Confessing to high school stupidity and current day grief

Back in high school, I fooled around in the storm drains winding beneath Mililani – these pitch-black, concrete tunnels maybe 15 feet in height and width. They’d often end with a sheer drop-off of about 20 feet in forested, rocky areas. My friends and I called it “exploring.” We’d go into the darkness with our little phone screens lighting the way and just scream and sing to our hearts’ desire. No one could hear us and that was a liberty to be relished by teenagers.

My friends and I were always warned that the storm drains would fill very rapidly if there was a storm. “Get caught in that, you’ll be swept out the end and crack your head at the drop-off, or drown. No one will hear your screams.” So, we always checked the weather reports before going in. But all island residents should know not to give Hawaii News Now weatherman Guy Hagi’s forecast 100% confidence (as awesome as he is).

One day, four of my friends and I stayed in the drains so long — determined to reach the end of a tunnel that had gone unexplored until then — that we didn’t see the dark, grey cumulonimbus clouds gather atop our ‘All American Suburb.’ We were a 15-minute walk into a split-off tunnel that was just six feet high when the waters hit.

We planned with wet ankles, yelling above the rush of dark, muddy-turquoise water, bathing in the teenage euphoria of knowing we were being ‘real bad’: “Maybe five more minutes and we’d reach the end?” “But what’s at the end?” “I dunno, maybe a dead-end.” “Well it’s rising so slowly, let’s go for it.”

It was maybe just two more minutes before we reached the end: a one-foot-diameter pipe. And in those two minutes alone, the water rose halfway up our shins. No words were needed this time, we looked into each other’s faces, droplets of water on our eyelashes glittering in the dark, and took off. I never ran so hard, but I have run much faster. The water was slogging me down, every fiber of my jeans and shoes collecting a liter of heavy water. As some cruel joke by fate, our phone screens died one-by-one. We were swallowed in darkness.

The water was rushing faster and taller, its current roughly tugging on our studded belt loops and Converse shoe strings, trying to drag us towards the deadly drop-off. The rebellious euphoria turned into panic. I was thinking about dying and my parents killing me a second time after dying for being down in those drains. At one point, we tried climbing up a ladder to open one of the manholes that poke out into the street, to no avail. (The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make it seem a lot easier than it is.) We screamed for help at the top of the ladder while water poured through the manhole. Yep, no one could hear us.

Karma thought we’d learned our lesson and the rushing river slowed to a steady stream by the time we reached the entrance of the drains about 20 minutes later. Soaked to our pits but undrowned, we never felt so alive. And we had a darn good story to brag about at school the next day.

The lessons stuck with me: We shouldn’t have kept going down into the darkness while in such a precarious situation. We should have known the water would rise as quickly as it did — so many people warned us.

I‘m writing this on my phone during a bath — a necessity to properly ponder life — and realizing as the piping hot water covers my body, that I have a problem.

If you’ve kept up with my past few posts, I guess it’s kind of obvious. These cycles of melancholy dotted with (well-deserved) happiness: implants, hiking adventures, new socialization opportunities, writing gigs. But I was in denial of my mind’s status. The dark waters have been rising and drowning the feel-good moments. I try clinging to these happy moments, convinced I have an obligation to be happy, that I have all I’ve asked and hoped for. But that’s not how the world works. My mind has an agenda of its own and isn’t always working in cooperation with my heart’s desires.

I’m not depressed. I’m… in grief. A friend spoke of their ‘grief’ and that kind of pulled the realization trigger for me: I’m in a state of grief over what I’ve lost in this process, though I’d rather focus on what I’ve gained. I’m stretched and pounded by feelings of nostalgia, trauma, and guilt.

I’m still joyful. I’ve said it in past posts, but joyfulness isn’t always “happiness.” It’s a confidence in God’s Plan, which I very much still have. And that does comfort me and I’m not very anxious because of it. This is just a difficult chapter of the Plan that my mind needs to get through. It won’t be fun, but I’ll get through. I think it’s fair to say there’s much to be sorrowful over: the state of our world right now and the personal trauma I’ve endured.

I wondered why it’s taken so long for my sadness to catch up with me. Then I read part of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, where he describes Vietnam vets coming home and having their grief catch up with them once they were no longer fighting. I’m not saying my struggles have been anywhere close what those vets experienced, but that reading made me realize my adrenaline and shock are wearing off. The objectives are complete and now I don’t know the next move. “Don’t. Let. Anything. Stop. You. Get the transplant, get the implants. Got the transplant, get the implants. Got the transplant and implants, get the …” The what? I’m still praying for that answer.

I could continue to mask things and say it’s all swell — I have been doing that. And I’m sorry for that dishonesty. But my heart is climbing that ladder and screaming for help as the waters rise. And I want people to hear it, because I need the help.

I wrote a column, “Mistakes I Made in the War for My Mind.” In it, I talk about how I wish I had gotten a therapist before things got really bad. The water is rising faster and faster. I’m not going to choose to continue walking down the tunnel this time. Even Jesus wept in grief when Lazarus died (John 11). But then he did something about it.

Please, if you’re the ‘praying type,’ add me to your prayers. I’ll follow my own advice and look into getting a therapist. There’s no shame in admitting you need help, right? But like I said: I’ll get through. ‘Cause this joy is adamantium, baby.

(Wow, writing that was cheesy but actually made me feel better.)

On that note, an update: Things are good physically. I’ve had a few new writing opportunities, my hearing is getting even better (blog post soon), I’m exercising lots, and I’ve been hanging out with some really amazing people. Thank you all for your continuous support! I’ve been so blessed.