Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Dec 18, 2019

"Run Away"


I've always respected my mother's privacy. I knew well enough not to barge into their room. It was my parent's private space, like a sanctuary. I knocked before I entered most times; other times, I was not let in for whatever reason, and I accepted that. It still carried over after my father died.
I would hear her crying often, and I would knock on the door and ask if she was alright? She'd open the door, and we'd cry together.

One day while my mom was going through my father's belongings and the things that he'd collected over the years, she came across an old cassette mixtape, which he made for her way back in 1981 when they were first dating. His handwriting was still legible on the cover, "Mixtape #1 4 Us."
In another box, my mom found the ghetto blaster that my father kept even after the advent of online music. He believed that the radio monstrosity still held all the memories which he and mom put into it. Figuring that the mixtape was worn and stretched out, she saw no sense in popping it into the cassette player and giving it a go. I encouraged her to try, and sure enough, it worked. It started with Donna Summer's 'Last Dance.'

She giggled and shook her head, "Oh man, I remember when this first played at the school dance. That cafeteria at Waipahu High School was so hot and stuffy, everybody was disco dancing, but your father and I slow danced the whole song. He reeked of Jovan' Musk cologne, but I didn't care, I was so in love with him."

The classic disco harps opened the next song until the driving four-count beat came in over the top. "France Joli sang this, Come To Me," my mom reminisced. "We danced this at the 'Point After' for this contest, and we took third prize because we forgot that our outfits were supposed to match. The judges were so dumb."

The third song came on, and mom's heart couldn't get through it.

It was 'Too Much Heaven' by the BeeGees. She put her head down, and the tears came like a flood. She quietly pressed the off button and removed the cassette. "We'll listen to this another time," she said.

"Okay," I agreed. "I didn't mean to make you sad, mom."

"I just wish your father was here, listening to these songs - feels incomplete without him," she said. "It's not your fault."


In the following days, I would hear more disco music coming out of my mom's room. In the evenings, she'd play a lot of softer tunes like 'Hello Stranger.' Otherwise, the days and nights were average; after a while, she didn't seem to be forlorn or heartbroken anymore. One morning, I awoke to the telephone ringing downstairs. I turned over and went back to sleep once I heard my mom answer. By the tone of her voice, she was speaking to someone she knew. It was probably my aunt checking up on her. I loved my aunt dearly, but she had a bad habit of getting into everyone's business. She usually made things worse than better.

A few minutes later, I smelled my mom's bacon, eggs, and fried potato skins on the skillet. She hadn't made those in a while. Gosh, my mouth watered with such anticipation that I rolled out of bed and got dressed. I hurried downstairs, skipping three steps at a time. I was stunned to see the kitchen empty, quiet. My mom was just hanging up the phone.

"John," she said, surprised. "You're up early."

"I could have sworn I smelled you frying up breakfast, that's why I rushed down here," I told her.

"Oh no," she smiled. "I was just on the phone talking about breakfast, though."

"Mom, do me a favor, and please? Don't let Aunty Charla come over, she's just too extra for me, and she's always in everyone's business," I begged her.

"She means well, John, and besides, she's older than you are, and you have to show her respect," my mom insisted.

"I can be respectful from a distance," I smiled. "Well, since I'm down here, why don't I make us an omelet?"

"I ate earlier while you were sleeping, you go ahead." My mom said. "By the way, can you pull your father's car out of the garage for me, please? I want to clean it out today."

"Oh sure," I replied. "I can do that."

"After I'm done with that, do you think you can teach me how to drive?" That was a surprising request considering she was always afraid to drive.

"Sure," I said. "Can I ask how come ?"

"Uh, it's just time, I guess. Your father drove me everywhere, and now that he's gone, I need to get around and, I don't intend on taking the bus."


Within two months, my mom got her driver's license, and before long, she drove my dad's 85 Cadillac everywhere. It was good, she needed to get out and about rather than just sit at home everyday brooding over her loss. At night the music played softly, but as faint as it was, I could tell when it was the Carpenter's as opposed to the Bee Gees. A few months later, I was coming home late from a date with a girl I'd met at work. It had the potential to be something, but I wanted to take my time and not rush into things, so I dropped her off at home and bid her goodnight. It was close to midnight when I pulled up into the driveway and saw the garage lights on. Mom was giving the old Fleetwood a good polish. I walked into the garage and heard the cassette playing.

It was Three Dog Night.

"Mom?" I tapped her on the shoulder.

"Oh, John, can you go to the fridge and get me a dark one?" She asked.

"You mean dad's beer?" I replied.

"Yeah, the dark," she looked at me like I was supposed to know what she was talking about.

