Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Aug 31, 2023

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2023. #40 Haji

 Inner freedom is what I needed. That's what Haji told me. I'd known him for quite a while.

We joined Buddhism in late 1980, December 11th, as I recall. The idea that happiness resided in the place where you now exist was an intoxicating. However, Buddhism back then hadn't yet addressed the conditions of mental illness, depression, and suicide. Situations like that were attributed to karma, the effects of the causes I committed in a previous existence, as I was told. That explanation was deeply profound, but how was I to know who I was in a past lifetime, and what circumstances caused me to ripple such harmful acts that followed me into my present incarnation? There are so many layers to pull back and threads to untangle. The solution was to chant the mantra to a mandala that was the physical embodiment of your life essence. In-kind, the universe, through some unfathomable, mysterious means, mechanizes microcosmic causes to work in your favor in ways you could not imagine. For the years I knew him, I was unaware that Haji struggled with mental illness and to what capacity the struggle affected his everyday life. He was always so joyful and supportive. I could not recall when Haji was not smiling and how others laughed and smiled because of Haji's way of putting people at ease. The leaders in Buddhism praised him, saying he was undoubtedly a bodhisattva in his last life. Haji took it all in stride, never letting any praise get to his head. When it was suggested to Haji by the leaders in Buddhism that he accept a leadership position, he humbly refused each time. 

"One can also lead from the trenches," he once told a top leader who was so impressed by Haji's reply that he could not push the issue further.

So, you can imagine my reaction when I ran into one of the Buddhist members in Foodland who told me in a dramatically hushed tone that Haji had taken his own life. I took a few minutes of stunned silence to understand what I'd just heard. "We're all so stunned," Carol Sawada whispered. "So I can understand your reaction; mine was the same."

"That guy was my roommate for ten years; Haj never had a bad day, even when he was sick. He was so upbeat, positive, and always encouraging everybody else," I was crying before I knew it. "How did he.." I never got the words out.

"Pills," Cheryl patted me on the shoulder. "No one knows what kind. His girlfriend found him in bed on a lunch break when she came home from work."

Haji introduced countless numbers of people to Buddhism and helped change their lives for the better. All the while, he suffered from severe depression. No one knew he was in therapy and taking medication for his condition. Toward his memorial services, there was discussion as to whether Haji could have Buddhist services seeing that he'd taken his own life. Haji, in all his wisdom, anticipated this and left instructions for Tepa, his girlfriend. He didn't want services of any sort; he wanted a party at a warehouse in the Kalihi business district that was usually used for late-night raves. He'd paid for it in advance, so there was no question if you could attend or not. Parking was unlimited because there was a huge parking lot and some parking in the warehouse. He thought of everything. There are tons of food, soft drinks, disco lights, two DJs, and a profusion of flowers. Before everything began, Tepa got on the microphone and asked us to look at the giant video screen opposite the warehouse. The lights went out, and there he was, as big as life.

"Let's not worry ourselves about how I got here; rather, let's think about what we're going to do right now," he smiled. "If you love me and are here to honor me, please cry tears of joy and laughter in my name. Now, get off your asses and party like it's 1999!"  The screen went off, and the music started right on cue. Not a slow, sad song was played the entire night, which went on until the wee hours of the morning. The party, in Haji's memory, didn't end so much as people slowly trickled off to their cars and went home. The few of us who lingered behind helped clean up or were having catch-up conversations with one another. Others thought Tepa needed their emotional support, but she was okay. In Haji's spirit, she encouraged everyone else and made them feel better. The sun was rising, and the caterers arrived and put everything away. I went to say goodbye to Tepa, but she took me in her arms, giving me a long hug. "Haji specifically instructed me to tell you that at the end of the party, you were to come home with me and make your special hangover omelet pancakes," 

I laughed so hard. I couldn't believe Haji remembered that enough to tell Tepa about it. "You got it," I nodded. "I'll see you back at your place."

The story goes that one night, after a Buddhist gathering, Haji and I went to a club and got stinking drunk. When we returned to our old place on Liholiho Street, I slapped some eggs and pancakes together, not knowing what I was doing. I used whatever ingredients were at eye level on the shelf before me. Some of it was a Korean sauce of some kind. Whatever it was, the end result cured us of our hangover. It worked every time, and some of our best memories were over hangover omelets and pancakes. "The night before, before the next day, all he talked about were those pancakes. He said they were his most treasured memory from a humble time in his life," Tepa smiled as she finished the last of the omlete pancakes. I cried first; there was no way I could hold it back. She followed soon after, and we cried over a cup of POG together. Tepa showed me the note Haji left explicitly for me.

" This is your fault, Mayo! I had planned to go much earlier in life, but you roped me into this Buddhist thing, and we became Buddhists together way back when. The more I learned about Buddhism, the more determined I became to take my life because I thought it was a big cosmic joke and the shoe would fall at any second, but it didn't. The other thing that stopped me was you and all your goofy shit. How could I go when there's this irresponsible person who takes no accountability for himself? So, I stuck around. I can hear you now, 'Fuck you, Haj,' am I right?

In this Buddhism, they keep telling us the best way to expel negative karma is to introduce people to this Buddhism. I was like a house on fire, bringing people to the discussions, convincing them that there was nothing to lose; if they didn't like it, fine. Similarly, what is now called depression got stronger over the years. I knew my time was short, but hey, look! I created a lot of positivity! So, Mayo, when the day came that you were married with a wife and kids of your own, I knew my work was complete. The time was at hand. Don't worry; I didn't leave Tepa holding the bag. From the time we met, I told her everything. When things got dark, she was there with me. Sitting, holding, not touching, yelling at me as a result of impatience, but never once leaving. I told her all about you and our lifetime of friendship. If what they say about reincarnation in our Buddhism is true, I created enough positivity that I'll stay for the whole journey when I get to my next life. Maybe I'll see you there?


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