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by Kimberly Ae 5 months ago in family
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When letting it go is the only option to happiness

The road stretches out before us, its black and slick asphalt surface baking in the Kona heat. The highway divides the lava fields from the ropey kind known as pāhoehoe on one side and the uneven ‘a‘ā rock on the other. It’s all aged by the sun and air through the passing of time and the appearance of the gaping hole of a lava tube is both menacing and surprising. The sweeping openness of the landscape can seem foreign to most city dwellers, myself included. Yet, taking it all in within thirty minutes of landing in my hometown feels like comfort slipping over me like a buttery, soft garment. I long to wear it all day, every day.

Iokepa is driving the rental car we picked up from the agency near the airport. I glance over at his strong hands as they grip the steering wheel in front of him. I close my eyes remembering how those same hands with the long, elegant fingers seductively rubbed my hip last night as I laid on my side, facing away from him. When I felt his hand cup my breast and he began to gently squeeze it, I put my hand on top of his and said, “Not tonight, we have an early flight tomorrow.”

I immediately felt the loss of his body against mine as the bed shifted slightly when he rolled away from me. I heard his footfalls on the floor as he walked out of our room. I couldn’t get to sleep after that and the night dragged on as I got up several times to try and coax Iokepa back to our luxuriously, comfortable bed. I found his six-foot frame sprawled out on the sofa in the living room. I knelt on the floor near where his head lay and said, “Please come back to bed.”

He didn’t budge at midnight, at 2 am or at 3 am, and each time I asked him he said, “Go back to sleep, Jen.” We didn’t say a word to each other as we boarded the plane this morning and we both had the bleary eyed look of two people who hadn’t slept well in a long time.


I used to come to Kona annually on my dad’s birthday, but four years have passed since my last visit. I suppose it’s because life is busier than ever for me. My medical practice expanded in ways I couldn’t foresee when I opened my office five years ago and shortly after that, Iokepa and I bought a house. We spent the last three years aggressively trying to make a baby, enduring the pain and difficulty of IVF treatments. It hasn’t worked out the way we wanted it to and I can’t ignore the fact that coming home this time coincides nicely with our decision to take a little break.

Iokepa asks, “Daifukuji first?”

His gruffness prompts me to look at him and ask, “Are we ok?”

He doesn’t respond or glance my way, but I can see his jawline ripple with barely contained irritation. “Yes,” I say. “Let’s go there first.” I turn away to look out the car window, blinking away the tears that threaten to fall out of my eyes and down my face.

“I can’t be here with you. Not like this, when I’m so…”

I quickly turn my head to look at him and ask, “What? When you’re so what?”

He looks over at me and yells, “You’re not the only one dealing with this! We’re both having a hard time with the baby stuff and I know I was wrong, but you can’t keep pushing me away. I want my wife back. Is that too much to ask? I mean, give me something to work with here, Jen!”

I look at him and say the only thing I can at this moment. “I can’t! I don’t know who I am anymore if I’m not trying to have a baby. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a wife. I’m sorry.”

Iokepa’s eyes are on the road again, the knuckles of his hands pulsating from the pressure of his grip on the steering wheel, his voice icy with indignation. “I can’t do this anymore. After your visit I’m going home.”

“Kepa. I don’t. I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t care what you want. I’m done.”

I take in a lungful of air and then breathe it out before turning my head to look out the window again. We head toward the Buddhist Mission in Kealakekua where my mother’s ashes are interred within the columbarium there. My dad visits my mom there every day.

Patrons of the temple attend the morning zazen meditation at six-fifteen so I’m not surprised to find that the parking lot is empty when we pull in just before eight o’clock. The familiarity of this routine steers the car up and around the main building and residence. We park near the rickety stairs leading down to the columbarium and after noticing the closed doors, I dial Reverend Sumida’s house number for access to the rooms. A few minutes pass before I meet her at the bottom of the steps.

“So nice to see you again, Jen-san,” she says as she bows to me before opening the lock with the key she wears on a long chain around her neck. Instinct lowers my head toward her and I think about how I don’t do that to anyone else but to the Japanese people I meet. Somehow, my mannerisms echo my dad’s in almost every way. Pride like the fiery glow from an oven emanates from deep within me.

“Nice to see you again.”

The reverend turns the knob, opens the door and disappears into the unlit room. The natural light pouring into the twelve by twelve space is enough to illuminate the dark corner where I know the Tanaka family niche is located. I hear the familiar strike of a match as it is dragged across the coarse surface of its box and then see the ember glow when the wick of the candle is lit. “Well, I will leave you to it. Don’t forget to snuff out the flame before you leave.”

“I will, thank you.”

