Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Oct 29, 2023

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2023.#99. Jackie Blue.

 The summer of 1973 in Wai'anae was the time of my brother's 1955 Chevy Bel Air coupe.

That smell of old rust and the old leather seats permeated that car because Blue was endlessly trying to fix it up. He'd take us for rides on the dusty old trail behind our house and drove along the concrete decline and incline next to the canal. He'd speed the Chevy up the slope and jump the ramp with us in the back seat. There were no seat belts in that car, and because of it, we'd go flying, yelling and screaming excitedly. With all the windows open, dust swirled around the interior, getting on our faces and clothes. When he was done being reckless, Blue drove us up the road to Mrs. Dang's store, where we filled our pockets with anything we wanted. Blue got himself a Coke and slapped a $20 bill on the counter. Giving my brother his change back, Mrs. Dang harassed him again about his life choices.

"When you going to be serious and settle down, Daniel?" 

"I work full time," Blue answered while holding his hand out for his change.

"Grace is waiting for you to be serious; she not gonna wait for long, but," Mrs. Dang practically spat the words out. 

"I go call her later," Blue promised. Was it something he said just to get Mrs. Dang off his back, or did he intend to really call grace? Receiving his change, he motioned to us to follow him as we all piled back into the Bel-Air and headed down the old Maipalaoa road and then to Meaulu, where we lived. At the last minute, Blue made a U-turn and drove us to Maili Beach Park and walked us all down the sand dunes, where we sat and watched the ocean while inhaling our snacks. Blue cradled his Panasonic Radio on his lap while Tony Orlando asked for a yellow ribbon in an old oak tree. As soon as we discarded all the candy wrappers in a nearby trash bin, we made a beeline for the waves crashing on the beach, but we made it a point not to get wet. Otherwise, we'd have to pay the consequences once we got home. Eventually, I trudged up the sand dune and joined Blue, where we silently watched the ocean together. Paul McCartney sang about how his love does it good, which then transitioned to Roberta Flack saying that someone was killing her softly. 

"How come Mrs. Dang wants you to call Grace?" I asked, even though I knew it wasn't my place to do so. It was a grown-up matter. I was ten, and I wasn't old enough to talk to my big brother like we were equals. I would never be, no matter how old I got to be. 

"Go play," he said while looking out at the ocean. "We're going pretty soon, so make the most of it,"

I didn't argue. I did as he said and ran down the sand dune to where my cousins, nieces, and nephews excitedly yelled and screamed as the water chased them up the beach and then receded. It was their chase master with nature. Blue's lone figure sat at the top of the sand dune, a guardian sentinel. A few minutes later, he collected our lot and drove us back home. We played outside while Blue sat in the kitchen, talking to our mom and dad. Grace was pregnant, and Mrs. Dang wanted Blue to do the right thing, but Blue was conflicted. He had plans for himself. The first was to enlist and join the war in Vietnam. The other choice was to live abroad and eventually come home for visits now and again. As far as getting married and starting a family, that was outside his scope of thinking. Grace wasn't even his girlfriend. She was just someone he hung out with.

Mind you, we all loved Grace. She was pretty and intelligent and had an excellent job at Tamura's Market. Mr. and Mrs. Dang loved Blue because he was hard-working and never complained. Mainly, Grace loved Blue because she could be herself around him and never have to worry about impressing him. One night, they returned from watching a movie at the Royal Sunset drive-in. Still hungry, they stopped at the Makaha Drive-Inn for a late evening snack, and somewhere between the cherry coke and the best french fries ever, Blue and Grace fell into each other's arms in the back seat of his Chevy Bel-Air. Eventually, when she told him she was pregnant, he didn't know what to do, so he fell off the map for a bit and made himself scarce. Now, he had to present his case to our mom and dad. Mom was happy, but Dad shook his head and, in no uncertain terms, told my brother that he was going to make an honest woman out of Grace or he would feel the wrath of my father's right hook.

In a month, Blue and Grace were married at the Catholic Church in Kalihi. The child they had was a girl whom they named Malia. During that time, Blue was at boot camp. When he completed his training, we flew to Fort Jackson for his graduation. Blue, Grace, and Malia had the weekend together as a family, but the surprise of all surprises, Blue was stationed in Germany and not Vietnam. That's where Grace and Malia joined him, and Blue made a life for themselves. Even after his terms of service were completed, Blue re-enlisted and stayed in the army for his entire career. Periodically, they'd come home for visits. Grace rarely seemed to age; her hair grayed, and she had lines on her face, but not enough to make her look old. Malia was pretty and intelligent like her mother, and my big brother Blue went from tinkling with his Chevy to becoming a man of worldly wisdom. What shocked him the most was when he asked our parents where I was. You should have seen his face when I drove up in his old Chevy Bel-Air, which I thoroughly restored and customized. He was happier to see the car than he was to see me. In a short time, we took it for a ride, and of course, I let him drive it.

"Look at you, man," he smiled. "You're all grown up; you got hair on your upper lip and chin!" He playfully punched me in the arm. Driving past Maili Beach Park, he looked at it briefly and kept going. "Remember that day you asked me why Grace's mother wanted me to call her?"

"I almost forgot about that," I laughed. "Sorry though, I didn't know my place,"

He began to explain, but each time he did that, he'd reach down and turn up the volume on the radio. It was Tony Orlando droning about a yellow ribbon and an oak tree. As he increased the volume, so too did I increase the loudness of my voice. Shouting finally that I couldn't hear him and begging for him to turn the volume down. He didn't listen to me; he kept talking and talking. He looked dignified because he showed gray flecks in his crew cut hair, featuring his strong jawline. I had to cover my ears; it was all I could do. I screamed and screamed for him to turn the radio off. 

I was sitting up in bed, screaming again. My wife rubbing my back and hugged me. "Is it that nightmare again?"

"Yeah," I replied. "Guess I didn't realize it was fifty years ago today,"

"It's hard to get over seeing your brother shoot himself in the head right in front of you and your younger siblings and cousins," she whispered softly, trying to soothe me. "Unless you get help, hun, it won't ever leave you."

"He had his whole life before him," I wiped the tears away. "I just wanted him to live a full life, marry Grace, have a family, and I don't know what I was thinking. If he had just married Grace, it would have all been different. I guess I just dreamed up this whole life that I wanted him to have,"

"It wouldn't have made sense for him to marry someone he didn't love and then all that abuse and pressure from your father, setting impossible standards that your brother could never had reached," my wife offered.

"Then why didn't he enlist? That was his way out," I countered.

"Who's to say? No one knows what's going through a person's mind," she said. "You can't blame yourself for it after all this time."

"I wish I could go back and tell my ten-year-old self to speak up, even though I might've gotten a slap to my head," I told her. "I should have said something."

She held me and slowly rocked me back and forth. I silently prayed that when I fell asleep, it would be uneventful and bereft of any dreams of that fateful day at Maili Beach Park. If I were to dream, I want it to be about Blue driving his 55 Chevy Bel Air in the happy Waia'ane afternoon sun with Grace and Malia. That's what he deserved.

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