Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Apr 25, 2023

Hapai Ia'u

The old house, as quaint and humble as I remember it, was always filled with people at one time or another. There was life there; hardly ever was a moment of darkness in our home. On the contrary, life and light seemed to be everywhere. Even when we weren't home, the neighbors would always tell my parents that our house gave them a sense of warmth and comfort just by its appearance, even though they knew no one was there. Of course, this is not to say that our lives were perfect. We had trials and tribulations like everyone else, but what made those adversities bearable was my father and how he handled things. For instance, my sister Lei once had her bike stolen from our garage. It was a bright red Schwinn which my father got for Lei's birthday. My father was coming home from work one day, and as he took the dirt path to our house, he saw our neighbor Bertram riding Lei's bike at a mad clip. When Bertram made eye contact with my father, his face went pale, and that was all my father needed to know about the situation. Bertram stopped right where he was, too embarrassed and afraid to move. Rather than be mad, my father asked Bertram why he needed to steal Lei's bike? Bertram quietly replied that he wanted his own bike, but his parents did not make enough money to afford him one. Without another word, my father put Lei's bicycle in the back of his truck and made Bertram get in with him. When they got home, my father called Lei out of the house and scolded her about leaving her bicycle outside. 

"Luckily," my father began. "Bertram here saw someone trying to take your bike, and he stopped them and got it back for you,"

My sister gave Bertram a big hug and a kiss and thanked him before carrying her bicycle to her room. Afterward, my Dad went to his shed, pulled Lei's old mountain bike, and loaded it in his truck.

"Lei?" He called for my sister.

"Yes, Dad?"

"I'm gonna give Bertram your old mountain bike since he rescued your new one," he said. "I mean, it's only right, don't you think?"

"Of course, Daddy," Lei nodded. "Thanks again!" Lei waved to Bertram and smiled.

Afterward, the two of them went to the gas station to fill the tires with air, and they sat at Bea's drive-in, where they had burgers, fries, and a green river drink. When it was over, and my father finally dropped Bertram off at home with his brand-new bike, he was in tears and did not know what to say. His folks were shocked to see their son's mountain bike. Dad told them it was just sitting in the shed, taking up space, and he thought Bertram could use it. "You guys ever need anything, anything at all? I'm right up the road," my father said. "Just knock on the door, and don't ever be afraid to ask for help,"

Bertram always remembered what my father did for him. He took such good care of that bike that he passed it on to his son and him to his. Also, there was never a day when Bertram wasn't at our house asking my father if he needed help with anything. Even on the weekends when most boys Bertram's age were out with their friends, he was here offering whatever assistance he could give. When he was old enough, my father hired Bertram for cleaning and odd jobs at his truck yard. Once he expressed an interest in welding, my father helped Bertram get into a program at the community college that would pay him to know that craft, which would set him up for a job at the shipyard. Because of things like that, people were constantly at our home seeking advice, help, or offering anything they could do because of my father.

Another instance is when my two younger brothers, Moku and Tenari, fought over a soccer ball. The disagreement devolved from shouting and screaming to fisticuffs. Finally, my father stepped in and asked who started the fight? Tenari was taller and broader than Moku, but Moku himself was always instigating something. Of course, Moku blamed Tenari, not knowing that our father already knew the real culprit. The two were sent to bed without dinner. When Moku woke the following day, Tenari was gone. Moku didn't see his brother in school or on the way home. When he asked us about having seen Tenari, we told Moku that his older brother hadn't been around since the day before. Finally, when our father came home, Moku told him Tenari was missing.

"He's not missing," my Dad scoffed.

"If he's not missing, then where is he?" Moku asked.

"Well, he started that fight last night between the two of you, so after you left last night, I killed him," my father said matter of factly. "You can ask Mom about it; she helped me bury the body."

When the weight of what our father said hit Moku, he completely lost it and went into hysterics. My parents let him go on as long as possible, waiting until my brother finally calmed down, and when he did, Mom opened the closet door in their bedroom and out stepped Tenari. Moku ran up to Tenari, took him into his arms, and cried tears of joy and sorrow, profusely apologizing to his brother. A lesson taught and learned. The two never fought again. 


There are two things that I remember most about our old house, Lei's wedding, and my father's services after he passed away. First, Lei met Pemberton while attending school at U.H. Manoa. She described him as a lost Haole boy who looked like a puppy on campus. She took pity on him and decided she should help him. He ended up helping her pass her classes and get her degree because, as Lei would find out later that day, he was her English literature Professor. There was a five-year age difference between them, but what they felt for one another was undeniable. When Lei brought him home and introduced him to everyone, my younger brothers made fun of his name. My mother scolded them for teasing Pemberton.

 "The two of you are not doing well in your English classes at school; if you were smart, you'd make friends with Pemberton so he could help you with your homework!" Mom smiled sheepishly at Pemberton and apologized. "Their assignment is, "To Kill A Mockingbird," they say it's boring,"

"Oh man," Pemberton shook his head. "I remember having that same assignment when I was your age, whew!"

"It moved you that much?" Lei asked as she leaned her shoulder into his.