I was back in a short minute, as I handed the beer to her I couldn't help but comment, "That's the same music dad listened to whenever he was polishing up the car."

"It was," she replied. "You don't know this, but your father had music for almost everything he did, he was funny that way."

"Carrying on the tradition?" I smirked.

She grunted a reply as she kept polishing and scrubbing. I glanced at the back seat, and this horrible thought that I might have been conceived in this car crossed my mind, or at least that the constant practice of what would lead to my conception might have occurred there.

"Your dad loved this car so much. He wouldnʻt even have sex with me in the back seat whenever we went out on a date, not even on the hood or on top of the trunk." My mom mused.

"Mom," I winced. "I donʻt have to know that."

She shrugged her shoulders, "Just making small talk is all,"

Was she reading my mind? That was something I was not expecting to ever hear from her. She downed her beer and placed the empty bottle on my fatherʻs work table. I opened the driver's side door and took a seat behind the wheel. I'd only driven this car once; it was when my father was suffering the effects of a heart attack. He survived that one because we got him to the hospital on time, but when it happened again three years later, he wasn't so lucky. The next song quietly snuck in over the speakers. It was Marty Balin and his Starship friends, "You don't know how much I love you, but I love you like a son. I'd like to put my arms around you, and run, run, run, run away....."

My mom stopped polishing the front bumper for a second, and a sad smile came over her face. "There used to be this small neighborhood on a small hill just off of Waipahu Depot Road, past Hans La'orange park. It was these old plantation-style homes, and every Christmas, the people who lived on that street went all out and decorated their houses and their front yards. People like your father, me, and you could park our cars and walk up and down the block. We looked at the lights and all the ornaments, and the people who lived in those houses would stand outside their front yards and hand out Christmas candy. The very last time we went there, this song was playing."

"The very last time?" I asked.

Yea," she nodded, "the mayor at the time condemned that neighborhood and broke it down and built the Filipino Culture Center. Once that place was gone, the soul of Waipahu went with it. Things have never been the same since."

"If you knew how much I miss you, oh I miss you more each day. I'd really like to come and see you, to run, run, run, run away..."


My mom was kinda sorta back on track with making her excellent breakfasts...I think. She'd leave a pile of pancakes and fried bacon on a paper plate in the middle of the kitchen table. Was it for the two of us to eat together, or was it just for me? I couldn't figure it out, but no matter, I took a seat and savored every flavor and every greasy pig fat sin I could hold on to and drowned it all in syrup. It was utter debauchery for the palate. It was over in five minutes, and as I sat there trying to catch my breath, I noticed a note pad under one of the plates. I pulled it out and saw my mom's handwriting on it. 

Fuses for automatic windows

Install new sound system (Bose)

Dashboard Covers

Upholstery spray

Dark Pirate Beer

She's undoubtedly investing a lot of time in the Fleet-wood, but she does all of that at night. It never occurred to me that I haven't asked her about what she does during the day other than shop at the auto-parts store? I don't want to be all stalker-ish about it, so maybe I'll just wander into the garage later tonight and ask her? Hopefully, it's not awkward. Right then, I get a text message on my phone, it's from Kathy. You know, the date I mentioned earlier?

"Got extra lunch, you interested?" She asked.

"I just had a big breakfast, but I should be hungry again by lunch," I typed back.

"Is that a yes?" She typed. 

"Yes," I replied. "That's a yes."

The lunch date at work turned into a dinner date after work, which turned into a late evening at her place. Kathy asked me to stay the night, but I told her I couldn't, I didn't have any extra clothes with me. She suggested that she drive me back to my place to retrieve some clothes for the next day. I agreed; she drove so that I wouldn't have to pull my car out of the guest parking lot at her place because the gates locked at a particular hour, and I wouldn't be able to get back in. Twenty minutes later, we pulled up into my driveway, but the garage doors were closed, and the lights were off. I hurried up to my room to grab a few things. I notice that my mom's bedroom door is wide open, and the lights are off. I peaked in; it was empty. That's strange, my mom always locked her bedroom door when she wasn't home. I decided to leave it open rather than close it, I didn't want to get in trouble later on for not respecting her privacy.

I made the bottom of the steps when my mom surprised me. She was coming out of the downstairs bathroom with a wrench in one hand and a red mechanics shop rag in the other. For all I know, it could have been a kitchen knife covered in blood, well at least that's what it looked like to me. I let out a scream, and for the first time in my life, I swore in front of my mother.


"Hey," my mom replied calmly, "you're gonna wake the whole neighborhood. You didn't see me cleaning tools in the bathroom, okay? I'll be in the garage if you wanna hang out."

