A Return to Surfing
"You've got a problem, Kimo," my brother Lui said.
Lui is ten years older than I am and an inch shorter. Our Japanese grandfather's genes seem more dominant in him, while I look more haole, or white, thanks to our father's mother, a blue-eyed blonde from Montana.
My other brother, Haoa, eight years older, sat next to him, nodding in agreement. He's the most Hawaiian of the three of us, beefy and round faced. Though we look like we've taken a different dip in the gene pool, you can still see the resemblance between us. At thirty-four, I have a slim physique, though I put on some weight when I stop exercising. Black hair, brown eyes with flecks of green, and dimples that come out when I smile give me a package that the guys seem to like.
"Ever since you dumped that fireman, you've been going downhill," Haoa said. We were sitting outside under the palm trees decorated with fairy lights at the Rod and Reel Club, a gay bar in Waikiki. The fact that my brothers had tracked me down there at six o'clock on a Friday evening, instead of being at home having dinner with their families, meant that they were serious.
"Mom and Dad say you never come over to see them," Lui said. "And you don't go surf, either."
Haoa drained the beer in his bottle. "And your buddy Gunter said he took you to the emergency room."
I looked at him in surprise. Gunter was my best gay friend, the guy who'd helped me navigate the shoals and reefs of queer culture. A few weeks before, when a sexual adventure had gone wrong for me and I couldn't stop bleeding, I'd called Gunter for help. I hadn't known that he'd rat me out to my brothers.
"You getting cozy with Gunter now, Haoa?" I asked. "Thinking of coming over to play for our team?"
"Don't talk stink," Haoa said. "This is serious, brah. You're screwed up."
I took a long pull on my beer, the second I'd had since I'd left police headquarters in downtown Honolulu, where I was a homicide detective. Haoa was right, of course; I was screwed up, and I could trace it all back to my breakup with Mike Riccardi, the handsome, sexy fire inspector I'd met on a case.
I'd fallen hard for him; he had a sense of humor, he was smart and kind, and fun to be around. We had a connection that began with hot, smoldering sex, but quickly deepened in a way I'd never experienced before. Mike is half Italian and half Korean, and we both knew what it was like to be a part of many different worlds and yet not feel like you fit in to any of them. We both worked in jobs that required us to be strong and masculine and joke around with other guys--and it was a joy to be able to express doubt, feel emotion, and point out sexy, half-naked men to each other.
He was my first real boyfriend, and I was so thrilled to be in love that I didn't pay attention to the warning signs that things might not work out. He was very closeted, and I was very out--with my friends, my family, my coworkers, and the general public. It wasn't always my choice, and indeed when I'd been outed I had freaked out, hidden with my parents for a while, and agonized over something I should have accepted years before. And even though it was still hard, two years after coming out, I felt I had a responsibility to be honest in my personal life, to be a good role model.
Mike tried; I know he did. But guys started talking stink about him at the fire house, kidding him about his friendship with me, and that made him back off. We stopped going out to dinner together, getting takeout instead. We didn't go to the movies, or shopping, or any place we might be seen together.
When he went to an arson investigation conference in Santa Cruz, where I'd gone to college, I wanted to go along. "Nobody has to know we're together," I'd said. We were sitting in the living area of my studio apartment in Waikiki. "I won't go to any of your events with you. We'll just share a room, and while you're in your meetings, I'll surf."
Mike shook his head. "I can't do that. These are guys I've known for years. Nobody's bringing a wife or a girlfriend. We're just going to hang out in the bar after the conference and talk about fires."
I believed him. Maybe that was my problem. Or maybe it was the gonorrhea he brought back with him, after a careless night on the town in San Francisco. Either way, when I discovered that he'd lied to me--the other guys all brought spouses--and cheated on me with a skanky guy he picked up at a bar on Castro Street--I dumped his ass.