"No, I hated it," Pemberton chuckled. "But that's because our English teacher TOLD us it was our reading assignment; she didn't tell us the story." Moku and Tenari went quiet; Mom listened while she dried the dishes. "All I'll say is this," Pemberton began. "If you ever got in trouble for something you didn't do, and the person who actually caused the trouble lies about it and blames you, and everybody else believes it too when it's not the truth? That's what this story is about, but only a fraction of it,"

"We understand," Moku offered. "Lei gets us in trouble all the time when it's not our fault,"

"Yeah," Tenari agreed. "She'll threaten us and tell our parents we went down the road without permission just to get us in trouble!"

"Mom," Lei laughed nervously. "I never did that," looking at Moku and Tenari, she scrunched up her face and made a slight twisting motion at them with her thumb and forefinger. 

Just then, my father's car pulled up. Mind you, Pemberton drove a 66 Mustang fastback. My father drove a 71 Mach1. Lei didn't have a chance to make proper introductions when he walked into the house. My father prevented that from happening. "Tell me that's not a 66 fastback?"

"It is," Pemberton smiled nervously.

"Follow me, young man," my father motioned to Pemberton as he walked out the door. "I think you'll appreciate this,"

The two went outside and stayed there well past midnight, talking about cars and life in general. Finally, Mom and Lei brought them their dinner plates and drinks, which they had on the hood of my father's car. A year later, Pemberton and Lei were married in the backyard of our home in a beautiful ceremony. They went on to have four children and bought a house near the University. As for my father's services, well, he was never a church-going man, nor was he ever religious. All he wanted was to have his ashes spread in the backyard, where he also wanted his services held. 

"Nothing fancy, and please, if you can help it, don't have Mrs. Pacheco there," my father asked. "She eats everything, and then she makes a big scene, and she smells like ass all the time,"

"All the way to the end, and you're still terrible," Mom laughed and cried and hugged my father while he lay in their bed, approaching the end of his life. We cried, too, grief-stricken and heartbroken, knowing that the man who solved all of our problems would soon depart this world and leave us in it without him. It was liver cancer, and it was too late; his time was short. The doctors said if father had gone for his regular check-up, they might have caught it in time, and with treatment, they could have stopped it from spreading. But, instead, he wanted to die and be home; that was the least we could do for him. I'd never seen the house so beautifully decorated, and my father looked so handsome and radiant in his large framed picture, which my Mom placed at the top of the flower arrangements. Of course, people cried because of how much they loved and missed my father, but they also laughed because of all the bad things he'd done in his youth. Now, I can tell you what Frank Palani Kamaka meant to me. He and I were too much alike, and because of that, we butted heads a lot as I approached adulthood. Before puberty, he was my idol, and I worshipped the ground he walked on. However, once I developed my own thoughts and feelings about things, is when we parted company. When I came out to my parents and told them I was Gay, Mom accepted it, saying she knew all along. 

My father said, "You sure you're not using this to get back at me? To hurt me? Because if you are, you can just leave my house!"

I left that night. I was gone for two years, living above a bar on Smith Street, putting myself through school. The man I lived with was stationed at the Kane'ohe Marine base. We'd have fights more often than we had sex. He was seeing women too, but one night, I decided to ask him for a commitment to our relationship, which set him off. We had the worst fight we've ever had, and we both came out of it worse for wear. I was more heartbroken than beaten up, but I called my Mom and told her everything. She assured me that she was on her way. I was in the middle of packing up my things when Mike showed up. He flipped out when he saw me with my suitcase and a few boxes near the door and started threatening my life. I was resolved at that moment to fight him with everything I had; I wouldn't let him kill me. Mike had me on the floor at one point with the point of his knee on my throat when a knock came at the door. Mike got up and answered it. I didn't see who was there, but the last thing I heard Mike say in his drunken state was, "What the fuck do you want?"

The next thing I knew, Mike was on his ass, and my father was beating the shit out of him. I had never seen my Dad like that, cold, calculating, and determined to put a hurting on someone. It's almost as if I didn't recognize him. It scared me. When it was over, he left Mike in a heap and grabbed my things. We hurried down to his work truck, where Mom kept it idling until my father got back with me. Mom hugged me and cried after she saw the bruises and cuts on my face. 

"Pssshht," my father scoffed. "You shoulda seen the other guy before I got a hold of him. A black eye, broken nose, busted lip, I didn't have much to work with,"

I laughed, and so did my father, but Mom didn't think it was funny. "I'm glad you have found some humor in all this? What if we didn't get here in time? Our son could have been killed!"

"He's fine," my father groaned. "You're fine, aren't you, Gordon?"

"I'm fine, ma, don't worry," I reassured her.

"See? Gorddy is fine," my father nodded. He directed his attention to me as I sat in the back seat, nursing my wounds. "I don't care if you're Gay; I was mad at you because it felt like you were taunting me with your announcement, and it hurt my ego, which is why I blew up. I was wrong for that, Gorddy. You're my child; I love you."

So you see, this house I grew up in, which was filled with love, laughter, trying times, a wedding, and the place where my father spent the last moments of his life, is more than just a structure on an acreage of land, it's Frank Palani Kamaka and everything about him that's here. So I always take this long look at it before I walk in, knowing that all the love my father had is in there, along with my husband, my Mom, and our kids. I love you, Dad; thank you for everything.

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