She slipped out the front door and disappeared under the moonlight. I was stunned for a second because what she just said caught me off guard. Afraid of being caught cleaning tools in the bathroom late at night was my dad's thing.

"It's my quirk," he would tell me. "It's therapeutic; it helps me think."

"Why does mom get mad about it?" I remember asking him as my seventeen-year-old self.

"Because it's her private bathroom, and she doesn't appreciate me cleaning my greasy tools in it," he sighed with a wink and a smile.

Kathy's car was still idling in the driveway when I walked up and knocked on the window. She was smiling while simultaneously rolling the glass down. "Your mom just walked into the garage, or at least I think that was your mother; otherwise, some older crazy woman is tooling around in there."

"Yeah, that's my mom...right now, she's not well emotionally, and I need to talk to her about it," I said.

Kathy nodded, "I get it, no worries."

"That doesn't mean you can't stay here," I told her. "I don't know how long the talk will be, but if you don't mind waiting or hanging out, I'd like that."

"You're going to have to wake up extra early tomorrow, so I can go back to my place and get dressed for work," she looked up at me.

"Okay," I replied. "The front door's open, and my room is on the right at the top of the stairs."


"Just yesterday morning, 
they let me know you were gone, 
Susan, the plans they made put an end to you."

The sound from the car stereo was full-bodied, she must have had it installed first thing this morning. The hood was open, and on the red shop rag lay a set of crescent wrenches one next to another. In her hand, she cleaned the broader tool of the collection with another shop rag that was worn and faded. It was the one my dad always used. On the workbench was a cold six-pack of dark beer and a bag of Torito chips; it's all the quirky stuff my dad kept in the garage while he worked. 

"Mom?" I asked, hoping that my voice wouldn't startle her.

"Hmm?" She replied.

"You okay? Everything okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, why?" She asked without looking at me.

"I'm just worried that's all," I replied.

"Worried about what?" She asked with no emotion.

"Well, the Fleet-wood for one, and the other stuff," I began.

"The Fleet-wood? Why? Is there something wrong with the car that I don't know about?" She put the rag and the tool down and looked directly at me. "John?"

I realized that I couldn't do this now, not with Kathy here. This wasn't going to be an easy egg to crack, it would have to wait for another time. 

"No, mom, everything's fine. I just wanted to make sure that you're okay," 

"You were saying something about other stuff?" She asked.

"No, just sometimes you seem more lonely than usual, that's all," I lied. "I also have someone over, I just thought I'd let you know, so there are no weird surprises tomorrow morning."

"I have errands to run first thing need to worry," she replied. "You know, me and your father's first time he didn't use a condom...."

"Okay, mom, stop right there!" I put my hand up and looked away from her. I shook my head and left the garage. 


I got up before Kathy so I could make breakfast for us on the go. The kitchen was dark, so I didn't see my mom right away when I flicked the light switch. She was on the tail end of a conversation before she hung up and went back upstairs. "Babe, I have to go, I call you same time tomorrow."

"Babe?" I squealed. "Who's Babe? You seeing somebody, mom?"

She ignored me and went back to her room. When did my mom have time to date, somebody? Well,  she does tinker around at all the automotive shops these days, so who knows? I returned to my room with breakfast saran-wrapped in two paper plates. I handed Kathy my extra toothbrush and a clean towel in case she needed to wash the makeup off her face. 

"Good morning," she pressed her body into mine.

"Hurry and freshen up," I kissed her forehead. "We can continue this at your place."

We were giggling and horseplaying while we got ready, when we finally left my room, my mom was waiting outside her bedroom door. "Good morning," she was all sunshine. "I'm Loessa, John's mother. We haven't been properly introduced."

"Good morning, ma'am, I'm Kathy," they both leaned in and hugged.

"No need for that ma'am bullshit," my mom chuckled. "You can call me Loessa. That is unless you're going to marry my son, then you have to call me Mrs. Mahi." 

The two of them laughed and bid one another good-bye.


"Your mom is awesome, I like her," Kathy nodded. "She's already got us married off and everything."

Kathy noticed my silence because she rubbed my arm gently. "Something wrong?"

"I'm good," I reassured her.

The day went by with a new feeling now that Kathy and I spent the night. During lunch, we sat together in the lounge and stared at one another while wearing goofy smiles on our faces. We never defined if we were now a thing or if we were a thing just for now. After work, we strolled slowly to our cars, holding hands and slowly swinging them back and forth.

"So, what's on the schedule tonight?" She asked while looking down.

"Dinner? Your place? My place?" I shrugged my shoulders.

"I'm flexible," she smiled. 

