Bridget and I were lucky enough to spend 8 days on Maui and Molokai this past October celebrating our 7 year wedding anniversary. Travel has been a big part of our relationship and this was our chance to celebrate our marriage, friendship and connection as travelers.
YOU LOVE HER when you see her face, splashed with sea water and set in a stare of concentration, rise above the white tumult of the breaking wave. She extends her arms and pulls her legs underneath her and amazingly, she is surfing. The fear she felt seems to have dissolved in the break because she pops up on the board, her first attempt, and rides until the wave gives out.
Our surf instructor is named Jesse. He wears trunks and sunglasses and is nearly hairless with a shiny, taut Buddha belly. He is a pretty darn good teacher on account that he is patient and enthusiastic. But she’s clearly nervous on the walk to the beach where the surfing lesson would take place. She scans the breaks for hidden menace as Jesse nonchalantly chats about the danger of exposed shallows and possibility of falling headfirst into a bank of jagged coral.
Even so, she paddles out and you watch as she waits in the line up, staring towards the beach, giving nothing away of her fear. You hope that when it is your turn to attempt to ride your first wave that you exhibit half as much daring prowess.
You love her in that dress. You’ve never seen that dress and you wish she would never take it off. Well, almost never. You wish she lived in that dress. You close your eyes. Yup, that dress.
You slurp oysters from opalescent shells at your sea-fronted table and swirl wine in wine glasses, and this is how you have a nice meal at Mama’s Fish House. At the present moment you have been married for almost exactly seven years.
Mama’s reputation precedes itself by a few thousand miles. Before we had left the mainland you were asked by many Maui enthusiasts if you would be dining at the seafood establishment. The devotional testimonies of happy diner’s suggested that the entire island exists to support the genius of this one restaurant.
The signature dish–Mama’s lobster, crab and Maui onion stuffed mahi mahi is macadamia nut crusted–is a serious contender for the best seafood dish you have ever tasted. Perfect flavor and prep aside, the menu, dated October 16, 2011, informs you that your fish was caught by Armando Baula on the north shore.
This detail colors the concoction on the plate with a history that you are altogether unprepared for. You find yourself wondering, Who is Armando? What color is his boat?
You have kept your eyes off her that dress long enough to chew a few slow polite bites and watch others glance and linger in her direction.
Seven years ago she took your breath away in a certain white dress. You remember not being able to look away. Telling her she looks hot seems amateur. Beautiful sounds tired and gorgeous has lost its pizazz. Luminous? Fetching? Stunning? A stone-cold fox? Everything sounds dumb in your head and you wish you could say it with a look, whatever it was you wanted to say.
Underwater underneath the twin pontoons of the big catamaran feels like a secret. Your skin chills as you pass under the boat’s shadow, a cool hand running the length of you. You both surface between the pontoons, below a cluster of people from your tour group who sit sucking BBQ chicken from their fingers and applying sunscreen. You are alone under the boat.
You want to kiss her, but she has a snorkel in her mouth.
Instead you dive towards a pair of angel fish and hope she follows. Now tilt your head up and watch her swim, watch her hair trail behind her. She dives towards you and the sea floor. You swear you could almost hear her gasp as the sea turtle you hadn’t notice glides into view 10-feet below. The animal looks as if it was flying, not swimming. It flies on scaly wings past you and you couldn’t follow fast enough to keep it from the blue nothing that swallowed everything eventually.
You look up and you notice you have lost your wife and everybody else on the sailing tour chasing that turtle and turn around to try and pick out her snorkeled head and flippered feet.
Remember the first few months of your marriage, when you sat side by side on beaches evening after evening in Costa Rica?
Settling in next to each other on the coral-punice sand of Molokai’s Dixie Maru beach turns the pages of your memory back to younger times when everything was imminent and life seemed to be just beyond the next stretch of sand.
Waiting for the sun to set on this patch of Hawaiian sand distills the stuff of life to this moment only. Only you two, only this sand. As long as the sun teeters in profound pinks just above the ocean you could be here. And if that never happened? If the sun never set, if it just hung there and bled into the storm clouds and colored her face, what then?
She combs the sand for bits of shell that she likes and places two in your palm.
You love that.
All photos by Joshywashington and Bridget O’Neill