When Hello and Goodbye Mean the Same Thing
My Auntie O tells my older sister, who later relays to me, that our great grandfather from four generations ago put a curse on the women of our family. Auntie had taken Madison to a spring in Oahu to look for orbs that dotted the path like fireflies. Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau, was a religious site for birth and worship. It is also, a supposedly haunted site. My sister and I loved the idea of curses and spells of any kind really, but we never pictured being the recipients of one, but rather the creators. Madison told me that Auntie said the women of our family were cursed to be alone or cheated on or single mothers or all of the above.
We didn’t care that much, we were eighteen and twenty-three, and love seemed more like a painting at a distance, all shapes and colors.
After their trip, my sister and I sat on a quiet cream-colored beach watching ghost crabs’ tunnel under our feet, our stomachs full of sticky rice and manapua. Sometimes a beach goer would walk by us, stopping to pick up a shell or pop the head of a dead washed up Portuguese man o’ war jelly on the heels of their feet.
I trace the generations of the women on my father’s side, the Hawaiian side. I go as far back as three generations, most of the men remain(ed) married or partnered, and almost all of the women—his four sisters, his grandmother, cousins, his daughters, me—are single with or without children.
Human mana is a manifested life force flowing down the same hereditary channel of seniority from the major spirits (akua) to the ancestral spirits (‘aumakua) to living parents (mäkua) and their children. It’s spiritual life force energy or healing power that permeates the universe, in the culture of the Melanesians and Polynesians.
My parents love language was and is ghosts and all things occult. They instilled in us that we possessed powers of our own and encouraged us to put out good energy into the universe in order to receive good energy back. We didn’t belong to a specific religion, but we do believe in the soul.
I feel mine, moving and light. It’s mercurial, like me, restless in between wake and sleep.
I grew up with father-daughter dates that consisted of my dad taking me to his early twenties’ apartment building in Redington Shores and telling me ghost experiences he’d had while living there. He’d point to his old window, “Right in that room I was choked, the blanket ripped off from my body.” He’d talk of the fish tank boiling, of hands grabbing his arm that hung off the bed, of a voice slithering in his head in between wake and sleep.
We’d walk the beach after, hand in hand, and talk about death and the afterlife. It was one of the few times I ever got to see him vulnerable, his sharing of fear of the unknown and how he overcame it.
My mother too, would talk story to me of her ghost experiences. However, hers was sprinkled with Christianity from her upbringing, angels and demons, praying and bright lights.
Occult was more for fun, where ghosts and manifested energy was our unofficial belief system. My mother would call us her little witches and every Friday the Thirteenth she texts me and my sisters, “Happy 13th coven,”. Family vacations consisted of going to at least one graveyard to look for our birthdays on headstones, I knew my sun and moon sign at an early age, Halloween is met with the same vigor as Christmas morning.
This spiritualism wasn’t just grounded in my immediate family practices but rather bled into extended family gatherings. When in Hawaii, it was almost a contest for who had the most clairvoyant child amongst the adults. One daughter could read auras, another had a family follow her home from the Byodo-In Temple. And then there was me, my parents proudly counting off my dreams.
Before I had experienced—or rather recognized—the supernatural, I believed in the supernatural, because if I didn’t, wouldn’t that mean I thought my parents, my family, were liars? And if Christians could create miracles and pray for things to happen, wasn’t that just magic or manifested energies being placed on or in specific objects or people?
My earliest memories are dreams.
I had a reoccurring dream when I was five that I would walk up to a pink house, color worn from the salt in the Florida air. The door was always unlocked, the neighborhood was safe. I took my shoes off in the entrance room, my bare feet on the tile floor felt cool after being outside. I head to the kitchen and out the side door to the garage, where in the shadowed corner I’d perch by the laundry machine and talk to a man on a tilted chair.
I told my mom about the house when I was a kid and she made me describe everything I could remember about the details of the place.
“When I was pregnant with you, me and dad looked at a house that looked just like that one. We didn’t buy it because the owner, a man, had hung himself in the garage.”
My parents were proud of my dream, I was too even though I didn’t want to spend my nights in that garage.
There are only twelve letters in the Hawaiian alphabet—seven consonants and five vowels. The letters dip in and out like waves, sometimes smooth and other times terse. Jobs were signified by the first letter in the last name. All last names that started with “K” signifies being a kahuna. The farthest Hawaiian last name we can trace is, Kekipi, which translates to “rebel”.
I look at my own face: wide nose, slightly almond shaped eyes, bushy hair, white skin. I can see remnants of Hawaiian-ness, but when I tell people I am of Pacific Islander descent, people are stunned. Whenever I am on the island, though, I am called a hapa haole. My dad looks like what the Hawaiian Kahunas looked like before imperialism and colonialism: 6’7 feet, brown, black hair, flat footed. When we are on the island his pidgin resurfaces, dropping hard consonances and smoothing the ends of his words.
