Neil S. Plakcy
“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