Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Nat King Cole, Route 66, 1950.

We left Seattle in the Spring. We left by car. It was the first of a total of eight trips my parents would make by car with me from one coast of the Contiguous 48 to the other while I was a kid. If you add in the one trip I made alone in 1980, that's a total of nine, which is an odd number, which means this must be the West Coast. Yes. Yes it is the West Coast. My math checks.

Where was I? Yes, we left in the Spring. I was not, this time, kept informed of the itinerary. I only have a very general idea of the route. I was too young, not four yet, and knew too little of maps or geography to make much sense of it anyway. So the trip was, for me, an extended exercise in feeling lost. Each new town we entered was a place I'd not only never seen before, but never heard of.

"What's this?" "It's Portland, honey." "What's Portland?" "It's a city." "Oh."

"What's this?" "It's San Francisco, honey." "What's San Francisco?" "It's a city." "Oh."


We didn't travel straight. We took a circuitous route because we had plenty of time. My Father didn't have to report for duty in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for almost a month. So we went south and then turned east, through the Southwest. And, I'm sure, a long stretch was on Route 66.

I started early out asking strangers to help me escape my parents. My reasoning was that, as my experience with Aunt Lovilla showed, relatives were dangerous, because they had prior alliances with the parties involved. I couldn't get Aunt Ata to help because she was my Father's sister. She would always take his side. It was like they had a pact.

But strangers were unentangled. They could hear my story and decide on its merits. I assumed that some would say, like Lani and Lono did, they couldn't help because of the political difficulties of stepping in. But they wouldn't have any reason, I thought, to betray me to my parents.

At first it all went well, in the sense that nothing bad happened. Nothing good happened either. I just asked one stranger after another to help me whenever I had the chance to get away from my parents for a minute or two. I said my parents had tried to kill me once already, and my Mother still talked about killing me. I didn't mention the rapes because I didn't think it was necessary.

One person after another said one of two things. Either, "That's sad but what can I do? I can't kidnap you." Or they said, "How dare you talk about your own parents that way. You're an evil child."

I estimate that I spoke to about a dozen people altogether. They were gas station attendants, motel clerks, bus boys, and waitresses. The usual service workers you encounter on the road.

Somewhere in the Southwest we stopped at an isolated gas station off the highway. This was 1953, so the whole trip was on old-fashioned highways. There were no low-access interstate freeways then. While my parents were busy using the bathrooms or buying beverages I told the gas station attendant what I told everybody. He told me to get back in our car and he'd think about what I said, and maybe talk to some people about it.

He made it sound like I had won him over. I got into the car thinking maybe the police would show up to arrest my parents and they'd take me someplace safe.

Then I saw him talking to my parents. He was pointing to me. They were looking angry and each one was looking toward me, red in the face.

When my parents got into the car, no one said anything until the gas station was well behind us. Then my Mother shrieked, "I TOLD YOU HE REMEMBERED! WE HAVE TO KILL HIM NOW! WHO KNOWS WHO HE'LL TELL NEXT! EVENTUALLY SOMEONE'S GOING TO BELIEVE HIM!"

My Father interrupted a few to times to say, "QUIT SHOUTING!" AND "IF YOU'D SHUT UP I COULD THINK!"

All I could think of was, a total stranger betrayed me for no reason at all.

Lani was going to kidnap me and take me somewhere safe. When he couldn't do that he talked of killing himself. I'm afraid to find out what happened. I'm afraid he might have done it. But he never would have betrayed me.

Here I was among what were supposed to be my own people. I was an American child in America. These were typical Americans. Eleven were useless. Nearly half of those called me evil, for speaking the truth about my parents. And a twelfth betrayed me.

I wanted desperately to return to Hawaii and be back with real human beings with real souls.

1 comment:

hylarious said...

Wes, thanks for all of the wesmem posts. I plan to read them all, and sort them chronologically, and stuff. Fantastically written awfulness.