Freewriting becomes therapy for the Sirens’ song of nostalgia

“A-L-O-H-A, a little aloha in our day, spread a little aloha around the world.”

The voices of The Mana‘o Company blast out over the bus speakers on the way to the beach. The warm air smells of sunscreen, spam, teriyaki. Dozens of kids in Summer Fun shirts trade lukewarm musubi for items in Zippy’s bento boxes. They bring out their Japanese-edition Pokémon cards to brag the moment chaperones turn their backs.

Shelby and I are sick to our stomachs, in the best way possible. Half-eaten rock candy lollipops and emptied bottles of rootbeer cover the backseat of the car. Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” is playing and I keep cooing the wrong lyrics from my blue-purple candy rock-stained lips, “What have I becommmme? My Swedish friennnd?” We’re driving from a cave in Tennessee. The cave scared me, comforted me. I couldn’t decide which. It was frigid and pitch black in parts. You could hear water dripping from a mile away in there, drips occasionally interrupted by the flutter of a batwing.

It’s about 9 in the morning and I just finished reading the last Harry Potter book. I started about 8 hours earlier, after a midnight release party at Borders. A half-empty box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans is squished between my arm and the couch cushion. I rub tears and crust from my eyes and look over to see that Alex had fallen asleep on the other couch long ago. So much for promising an all-nighter of reading. His little brother Ethan is watching Power Rangers and the smell of spam fried rice is wafting in from the kitchen. I didn’t know how I felt about the ending of the series. So I turned back to page one and began again.

It’s been a long year. How many times have I said that? And when will I get over it? I’m not sure. I feel whiplashed by it all. My head is still spinning, spinning, spinning. But it’s all done, I hope. When my head stops spinning, I don’t know where my eyes will land. Will I write a book? Go to seminary? Go to grad school? Get a journalism job? A non-profit job? A historian job? Will I live in the Bay? In Texas or Oregon? I don’t know.

I planned out my whole life once upon a time, but it didn’t account for going deaf, getting a lung transplant, and moving off the island. It feels like I lost everything, despite all I’ve gained.

I was stuck in bed and blinded for a couple days because I couldn’t fit my glasses over the cochlear implant surgery bandages. I spent hours submerging myself in nostalgia. In cherry-sweet childhood memories like the ones above. Times where things were simple and relatively unaffected by health. When I was content with just enjoying the pleasures of life. Nostalgia is dangerous for us diseased folk; people who are constantly losing pieces of themselves and forced to live in a consistent state of discomfort.

“Nostalgia” was first coined by a 17th-century medical student who described the astute homesickness experienced by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. A defining struggle of the past year’s fight is that it was away from my friends, Hawaii, home. Even worse was knowing that I could never return outside of brief visits because Hawaii doesn’t have a transplant center. Odysseus fought years and years for his life then had to fight more to return home. But at least he got home in the end. I envy that.

When Odysseus’s crew encountered the Sirens, they plugged their ears full of earwax so they wouldn’t hear the hypnotic singing and turn the ship from home. I didn’t need the earwax, I’m already deaf, but I fell for the Siren’s songs of nostalgia anyway. My childhood bubbled up to challenge me, to say things are better now with new lungs and hearing on the way, but will things ever be as good as when you were carefree? When you had a plan and a home? I began steering my ship away from planning the future, from planning a new home. I wallowed in melancholy, in self-pity.

If you focus too much on the grass being greener on the other side, you forget to grow new things on the current side — in your reality.

I was writing those memories above randomly — just to write, not really for blogging purposes. And in the process of my rambling, I realized, just now, that the memories I chose were all from times shortly after I’d moved from ‘home.’ The first when I moved to Hawaii in 2001. The second when I moved to Tennessee in 2005. The third when I moved back to Hawaii in 2008. Just days before each memory, I had been miserable over losing my last home. But each time, I built a new life.

Despite the whiplash, I feel strong. I’ve beaten medical odds, I’ve stretched deep spiritual roots where there was once solid rock, I’ve exceeded my own physical expectations. A couple weeks ago, I went for a run along the Monterey coast. I ran to the edge of the ocean, where the waves clash in an area called the Restless Sea, and was screaming (in my head), “I DID IT. I FREAKING DID IT. I WON.” Projecting out into the wide sea, as vast and limitless as the potential of my future.

I can create a new future and a new home. I don’t know the answers yet, but God’s Plan is still running and I’m still on board. I’ve survived and now I will thrive. I’m steering my ship away from the Sirens and plotting a course, full-speed.