Moving to Colorado from Hawaii for college was a shock. Not because of skyscrapers or dense cities. We already have those back home. Something that was shocking was the sense of guilt I felt about moving away from my family.
I was born when my mother was only 16 years old and was placed under the guardianship of my grandparents. I exceled at school and wanted to go to school somewhere outside of Hawai’i to broaden my horizons and experiences. I chose the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado where I would study Political Science.
As a kid and the oldest of 10 siblings, I always wanted to set an example for my family by being the first to go to college. I was terrified to leave, but great things awaited me beyond the islands.
The fact that I was leaving really set in as I hugged each of my siblings in the driveway. I hugged my mom and stepdad and struggled saying goodbye to my laughing 3-year-old brother who had no idea that I was leaving for more days than he could count.
As I arrived in Colorado, I was more extroverted than normal, going to parties and events hoping to make lots of friends and to recreate a community from the ground up. If I couldn’t have my family with me, I’d create something close to what I lost.
In Hawai’i, families are large and include extended family, step-family, and half-family. You don’t have step-siblings. You just have siblings. You don’t have a half-brother or a half-sister. You have a brother and a sister. Everyone is counted as fully in the family, which is a beautiful thing.
That beauty is what made my departure so ugly and painful. Although she didn’t say it explicitly to my face, I knew that my grandmother who raised me felt like I was abandoning my family to get away from them.
I was the dog who slipped off his leash and ran without stopping.
I so badly wanted her to know that this wasn’t the case, that I wanted to be an example to my family. I wanted to show that we can do hard things in far places.
If you’ve ever traveled in a group where you knew not all of you would be together on the flight home, you know that there is a feeling. There’s a feeling throughout the entire trip that slowly pulls you down, getting stronger and stronger as each hour of your time together passes.
Ultimately, you both know that separation is coming. Not yet, but soon. Whether you are sharing coffee, riding attractions at an amusement park, raving over a life-changing meal or are just sitting in silence, your mind always reverts to the simple thought: We won’t be together soon.
That thought really puts a damper on your time shared together, and it adds a melancholy lens to your memories. Then, the moment arrives.
A hug. A kiss. A handshake. A nod of the head. Separation.
The initial separation doesn’t hurt as much as the first few days alone. Staring and dozing become popular pastimes. Even when things went well for me in school, I felt guilty for leaving. What kind of grandson am I to party with rat guys or to hike Rocky Mountain National Park while my grandma sits at home by herself? What good are these memories if I can’t share them with my family?
Fast forward two years and a pandemic later, and I met the love of my life. I met Audrey at church and after a few weeks we began dating. The loneliness was still there, but it was a different type of lonely. It wasn’t the loneliness that longed for friends or lovers, but one that longed for a different time, one where things could be different.
How can I get back a family who thinks I didn’t abandon them? The visits home were difficult as “the feeling” set in the moment I landed.
With graduation looming and a year-and-a-half into my relationship, I had a choice. Do I go home or stay in Colorado for good? I chose the latter.
I worked here. I lived here. I bought a car here. I voted here. I was here to stay.
I worked in Monument, Colorado while living in Colorado Springs. The city became familiar to me and easy to navigate. It was starting to feel more like home than Hawai’i did.
People in Colorado often asked me: “Do you miss home? Do you miss the warmth? The ocean?”
The amount of times I was asked this was incredible. Sure, I missed going to the beach. Or a beautiful sunset. A bowl of poke or a box of dumplings could make me tear up. Roasted Chinese Pork Belly would make me cry.
However, these things paled against my family. Those things didn’t matter. My family was my everything and all I had ever known. As a young boy, I would often panic about the idea of getting married to a girl and having to leave my family. That thought terrified me because of how important my family was to me.
When visiting for Christmas in 2022, my grandma told me something that flipped my world upside down.
“It gets easier every time you leave. I don’t cry anymore,” she told me. I cried a bunch the first few times, and then it became tears, and now it’s just a little tightness in the chest and shallow breathing.
“What do you mean?” I asked her. “Was it harder before?”
“Yes. Before, when I left you to go to school, you were a boy that I was afraid to leave alone. I just prayed that you would be okay.”
I stared at her without a word to say. I was fully in listening mode, and I knew there had to more from her.
“Now, I know you’ll be alright. You’re a young man living the life you’ve always dreamed of. You love Audrey and you love your new home.”
I was stunned and honestly don’t remember what I said after that. I just remember the impact it had on me.
There was once someone I knew who had cancer for 10 years. While dying in her bed after a painful life, she still had worries. Straddling the horizons of death and life, she worried about her home and her dogs. Who would be willing to clean out all of her things? Who would care for her dogs?
It was too soon to die. These things needed to be arranged and planned for.
Her brother approached her and simply said that it will all be okay. “We can handle all of those things. There’s no need to worry.”
He said that it looked like she understood and had these burdens lifted off her shoulders. She fought so hard so that she could take care of the things that still needed to be done. She couldn’t die when there was still so much to do. She died a few minutes after he told her this, like she stopped fighting and understood that it would all be okay. All she needed was assurance.
The same way that woman needed assurance before dying, my grandmother gave me assurance to live. The guilt and shame of leaving my family was lifted off of my shoulders.
The future was mine. I could create a new me and anything I set my mind and heart to. With the full backing of my family, cheering on my success. She gave me permission to live life. A life in the way that I wanted. Liberated from guilt and shame, I live!
I enjoyed reading this. Heartfelt and sensitive. It’s the wish and fear of every parent that their child grows up and finds a life beyond the family. I”m glad that your grandmother was able to tell you so.
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Thank you, Sandy. It is hard for parent and child but it is great from them both! I hope you’re well.
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