It was my place, of course. Kathy and I spent the evening making love until we finally came up for air around ten 'o clock. We were getting dressed to make a drive-thru run for some tacos when I heard the muffled sounds of Steely Dan's 'My Old School' coming up the driveway. I parted the curtains from my bedroom window just in time to catch sight of the Caddillac, pulling into the garage. Some guy was driving, and mom was in the passenger seat.

"What the fuck?" I shot out of my bedroom and down the steps, with Kathy on my heels, asking me what was wrong.

I was puffed up and ready to fight once I burst the garage door open. My mom was there polishing the chrome trim on the hood. I scanned the area, there was no one around.

"Who the hell was driving the car, mom?" I demanded.

"What?" She replied not because she didn't hear me, it was more because of the tone of my voice.

"Who was that guy driving dad's car?" I upped the volume.

"Watch your tone with me, John," she warned.

I ignored her. "That's dad's car! How the hell are you gonna let some asshole drive it, mom?"

She flew across the garage in a split second and backhanded me across my face. The sharp sound of flesh and bone meeting at an alarming rate of high speed created a dull echo around the two of us. 

"You only get one warning champ, and then all bets are off," she growled under breath.

"Why do you that, mom?" I breathed through the pain.

"Do what?" Her eyes were wide and on fire.

"Why do you do all the things that dad did? You dress the way he used to, and you talk like him. What is this, mom? I know you miss him, I miss him too, but something's wrong. You're scaring me," The hot tears were on the verge of falling from my eyes. "Now, some random guy is driving dad's car?"

She took two steps back, her eyes locked on mine, she took a deep breath before letting it out. "No one was driving the car."

I left the garage and headed back to the house, Kathy waited at the door and followed me upstairs without saying a word. "Can I hang at your place for a couple of days until I find somewhere to stay?" I asked. " I can't be here anymore,"

"Why don't we look for a bigger place together?" She suggested. 


Before I packed a few things and left the house that night, I let my mom know that it was time for me to move out and be on my own. I assured her that I'd be back for the rest of my stuff in a couple of days. I also made sure that I told her how much I loved her.

"Once your uncles and I graduated high school, the first thing your grandfather told us was to get out and get a job," she shook her head. 'Here you are, you and me, we just had our first disagreement, and you're flying the coup. It's time, I guess."

"Mom, that's dad's story about him and grandpa. Your parents died after you graduated high school, don't you remember that?" I asked quietly.

"Oh yeah," she said to herself more than to me.


The weekend after I moved out, Kathy and I found a place. It was only twenty minutes away from my mom, a beautiful three-bedroom house in Kapahulu. Once things calmed down, I was going to ask mom to come over for dinner, kinda like a private house warming just for the three of us. Right now, Kathy is tinkering around the kitchen, and I'm headed to the old house to grab my swim fins and goggles. I decided to start swimming again for exercise. Kaimana beach was pretty close, and the waters are relatively calm in the late afternoon. 

It was dark when I was about to take the left turn into the long driveway leading up to my former residence. This is where I was born and raised. This is where all of my formative years were spent. Now, it seemed like a long-gone memory, like a picture book you could pick off the shelf and read every once in a while. The left turn in was interrupted by a pair of high beams coming out of the driveway. I slammed on the brake, causing my tires to screech slightly before coming to a complete stop. It was my dad's Cadillac, my mom was in the passenger seat. The guy who I caught a glimpse of a few nights ago, the one who drove my dad's car into the garage, was driving the car again! My blood boiled, and my hands clenched my steering wheel. Instinct told me to lay on the horn to get this guys attention, I was going to pull the car over, and yank him out of the Cadillac, and beat his ass! However, instead of ignoring me and driving off, he stopped. My mom looked at me and smiled, her window rolled down, and she leaned back. Music came blaring out of the car, it was Marty Balin again.

"You don't know how much I miss you, but I miss you like a son,
I like to put my arms around you, and we could run, run run,
run away....."

The driver leaned forward and gave me a wave and a smirk. It was my dad, he was driving the car, his car. Before I could do anything, wave back, call out his name, jump out of the car and give him a hug, mom's window rolled up, and she waved good-bye. They drove off into the night. 


I found my mom's body seated behind the steering wheel of the Cadillac. She appeared to be asleep, but her body was stiff, rigor mortise already set in. The medical examiner told me later that there was no real cause for her death. No heart attack, no aneurysm, nothing. She was the picture of health. It seemed like she just nodded off while sitting in the Cadillac and never woke up. A month later, Kathy helped me box up my mom's belongings. I found the note she wrote to me sitting in the top drawer of her nightstand.

"This isn't your fault John,

I tried everything I could to go on and live a normal life, I did. I can't live without your dad, he was my world. After he died, life didn't make sense. I'm going to go sit in the car and wait for him. I love you."

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