I walk through the doorway and head toward the middle of the room where the urn used for burning incense sits on a table. There are already a few sticks planted in the powdery residue left behind from many years of praying for the ascension of the faithful to heaven. I pluck out three sticks from the receptacle on the table and hold them from one end with both hands over the candle flame. Once I see the tips glow red, I fan them and the fragrant smoke begins to curl and rise toward the ceiling. I hold the sticks between the palms of my hand and in front of my chest, close my eyes and bow three times in quick succession. As I am walking toward the niche numbered fifty-three, I hear footsteps outside the door and look over to see the shadow of someone approaching the entrance.

I bend down to place the incense sticks in the holder in front of the cubbyhole where my mother’s urn is placed. Just then, my dad enters the columbarium. He is small, but moves with quick, efficient steps toward me. “Jen-San! You’re here,” he says when he notices me standing in the corner of the darkened room.

“Hi Daddy,” I say as I walk toward him.

He covers his mouth with one hand as he begins to cough and holds the other one up in my direction. “No hug today. I caught a cold and don’t want to get you sick.”

He walks over, stands in front of my mother’s nook, and bows. I bow as well. “It’s so nice to see you, Dad. I miss you so much!”

My voice sounds shaky and I drop my head as tears roll down my face.

“Jen-San, what’s wrong?” he asks.

I shake my head and say, “Don’t mind me. I’m just being silly.”

“Never silly to me.”

I raise my face to look at him and he says, “Come, let’s sit and talk.”

He turns and walks toward the door where there is a bench alongside the wall. I follow him and sit down once he’s seated. “Oh, sweet girl! Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Oh, dad! Kepa wants to leave me.”

“Is this about a baby?”

I nod my head and slam my hands against my face to cover my eyes as if their position will keep the tears from coming. I lean forward and sob uncontrollably into my lap. I feel the weight of my dad’s hand as he strokes my back from neck to lower spine and I am suddenly sheathed in warmth and tranquility. When I sit up to look at him, he’s sitting there with his hands in his lap. “What about the girl?”

I knew it would come up. I’ve avoided talking to him about it, but it’s hard to escape the difficult questions when I’m eye to eye with the man who raised me and is understandably concerned with my well-being. “Jen-San, it is hard for a man to deal with a woman’s sadness.”

“So, I’m supposed to forgive him for his indiscretion because my grief and pain was too much for him to handle,” I ask a little too loudly.

“You have to forgive yourself before you can forgive him,” he says gently.

“I haven’t done anything wrong. He should be on his knees, kissing my feet, begging for my forgiveness,” I say as I lower my head and close my eyes.

“He already has. He’s been doing it every day since he told you about the girl.”

I continue to stare at my shoes as I shake my head from side to side and say, “I don’t think I can get past it. There’s no way I can forgive him.”

“You must or you’ll be stuck here with me forever.”

I snap my head up and say, “What do you mean?”

He opens his mouth to say something, but then quickly purses his lips instead. “Dad?”

I begin to feel uneasy as he stares at me through eyes that appear to darken as we sit there in the expanding silence. “I love you so much. I want only happiness for you.”

“I am happy! I’m happy to see you. That’s why I’m here. I had to come and see you!”

My dad smiles and I immediately recognize the young man he once was as he held me in his arms the day I was born. His hair is black as night and his almond shaped eyes seem to sparkle with hope and joy. There is so much life in him at this moment and I want him to pick me up as he did that day, hold me against his chest and carry me toward the hospital room window to gaze out at the rising sun, humming about me being his one and only sunshine and how I make him happy.

“We are not perfect, Jen-San. We all make mistakes. We need to forgive the people we love the most, even when they hurt us. Even if it means we still have to walk away. But I know for certain that you will never find a good man like Iokepa. He worships the ground you walk on and he will do anything to have your love again. Go to him. Tell him you love him and that you forgive him.”

I stare at my dad who begins aging right before my eyes. His hair lightens until it is completely gray and his body seems to grow smaller as the skin on his arms wrinkle. Age spots appear magically on his face and now I’m looking at the man I haven’t seen for far too long. I wonder how he can possibly expect me to walk away from him now. “I don’t want to let go.”

There are footsteps outside and when I turn toward the sound, Iokepa is standing in the doorway. “Jen? Are you ok? Who are you talking to?”

His tone is not as brusque as it was and I can see worry etched into the crevices between his eyebrows as they scrunch toward each other. I turn my head to look at the empty space next to me and say, “I was talking to my dad.”

Iokepa crosses his arms and leans against the door frame. He looks down at the ground and says, “I know you miss him. I miss him too. He was such a good man.”

We stay like this for a little while, me sitting on the end of the bench, him waiting in the doorway; both of us enveloped in the silence of our thoughts and feelings. I finally stand up to leave as Iokepa grabs my hand and says, “I’ll do it.”

He walks over to the middle of the room, picks up the snuffer and places the small, bell-shaped metal on top of the candle flame. It is extinguished immediately and we are plunged into darkness.


As we drive back onto the main highway, I look over at Iokepa and say, “Please don’t go home. I really want you to be here with me.”