I felt lousy about doing it, and about myself. I went into a spiral of bad behavior. I screwed around, and then avoided my parents, my brothers, and my old friends, because I was ashamed of myself. Sitting there with my brothers I knew it was time for a change. I sighed deeply. "I know I've got a problem. But I don't know what to do about it."
"Come surf with us tomorrow," Haoa said. "North Shore waves building."
It was late October, and Haoa was right, the North Shore swells were growing. I hadn't been up to Haleiwa in two years, since I'd gone undercover up there after I was outed.
"Don't you guys have stuff to do?" I asked. Lui was the general manager of KVOL, "Erupting News All the Time," Honolulu's most tabloid-like TV station, riding every celebrity scandal. He had a wife and three kids. Haoa ran a successful landscaping business; he was married, too, with four kids of his own.
"It's time we looked after you, little brother," Lui said.
Lui invited my friend Harry Ho, too, and Harry picked me up early on Saturday morning. Skinny and Chinese, with bowl-cut hair and a couple of PhDs from MIT, Harry has been my best friend since high school, and like my family, he'd stood by me when I was dragged out of the closet, taking me surfing then, too. He had been so calm and matter-of-fact, giving me a handhold when inside I felt like I was being churned in the roughest waves I'd ever experienced.
We strapped my board on the roof next to his, then stopped in St. Louis Heights to pick up my brothers. The roomy SUV accommodated all of us, though I had to yield the front seat to Haoa, whose six-foot-four bulk couldn't squeeze into the back. Harry had Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's last real CD in the deck, and we blasted "In Dis Life" as we cruised up the H2 toward the North Shore.
We were surrounded by newly harvested fields, and the decimation around us mirrored the way I felt inside. But when we crested the last mountain and began to descend toward the shore, all the bad stuff was wiped away. Ahead of us we could see bits of bright, blue-green ocean, interrupted by white swells, the sun shimmering on the water as if it were a bed of diamonds. When we turned off the highway into old town Haleiwa, I felt a familiar sense of anticipation.
The streets were crowded with weekend surfers, shirtless guys in patterned shorts toting boards longer than they were tall, little kids eager to play in the surf, women in one-piece bathing suits that showed off tattoos up and down their arms. Like all of Hawai'i, the people were a mix of Asian, Hawaiian, and haole. You could tell the locals by their even tans, the tourists by their sunburns.
It was an eye candy feast, all those muscular men, shorts hanging off hips and showing a hint of butt crack, tribal tattoos around biceps and ankles. I felt like a dog who'd been out in the sun too long with my tongue hanging out. I wanted to surf, and I wanted to get laid, and I was so happy to be spending the day with my brothers and my best friend.
For the three of them, it was a day away from responsibility, from kids and errands and household chores. For me, it was a chance to reconnect with guys who had always known me and still loved me, no matter what. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed getting out on the water, challenging my body and satisfying my soul.
None of us was that agile anymore, so we headed for a good break that wouldn't kill us, creeping along in traffic and then snagging a lucky parking spot on the Kam Highway. The beach stretched out in both directions, miles of sand and surf, and the sun blasted us as soon as we left the cool comfort of the SUV.
The waves crashed against the shore, big and small, delivering some surfers upright, while others churned around in white foam as if they were inside a washing machine. The best surfers were out the farthest, tiny toy figures suddenly popping up and riding the top of an incoming wave. There were bodysurfers closer to shore and little keikis frolicking at the water's edge.
We raced for the water and launched ourselves in, hopping onto our boards and paddling past the breakers, duck diving under the incoming waves, until the four of us were sitting on our boards waiting for the right waves to break and take us in.
It was a magical moment--until Lui claimed rights as oldest boy and took the first wave, and then we each followed him, repeating the in-and-out process until the sun was high in the sky and it felt good to collapse on the sand and have it warm our tired muscles.
"You want to talk about what's going on?" Harry asked, lying next to me on the sand while my brothers walked up to the road to get us all something to eat from one of the lunch trucks.
"Nothing much to say."
