December 2, 2009

Kangaroos and Buffalo

My imagination has always been, and is to this day, a ravenous beast in a peaceful wood that will never be silenced.
Take a left off the highway and go along the main drive through town eventually making several turns. It is here you’ll find the “Barn House.”
We lived in a two story house with features that for some reason my older sister and I attributed to a barn. And so it was called the Barn House. I’m twenty-one now, and to this day we will refer to that particular home as the “Barn House.”
There were always next door neighbors. It wasn’t until I was in high school and learning to separate myself voluntarily in attitude and behavior from the normal world that I learned the practice of knowing and being friends with one’s neighbors was decidedly unpopular.
These neighbors had a son my age, and we did stuff together. All the time. Or not that often. I can never remember.
He wore a red shirt sometimes. I think.
His mom was a short lady and had curly hair.
Their house was blue.
And there was definitely a stone wall, about two and a half feet tall that divided our property and theirs.

Dad owned a garage door company, and it was in the early years of its becoming…whatever it is that companies become.
This meant that since we had little-to-no warehouse space for the doors, we stored them in racks in our garage. Dad had a small office located somewhere else he left for to go to work each day.
When I was six, he came home one day and wearing his signature Hawaiian shirt and khaki slacks, sat me down on our blue, felty-feeling couch with big buttons all over and said “Jimmy, I’ve got some pretty exciting news.”
This had to be important. Really important. I know ‘cause Mom was sitting across from me with the camera all ready.
My older sister put her pencil down and completely abandoned the homeschool math sheet she was working on. She could add seventeen minutes to three-thirty pm later.
Dad wasn’t mad at Jimmy, and her eight year-old mind didn’t already know what Dad was going to say, so she had to listen.

“Well Jimmy, one of my customers wanted a garage door. But this was no regular customer, this guy had a very special job. He goes to work every day and takes tourists for helicopter rides up the side of Mauna Kea and takes them right over the volcano.”
My Dad probably said more. I’m guessing what followed was he told me about how the customer traded him a helicopter ride for part of the payment for his garage door. I’m sure my Dad told me when we were going, and that it was at least several days away. There is no doubt in my mind that my sister waited until the opportune moment when she and Mom were alone in the kitchen, then she asked her how come Dad was taking me and not her, and she maybe even cried about it.
All I know is the seconds flew by and then I was dressed in my favorite Sher-kahn t-shirt from the jungle book that a Vietnamese lady who lived in an apartment building made for me, climbing into the cockpit of a helicopter.
Another second or two and I was adjusting my headphones, telling Dad and the pilot that I could hear them both.
Then we were moving smoothly over hundreds of acres of grass and cattle. Roads, tiny little cars and pretend-looking buildings passing relentlessly below.
To this day I’ll swear I saw kangaroos and buffalo. I can see them in my mind just as I did the day we flew over them on our way to the Volcano. I only wish they existed.
Then we were there. I could see the smoke rising angrily, billowing dark and other-worldly from the most deadly and dangerous thing a little boy’s mind could conceive of.
Lava was more dangerous than the ocean.
People died in lava.
We were at the edge of the volcano. I could see it bubbling and spurting orange and red liquid fire out at me. What if it burned a hole in the plane.
In a horrified, fascinated panic I gripped the arm at the edge of my seat and leaned back from the window.
The pilot was going right over the lava.
“Whoa, its getting pretty hot in here, can you feel that Jimmy?” I could feel it. I could smell certain death below. We were going to die. People died in lava. We were right over it and the pilot was steering us so that now we were totally over the lava. What if the helicopter stopped spinning and we dropped into it? Me and Dad were gonna die. And the pilot too.
“Wanna go down a little closer to the lava?”
“No Dad!”
The laughs in my headphones were no competition for the loudness of my imagination.
I didn’t want to die. Other people already died in that lava down there, and Dad wanted to go closer!
I could feel it all over my skin as I sank into it. It felt just like the jacuzzi I got into at the hotel before one time. Then a security guard came over and told Dad no kids allowed in it, so Bethany and I had to go play in the pool while Dad got to talk with the older tourist people from Canada with funny accents.

Somewhere a gasp and another dip in the rotors later, we landed at the airfield in Waimea. It was cold and rainy, fog covered the small private airstrip we drove away from. I was cold and numb from my mind out to my still crawling skin.
We had flown over the Volcano.

Dad had done what the imagination of a little boy could not have conceived in a million little boy years.
My sister graduated first, married first, and had the first grandchild.

But I flew over the Volcano.

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