I see his chest expand just before he lets out a loud sigh. He stares straight ahead and says nothing and I fear he’s already made up his mind as the car continues to move in the direction of the airport. I look down at my hands where they rest on my lap and ask myself what I was expecting him to do. A sudden rush of anger races through me, immediately followed by a gentle stroke up and down my back. “Did I make you want to go to her?”

The inside of the car feels like our whole world at this moment and although the air conditioner is on full blast, beads of sweat gather at the nape of my neck. “Jen…”

“Just tell me, Kepa. I honestly want to know. I need to know.”

I hear another audible exhalation before he says, “Is this what you want to do? You want to go back to that place? We barely got out of there alive.” His words come out clipped and his volume increases with almost every word.

“I need to know what you were thinking when you put your dick in her because you obviously weren’t thinking of me.”

The car feels like a ticking time bomb on wheels. The oxygen surrounding us threatens to combust as if the next words spoken are the fuel, and our bodies the heat that will set everything ablaze. Iokepa pulls the car over to the side of the road, puts it in park and shuts the engine off. We sit silently for a few moments and then he says calmly, “When your dad died, you were inconsolable for a really long time. I didn’t know how to help you. You didn’t want me to help you.”

I rub my thumbs against my index fingers and stare at the glove compartment in front of me. I feel my dad’s hand on my back again and remember what it was like to have him in my life when things weren’t going so well. Even as a teenager when my mother and I would argue, my dad was always there to comfort me. He made it clear that he wasn’t taking my side over hers, but that he had a shoulder I could cry on when all was said and done. When he died, I distanced myself from Kepa because I thought it made me stronger to deal with my feelings alone.

“I didn’t realize I was pushing you away.”

“It made me feel like I was losing you and I felt worthless.” Kepa leans his head against the seat and turns to look at me. “I was missing you so much.”

“I never meant to make you feel that way,” I say as I adjust my body so I’m looking at him too, my head resting against the seat as well.

“I know you didn’t and I was a fool to think I could fill that emptiness with someone else. Believe me when I tell you that I disappointed myself. I wanted us to start fresh. That’s why I came to you and told you everything. I needed you to forgive me.”

“I thought I did, but deep down I guess I was lying to us both and I was an idiot to think we could fix it by bringing a baby into our marriage.” I gasp back a sob and as the tears roll down my cheeks I say, “We were too fragile for that weren’t we?”

Kepa leans over and pulls me into his arms and says, “We would have been damn good parents, Jen. It just wasn’t the right time for us.” His voice is quavering and I feel moisture on my shoulder as his tears fall on my skin. For the first time in a long time, I feel safe and warm in his embrace. It’s as if we’ve been away from each other for several years and we are finally in the same place at the same time once again.

“I’m so sorry, Jen. For the rest of my life, I’ll be sorry for what I did to you.”

“Please don’t leave me,” I say. “Let’s go back to the hotel.”

We stay in each other's arms for several more minutes until finally Kepa says, “Okay, I’ll stay.” He gifts me with his enormously charming smile before he starts the car and we are on the road again.


We are in our hotel room for mere minutes, just enough time to drop our bags just inside the door, when we start tearing at each other’s clothes. He pulls my face to his, our lips meeting and our kisses becoming more urgent, the tongues searching for its mate. His hands slide down my back and he grabs my bottom as he pulls up the dress I’m wearing. My fingers find the waistband of his jeans. Still kissing him, I raise my knee up the inside of his thigh, pushing against him with just the right amount of pressure. He realizes what I’m doing and starts to laugh. “You’re killing me! These jeans are too tight now.” I take this opportunity to quickly unbutton and unzip his jeans, moving them with my hands down his hips to bring them around his knees. His laughter stops him from kissing me.

We are suddenly on the bed and it doesn’t take long for us to push everything outside of our bodies away from us and enjoy the feel of our naked skin as we move against each other. Coming together like this again feels so incredible and so right. In no time at all, I am floating on a cloud and I want to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. We haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be consumed by our desire for each other and I know without a doubt that we are where we belong.


I am swaying down our hallway in my fabulously comfortable and brilliantly green yoga pants humming a lilting lullaby. Kepa comes up to me and plants a searing, hot kiss on my lips. He looks down at me, smiles and whispers, “I’ll start dinner,” before heading down the stairs.

I am making my way toward the window at the far end of the hall when I hear my dad calling my name, “Jen-san! Oh, Jen-san! How I miss you! Tell me, have you forgiven him?”

I look down at the sweet face of the chubby cherub in my arms as I rock him to sleep for his late afternoon nap. I look out the window and say, “Yes, Daddy, I have. More importantly, I’ve forgiven myself.”


About the author

Kimberly Ae

My creative focus is on sharing stories of my island home, Hawai'i, and the way that growing up at the crossroads of the two prevalent cultures I grew up in, Japanese & Hawaiian, influences the way I live my life and shapes my world view.

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