Okay, so this is what I remember of the story I’m about to tell: absolutely nothing. It’s a black hole of a story, but it is quite a story nevertheless, as ‘Iokepa slowly reveals it to my still erratic (but getting sharper every day) Swiss cheese of a memory bank.
After several bookstore events in Monterrey and Carmel, we were headed up the California coastline. I remember a three-night stop in Ukiah at a Travelodge Motel – some sunshine and a swimming pool. The rest goes dark to amnesia.
But I am told that on this day, May 20 (the day of the solar eclipse), ‘Iokepa and I (in our beloved black Camry with the gold wheels) decided on the coastal route to Oregon. The intention was a slow, two-day drive, with a one-night stop in Grants Pass, and then up to Portland for our next book event. We got, I’m told, as far as the giant redwoods when the trip was abruptly halted.
In these past years we have covered 95,000 car miles in that 1998 black Camry with the sunroof, the grey leather interior, the spoiler, and the gold trim that was gifted to us with 89,000 miles on it, four and a half years ago for this purpose. In Ukiah (last stop) it still looked exactly as if it just rolled off the showroom floor.
Such was the tender loving care of my husband. Such was the care of the couple in Washington State who bought it new. A day didn’t pass without someone, somewhere asking about that unusually beautiful car, and then registering shock when told it was fourteen years old.
The purpose of that gift, the car we called Dark Horse, was simple: to share the Hawaiian ancestors’ lives, as well our journey on their paths.
What we have is a good story. And frankly, all my life I’ve been a sucker for a good story. Maybe that’s why I first fell in love with ‘Iokepa these fourteen and a half years ago. He had a whopper of a story.
In any case, I’d worked my entire life as a reporter, listening and re-telling other people’s stories – occasionally, my own. Grandmothers Whisper is my own – and it is also the story of an indigenous people who at their best (which, these days, is not every day nor in all ways) remember that which all of us once knew but may have forgotten.
Forgotten – like me, right now. I have completely forgotten (since we left that motel in Ukiah) the car heading toward ours on narrow Highway 199 in Jedediah Smith Redwood Park, driven by a young man – who‘d been released from prison four hours before and was now highly inebriated and driving 80 mph in a 40 mph zone. I have forgotten his Honda, which crossed the center line and plowed into the driver’s door of our pristine Camry (my husband averted the head-on in those last breaths to spare me). I have forgotten the force of that Honda, which crushed my Camry door into one of the awe-inspiring colossal redwoods with a six-foot diameter.
I remember nothing.
‘Iokepa blacked out briefly, but he remembers every single detail. He wondered for just a moment whether he were still alive. He remembers being encircled by the first witnesses – a group of tough motorcyclists, one step removed from the Hell’s Angels. They were heavily cursing the other driver, who’d abandoned his car and run into the woods. I’ll spare you their specific epithets.
‘Iokepa remembers cradling my unconscious head, one huge hand behind my neck, the other under my jaw; and he remembers speaking words without let-up of love and comfort to my unconscious.
He remembers the arrival of the police and the fire department, the “jaws of life” extracting him first, then me, from that no-longer-beautiful Toyota Camry (now unfashionably svelte – nipped in at the waist), both sides compacted between the other car and the redwood. The front grill and hood remained shiny and recognizable. He remembers everything we own in the world, save for a closet full of camping gear still on the Island, now strewn across the road and among the hovering trees.
He remembers the ambulance ride to the hospital and my apparently insisting to anyone who would or would not listen that, “‘Iokepa is the best driver in the world – this wasn’t his fault.” Apparently, I’m given to understand, that repetition was my specialty in the hospital during the week that followed.
‘Iokepa remembers the emergency room from 1:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. I kept asking him every thirty seconds, “Did you call my brother?” In all those hours ‘Iokepa never left my side, never stopped attempting to comfort the only part of me he could safely massage – my feet – andassuring me of his love while answering again and again the drumbeat of my repeated questions. I was wheeled out and back for CAT scan, MRI, x-rays, and much more.
He remembers too the names and faces of each and every attending medical person. He remembers being granted privileges – a bed next to mine in a room we would share in the Sutter Coast Hospital in the California coastal town of Crescent City.
My heroic husband (he refuses to acknowledge my use of that word) – who steered the car toward himself to spare me – spent every moment of every day in the hospital fielding the deluge of necessary communication in the midst of a national book tour away from home, our family and friends at great distance. ‘Iokepa - who has consistently been the ambassador of everything that his people were and are at their very best – is considered “fine, unharmed, without a scratch.” I know otherwise.
I have apparently surrendered six smashed ribs (front and back), one badly bruised lung, whiplash, a concussion, and memory loss to the cause. I get attention, flowers, candy, sympathy, compassion – prayers, meds, rest, and rehab. ‘Iokepa gets paperwork, insurance companies, police reports, cancelled and rescheduled book tour events. He gets a wife who grows cranky when the day turns dim and the pain turns brighter.
We are both alive. We are both grateful. We are both absolutely certain that every bit of this unfolding is for a purpose. But that, I think, is another story, told another day. Please God, I will write that one as well.
For now, just this: My old literary agent told me many years ago, “Inette, you’ll do anything for a good story.’’ Just maybe she was right.