Our original Hawaiian last name is lost. The women on my father’s side all married haole men and I imagine that they swallowed the letters one by one until there was only white space.
Anyone or thing can have Mana. It is a cultivation or possession of energy and power, rather than being a source of power. It is an intentional force.
I offer my body years before it rips open, my palms and chest pointed up like a soft spire held firm. At twelve, I wanted to be a part of the family’s spiritual culture of healers, seers, spiritualists. Sure, I had dreams of dead men and saw things out of the corners of my eyes, but I had attributed it to childhood angst. I opened my body for anything, welcoming it with a hungry, hello.
Once, at an airport, a stranger stopped my mom and asked her if she could see ghosts. The stranger said that she was a medium and could feel my mother’s energy. She explained to my mother that our bodies, our spirits, have different sized openings for other realms. She likened it to holes in swiss cheese, some people just have wider gaps to receive whatever is out there. I tried to widen mine every night.
When I was sixteen, I started taking uppers and had my first suicide attempt, a cinderblock and water. I’d been putting out dark energy that entire year, frantic and not yet diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is created by a lack of identity. The side effects were that the person can either resort to people pleasing or rebelling—I chose to rebel. I was a ghost girl, no real purpose. I did the opposite of what I was told as some sort of attempt at agency.
After my attempt, I dreamt I was on a boat that rocked on terse waters. A figure on the other end of the boat spoke in tongues to me that made me start to cry in the dream. He touched me and when I recoiled, he pushed me down onto the boat’s floor. I woke up disoriented, eyes still shut, and even though I was awake I could still feel the bottom of the boat beneath me instead of my mattress. I could still feel the waves rocking. With my eyes closed, I heard footsteps enter my room, a movement of papers that I had left on the floor got shuffled to the side. My bed went down from the weight of a body and I heard my glass on the bedside table make a sound as if someone had licked their fingers and lightly drugged it around the rim. I went to open my eyes, but in an instant, I was paralyzed.
I am aware of the fact that there can be scientific or reasonable explanations for my dreams—to a point.
I looked up Sleep paralysis, which is a condition in which a person is mentally conscious but physically unable to move. It is sometimes, according to Web MD, accompanied by hallucinations of frightening invaders in the bedroom.
The rules to playing a Ouija are simple: light one white candle and one black, never play alone, and always say goodbye when you’re done. After the man on the boat dream, I felt like an open board without a planchette, without saying goodbye. After my dream about being on the boat I do not have a night of peace for over three years. I am held down while sleeping, I wake up with bruises around my wrists. I wake up to the lights on and He, my great great great great great grandfather, is at the edge of my bed holding a book I had put down earlier, his yellow eyes staring at me. I dream a ladder appears in the middle of my mattress and I climb and climb. I wake up and go to the kitchen only to go back to my room to see myself sleeping. I am choked and held down, touched.
Sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming, totally fucking batshit crazy.
My friend offers that I might be schizophrenic.
Almost every day I took uppers and at night I downed seven melatonin pills to sleep.
My father’s father left my grandma to raise six kids alone. His four sisters were all married and are now alone. My cousins, though never married, had children with men who are no longer there but rather alone.
Up until my mid-twenties I had never dated a good man or woman. Not to say that I was good either. I would enter relationships where we fed off each other’s energies, turned into monsters. I couldn’t be alone because I didn’t like or know who I was. I fell in love and then out then in then out. I subconsciously decided that I wouldn’t be a part of the curse. That instead, I would hurt my lovers before they hurt me. People filtered in and out of my body like the ghosts in my dreams.
But then I met a man.
We’d slept on a mattress on the floor and made grilled cheeses in fur coats and underwear. He held my hand when he was drunk or high and when we woke up, he’d exercise me, but I’d come back at night, resurrected by a text, and then in and out and in and out.
The word Kahuna is derived from Kahu, which means caretaker. Huna means secret; so together, a Kahuna was the keeper or caretaker of secret or sacred knowledge.
Auntie O told us that our curse bearing grandfather, who was a Portuguese missionary, had come to the island to preach western religion to the natives.
My (4x’s) grandfather had fallen in love with the Kahuna of the village, my (4x’s) grandmother. She taught him Lapaʻau and in turn, he became Kahuna ‘ana ‘ana, or rather, dealt in death magic rather than embodying my grandmother’s healing practices that aided their community.
I like to think that she thought of herself as a rebel, falling in love with an outsider. Her kapa made from beaten and dried wauke leaves, watermarked with geometric shapes that she traced with her hands as she saw him back lit by stone lamps in ti leaf sheath torches.
My mother always told me to think of bright lights whenever bad spirits came to me.
