The following is republished from the October 5, 1994 issue of the International Examiner.
I was standing close to the summit of Haleakala crater on Maui, 45 minutes before sunrise. The fiery red streaks of pre-dawn light radiated off the clouds at the crater’s edge, turning them into a river of molten lava blanketed by the clear, dark sky. A few stars twinkled high overhead, while a hundred flashbulbs blinded from cameras of other sunrise watchers.
Twelve years ago, about a dozen tourists had joined me at the mountain top. This morning they had multiplied to over a hundred. Most of them, like Alice and I, had woken up about 3:00 a.m. in order to see the sunrise from Haleakala, 10,000 feet above sea level.
I stared off in the distance, talking story with myself. My uncle had shuffled off purposefully into the dark. Since this was his third time here in the past few months, I figured he had found his ideal spot to watch the day break. Or maybe he just wanted to leave us lovebirds alone.
In Honolulu, Alice and I had added on a quick two days in Maui to visit my relatives. “We don’t be travelling very much after this,” I had told her. “We may as well go to Maui too.”
She didn’t need much convincing. She had never been to Maui, and in the 90-degree, 48 percent humidity weather in Honolulu, she didn’t need to be reminded that she was almost due. Her hands and feet had swollen more in Honolulu and Keaau on the big island. We had also talked about all the infants on the crowded flight to Hawai‘i who had been crying and screaming at takeoff and landing. The thought of changing diapers on an airplane made me groan.
As the sun crept higher, the sky began to glow. The silhouetted crater and blazing red clouds reminded me of a poster in my room. “Railroad sunset,” by Edwards Hopper. Same colors. Same streaks across the sky. Day’s end. Daybreak. Sleep, awakening. Death, birth. So much time spent worrying about the ends, not enough about the middle.
Alice flashed me a smile. “Here, Bob,” she said handing me her camera. I snapped a photo of her against the backdrop of the sunrise. The chilly morning had revived her after the heat of the past few days. Now, as I tried to get my arms around her enlarged tummy, I thought of visits to my aunties’
* * *
I sit up on the futon Sam and I wen’ put next to the sofa fo’ sleep. I slowly roll over to the sofa, put my arm on the seat, lay my head on my arm. Slowly, I wen’ breathe in, breathe out.
“You okay?” Sam asked, waking up.
Thought about asking him fo’ turn on the light so I could read. Decided not to. When I have asthma attack, lotta times I sit crosslegged on the floor, jus’like all the ol’ folks, ‘cept I go rest my head on the low table or sofa, and read till I fall asleep.
But no can read now, and get 3-4 hours before sunrise. Mo’bettah I get some sleep right away. But hard. Third time already I get asthma attack this school year and only November. Going miss another math quiz. Teacher already wen’ ask how come I get sick on quiz day. Geez. J’like I getting sick on purpose. No fair. Nothing fo’ do but wait. I wonder how long goin’ take fo’ get over this time.
“You okay?” Sam ask again.
“Some more asthma. Go back sleep. Wake you if need help.”
“Yeah,” I tell him. Really not sure, but no like bother him. Think about school for little while, then wen’ fall asleep. When I wake up, all sweaty. Was really hot. I like go shiko but hardly can move, was so hard breathe.
“Eh, Sam, wake up,” I say, just loud enough so he hear me. Talk soft because otherwise use up too much air fo’ talk. Better save air.
“Gotta go shiko,” I tell him when he wake up.
“Okay,” he said, got up and grabbed my arm. He always so cheery and willing fo’ help. Me, always so grumpy, especially when no can breathe.
He pull me up. I lean on his shoulder. We go down the hall to the toilet. He broad. Lots of shoulder fo’ lean on. Strong back. He walk slowly fo’ me. We walk like this: Wheeze, gasp. Take one step. Wheeze, gasp. Take another. All the way to the toilet.
When asthma not so bad, lean over, rest my hand on the toilet tank, go shiko. When real bad, gotta sit down on the toilet seat, leave the toilet door open and lean my head on the door knob. Real shame when you gotta shiko j’like one girl. This time was real bad.
Sam wen’ sit down on the stairs and wait. Funny kind house. Get three steps to one store room. Some room because nobody like one bedroom you gotta go through the toilet to get to.
“You going to school tomorrow?” Sam asked, a little sleepy.
“Don’t know. See how I feel in the morning. Pau already. Help me back.”
And we go back: Wheeze, gasp. Take one step. Wheeze, gasp, take another.
* * *
“It’s in the genes, you know,” cousin Machan said. My aunts, uncle, and cousin were talking about my childhood asthma.
“Grandma had bad asthma too.”
“My sister had asthma,” Alice answered. “My Bachan also.”
I was thinking about what could be in store for this child and us, when the sun cleared the cloud bank. Clear, bright, refreshing. Like waking up after a week’s illness able to breathe fine. Breathtaking. Good kind of breathtaking. Optimistic.
As we turned to leave our vantage point, my uncle came up, “Nice, yeah?”
“Real nice,” I answered.