Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jun 11, 2017

The Leader of The Band

All my father knew was the struggle and a hard life, so did his parents. On the plantation everyone worked, everyone; men, women, and children. Even some of the female Japanese migrant workers tied their children to their backs while toiling in the fields day in and day out. Dad only managed to get to the tenth grade and that was it, after that it was working in the cane field, driving a truck and hoping for a good, simple life and nothing beyond that. He kept an article from a Hilo newspaper in his wallet, it was old and yellow by the time I was old enough to see it. It was about how he sunk a forty foot shot from half court in a local league basketball game. It was a glorious moment that he would relive again and again whenever a shot of Seagram 7 would loosen him up. He was also a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth and did quite well as part of the plantation league. For everything that life had given him, there was only one tool which he’d never possessed, and that was love. Of course, he loved all kinds of sports and bowling, he loved to eat Pimentos with his Portuguese bean soup and he also loved Betty Grable. However, when it came to showing love and affection to me or my brothers, there seemed to be a disconnect. There was never praise, a hug, a pat on the head or even congratulations.
Even in those moments when we did something notable in our sports events or in Karate like myself, he would always note something negative instead. This was something that kept my older brothers at a distance, but my middle brother, it made him go out of his way to gain our father’s approval.

I was never sure if he ever got that nod and kind gesture that he was looking for. My father and I were complete opposites, fire, and ice, sun and rain, oil and water. I recall when he first coached little league and how it became more important to him than anything else, at least that’s the way I saw it at my young age. Rather than concern myself with baseball, I was more concerned about my friends and being part of a high school theater group.

Our only interaction came when I got a job during my senior year in high school, It wasn’t the greatest job but I got enough out of it to go and have pizza after school or to go see a movie. All of that was short lived of course when he told me that I would have to hand over my paycheck to him every two weeks. According to him, we were struggling and so out of the three hundred some odd dollars I made, only sixty of it ended up being mine. 

Three hundred dollars was a big deal back in 1980.

 There was a real resentment that was festering for a while, and the reason for that it is because I was adopted and he made it a point to remind me about it every chance he had. Stuff like that does a helluva lot for your self-esteem and your self-confidence.

........

 The nurse walks in at this point and checks his IV and his heart monitor. She’s young, lively and bubbly and talks a bit too much for my taste. She asks innocuous questions and I only reply with yes or no answers. I’m too busy living inside of my head at this moment and I don’t have any desire to engage, so I excuse myself to the hallway which is not too distant from the cafeteria. I become sidetracked by a snack machine that offers Sugar Daddys and Milky Ways, my two favorite candies. I grab a 10-ounce bottle of Coke from the adjacent machine so that I can wash down sugar with sugar. 

Not the healthiest snack, it will probably ruin my complexion or kick my ass when I crash from this triple rush. I pick up a magazine left on a smaller table near the elevator and bring it back with me to my father’s room. 
I stand there at the entrance and look him, all the tubes that are simultaneously plugged into him and plugged into a monitor show that the old man has a few worthy vital signs that are keeping him on this side for now. He’s burned bridges with my older brothers, they won’t come to see him but they text every hour to check up on how he’s doing.

“Barely,” I tell them.

“Keep us posted,” they reply.

I finally dozed off at 1:13 in the morning and I immediately had a weird dream that I was eight years old and that I was dressed in a favorite blue aloha shirt of mine with khaki shorts and black shoes and gray socks. We were at the cemetery just outside of Hilo and we were standing at the foot of my grandparents grave. My father stood beside me crying, I remember looking around for my mother but she wasn’t there, it was just he and I. I remember telling him as my younger self that it was alright and that he shouldn’t be sad. At that point, he immediately knelt down next to me and took me in his arms.

“I can’t remember any time that I spent with you, I wasn’t a good father, I wasn’t...” he was sobbing and it was awkward for me. I didn’t know what to do except try to get out if his embrace and step away.

“Stop,” I remember telling him.

“It’s what I deserve, it’s okay,” he cried.

He turned and walked toward a VW station wagon that was parked just a few feet away, he got in and he drove off. I was suddenly jolted out of my dream by the young nurse, her voice was down to a whisper but her tone was urgent.

“Mr. De Coito, your father just passed in his sleep,” she said.

My mind was still groggy and the information hadn’t quite taken yet. 

“Passed away, like died? Is that what you’re saying? You’re saying he just died? When? What time?”

“He stopped breathing at 1:13 am,”

….…

It was hard for my brothers to reconcile anything at the services, they knew they had the right to sit up front but they chose not to. They felt that it would be hypocritical. There were lots of well-wishers and a lot of his old bowling buddies and friends from his old job. Family flew in from Maui and the mainland. He chose to be cremated and his request was that his ashes be spread in the backyard of his old home. 

Our uncle Wallace gave the eulogy and our aunt Lucille hosted the reception at her home, she had prepared more food than we were prepared to eat, but it was good and it brought back a lot of old memories. My oldest brother Howard came over and asked me if I would sing a song for everyone and I asked him which one? “Whatever you feel like singing,” he said.

I was a bit rusty on the guitar and I’d spent a considerable amount of time tuning it until my uncles became impatient and yelled at me to hurry it up. Some things never change. I took a deep breath and did my best.

“Oh Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
It’s you, it’s you, must go and I must bide
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so”

My brothers came up and gave me a hug and held on to me as we all began to tear up. It was a beautiful moment where we were all able to give one another what we so desperately wanted from our father. Maybe he was there too, maybe he watched, maybe he took in a long sigh of relief that we weren’t so much like him after all. At least, that’s the way I see it.



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