"Yeah, there is," Harry said. "You've turned down every invitation to come to dinner with Arleen and me, to hang out, to surf. Gunter called me after he took you to the ER, you know."
"Asshole," I mumbled.
"Nope. He was scared. I get the feeling that he's into some kinky stuff, but whatever it is you're up to freaked him out."
"I'm not up to anything."
Harry sat up, shaking the sand off, and I realized how much he'd been working his upper arms. He'd always been a skinny kid, and when he'd gone away to the mainland for school he'd spent all his time in labs and classrooms instead of out on the water. Now that he was back in Hawai'i, he'd joined a gym to get back in prime surfing shape.
"You know what?" he said. "Fuck you. You don't trust me enough to talk to me? What, you think I'm going to judge you? Shit, Kimo. If I'm going to judge you for anything, it's for not being able to keep your balance on a board. Not for who you like to fuck, or how you like to get fucked."
He stood up, ready to follow my brothers up the beach.
"Harry," I said. "Wait."
He looked down at me. "You going to talk?"
I sat up, and he sat down, so we were on the same level again. He looked at me expectantly, but I didn't know what to say, how to start. I realized that I was crying.
"Shit, Kimo, I'm sorry." He reached around awkwardly and hugged me. "You are messed up, aren't you?"
"This is about Mike?"
I rubbed my hand across my nose and sniffled. "How'd you know?"
"I know how I feel about Arleen. If we broke up, I'd go nuts, too." He looked at me. "Come on, Kimo, why are you punishing yourself?"
"I thought Terri was the one who had all the emotional insights," I said. She was my other high school best friend, a cop's widow with a young son. She had always been the one we turned to for advice on feelings, as we looked to Harry for logic. Me, I was the one who just pushed through and got things done. "You're supposed to be the computer geek."
He wouldn't meet my eyes. "Come on, Harry. You talked to Terri about me?"
"I didn't tell her the specifics," Harry protested. "Just that it sounded like you were getting into some very dark stuff, and I was worried about you. Your brothers were worried, too. Hell, even Gunter was worried."
I pulled my knees up to my chest and hugged them. I'd become so accustomed to keeping secrets, never telling my family or friends I was gay until I was publicly dragged out of the closet. When those secrets were torn away from me, I felt lost and vulnerable. As I got more comfortable with myself, I swore I wasn't going to hide anymore. But I'd gone back to my old habits, and that failure to share the load was hurting Harry as much as it was me.
"I never told you what Mike did." I explained to Harry about the conference in Santa Cruz, the sleazebag he slept with in San Francisco, the gonorrhea he brought back to me as a souvenir.
"What a dick," Harry said. "You're better off without him."
"I should have gone easier on him," I said, suddenly feeling defensive of Mike. "Hell, I know what it's like to be stuck in the closet, the kinds of things you do without thinking because you're screwed up. I should have given him another chance."
"Why? So the next time he could give you HIV?" Harry looked at me. "That's not it, is it? You're not positive, are you?"
I shook my head. "Nope. I've been careful. And I get tested all the time. I may want to get roughed up a little now and then, but I don't want to die."
"You ever talk to Mike again?"
"Then how do you know he's not happy? He's found some other guy stuck in the closet, and they're both having a gay old time screwing in the dark, while you're beating yourself up."
"You're right. I don't know that." I smiled. "Did Terri tell you that, too?"
He shook his head. "Nope. Came up with that one all by myself."
My brothers came back then with bottles of water, plates of grilled shrimp, piles of sticky rice, and slices of fresh, sweet pineapple sprinkled with li hing powder, and we ate, and drank, and then dozed for a while. Then we surfed again, until, in succession, all three of their cell phones went off. Harry's first; then Haoa's. Lui's cell phone rang next, and we were sure it was his wife--but it was the station, notifying him that there was a big fire at a warehouse in Salt Lake, and that the evening news was going to lead with the story.
I thought of Mike, but for the first time in nearly a year, I didn't feel anything more than mild curiosity about whether he'd be investigating.
Or at least that's what I told myself.