A Dream: I was on a crater rock in the middle of the ocean, crater like what the sirens mother turned into by the hands of their father, like the crater rocks I fingered for black brittles, like the crater rocks that once burned red, like the crater rocks that created Oahu. I perched on the rock that dug into my bare feet that became just a mattress, while I held my falling teeth as the saltwater sprayed my palms. At the foot of the bed were men in plague masks hold smoking herbs and then they are gone
A Ghost: and I was awake and held down with my eyes closed. My wrists bound, legs too. I thought of a bright light, bright like that day on the beach with Madison or bright like the meadow with the purple wild flowers I’d stumbled on as a child but never found again but I can’t think of anything brighter than a long ago memory because I hadn’t had a bright day in a long time
A Man: and then I woke up on that mattress on the floor with no pillowcases. He was still asleep, and I thought I loved him or loved him as much as I could or loved the idea of love or loved that we didn’t really love each other but that was what made me feel safer, so I loved that feeling. I went to the bathroom, my wrists sore, my feet tender, and pulled all the love out of my body, and found what I thought was a token or charm from inside me but when I looked down I was holding in the palm of my hand a used condom.
It was believed that words had a power of their own; prayers of invocations that were not delivered perfectly would bring no benefit, but rather bring harm. The requirement that ‘aumakua be addressed in prayer by their names has unhappy implications for Hawaiians who may wish to revive this aspect of their heritage, but who do not know the names of their ancestors or the correct rituals.
Something happened when the used condom hit the water. Two fingers snapped at the sound of the plop. It wasn’t instant, but over the course of a few weeks I found myself on barstools less, hovering over white lines less. I never stepped foot in the mans’ apartment again, my very own banishment on my own accord.
Before I moved away, I took a bundle of sage, so fresh it felt wet, lit it and walked around the corners of my apartment until I reached the open windows, drawing the smoke out. I expelled him from my life, all the hims and its, creating my own incantation. I welcomed these energies into my life the same way I parted with them: by my own volition and power, Hello—Goodbye.
It is believed that ancestors or ‘aumakua could take possession of living creatures. Ancestral spirits could make appearances to express parental concern for the living, bringing warnings of impending danger, comfort in times of stress or sorrow, or in other ways being helpful.
I dropped out of college and moved upstate New York to work on a farm two months after pulling the condom out from my body. I detoxed, working morning and night tending to cattle, harvesting, cutting and washing fleece. My belly was flat, no longer bloated from drinking or drugs. I still dreamed but it was only embers comparatively.
One morning, I sat picking mint by the creek out in one of the pastures. I couldn’t find scissors, so I sawed the stalks with a serrated knife, cutting myself from time to time when the blade slipped and went into my thumb or index finger. Next to me an emu grazed cautiously, her prehistoric neck drummed, and when the wind picked up, I’d inhaled hers and my smells: barn and hay, copper and mint. Later, my host told me that the emu was the only one left from her mob. She had killed her partner and her offspring—how I’m not sure.
I don’t know why but I found her comforting even after I heard her history. I liked her distant orbiting of my body as I worked in the pasture picking thyme or swimming with the highlanders. Maybe she was just needed company or maybe knew I was pregnant; I think animals can sense things we cannot.
My father’s sisters never remarried but it’s not something that they defined as a tragedy. In truth, most of the men they divorced were assholes. My aunt M thrives on her independence. I visit her in her glamorous New York apartment that smells of wood and sage. My cousin, who is a single mother, just finished a double degree in education. My sisters are both powerhouses.
Maybe my (4x) grandfather doomed the women from a hundred years ago when women weren’t allowed to own land, handle money, have a say over their bodies. The women of my family are kahuna’s in their own right. We are powerful, secretive, knowledgeable, caring, magical.
Maybe the curse does not exist and men are just trash. Maybe it doesn’t exist and we pick bad men. Maybe we need our independence more than we need a man.
I found out I was pregnant on a visit home from the farm. Madison made me go to the hospital when I woke up to a swollen, unrecognizably purple leg. The flight home triggered three blood clots that attached itself to a major artery in my left leg. Factor V Leiden, as I later learned, is an inherited blood-clotting disorder that is triggered during pregnancy and can be expeditated from elevation.
At first, I felt like a failure, succumbing to my family’s fate or predestination. Another Zalopany anchored to single motherhood. But each night, after I injected my bruised belly with blood thinners, I envisioned ours, mine and my sons, life together. Holding his little foot on a drive to the store, running through the park, living our everyday life together, and I never once envisioned a nuclear home. Never once mourned the absence of the man. After my son was born, I realized that he would be the only grandchild with the Zalopany last name. He would be all mine, to raise and to love. I pushed him out, my body his very own island.
I am teaching my son how to write his ABCs. He is four and passionately loves action heroes. So, each day I doodle monsters: Abaia, Basilisk, Cerberus. After he shakily writes out each letter of the day, he goes to my sheet of monsters and with a crayon he defeats the monster or rather scribbles them out. I hold the once white sheet of paper that is now filled with color, once filled with monsters, all gone and undetectable.
McKenzie Zalopany is a queer writer based in the Tampa Bay area. Her work has appeared in The Boiler, Gargoyle Magazine, and elsewhere. She is an instructor and MFA student at the University of South Florida.