating in the perfectly blue water, the kind of water I had only seen in magazines, I began to realize we were only a few months from being parents and it would be OK. This was a choice and we made it together. I still freeze at night, barely able to sleep. But now, instead of wondering about myself, I worry for Margo, our daughter. I can’t stand anything ever happening to her. When Margo first smiled at me, I saw Dawn smiling at the beach, her legs wrapped around my waist and her cheeks flush red and a smile so big and true.
All photos: Kevin Koczwara.