By Iris Harris
/ Fiction /
“I know it’s your week with Sam starting tonight, but I don’t think you need to come all the way down to the beach to make a point out of it,” Samantha’s mother, Leilani, screamed into the pink iPhone she was holding.
Samantha watched her mother continue the conversation. Though she could not hear her dad’s side of the conversation, she assumed he was arguing over her mom’s method of raising her. Ever since the divorce, it had been a constant back and forth battle over custody and child rearing styles.
Samantha’s mother and father had been together since high school. Samantha was born shortly after they had graduated, which led to marriage with both parents hoping to raise her as a family unit. Fast forward a decade, they were now a broken family living in Makaha on the island of Oahu. Samantha’s parents could no longer see common ground in terms of raising Samantha and continued the fight in court. The judge granted them joint custody. Samantha would spend one week with her mother, then switch to live with her father for a week. The exchange was ordered to happen every Sunday; strictly before 6PM, meeting usually at the local Starbucks. Every now and then, they would have to choose a different location when it became inconvenient. Today it was going to be at Makaha beach.
As if being traded weekly wasn’t humiliating enough, watching her parents fight added another level of embarrassment to the whole ordeal. Furthermore, Samantha had preferred to stay with her mother because she struggled to build a trusted connection with her father. Perhaps it was due to the deeper bond a mother and a daughter share, or simply the fact her father had rigid child rearing methods and expectations. Either way, she was not looking forward to a long week of confinement with her father.
“Yes, of course I bought her a bikini top, so? We’re at a beach? What do you want her to wear, a parka?” Leilani asserted sarcastically. There was a moment of silence. Samantha watched the waves wash over the children playing near the shoreline. She decided to make an attempt to focus on the conversation between her mother and father. “Samuel, you don’t need to be so harsh!” Leilani grunted. “This is why I can’t live with you anymore. You are such a lo-lo head!”
Lo-lo head. Her mother was starting to use pidgin again (a.k.a Hawaiian Creole English) and lo-lo head is what you say when a person is being stupid. If Leilani was starting to fly pidgin words into the phone, her anger had started to become rising lava.
Leilani spat into her phone, “ho, Brah, you going come down here fo’ try to take my daughter after saying all that, I going to lick you! Try come and see what going happen to you! You t’ink I scared a you?”
Sensing her cue to leave, Samantha quickly stood up and ran towards the water. She loved coming to the beach and playing in the ocean. It was her way of escaping her family situation. Floating and diving in the water released her from the shackles of her life. It accepted her. No pressure to conform to house rules; no parent drama to endure.
Her brief swim in the ocean cooled her thoughts and she started to return back to where her mother was sitting. Leilani was still screaming into the phone at her father. She was unprepared to sustain another round of disappointment. Instead, she opted to explore further up the beach. She stopped when strange clanking sounds tickled her ears. Curiosity had piqued and Samantha followed the noise to see what the source was. She stood frozen watching a small group of men playing a game of horseshoes. Apparently, they had brought the set to the beach. Though she had never played, she could see the concept was pretty much identical as another game she was familiar with, which required a wooden box and three bean bags. She sat on the sand to observe the men competing.
The men took turns throwing a horseshoe, hoping to hit the stake that stood out in the sand about 8 feet away. If they hit, they would cheer with great exuberance, however every miss was followed by a slew of explicit words to make a sailor blush and leave the island. It was the island culture of language; Samantha had become accustomed to it since birth.
As the game continued, Samantha compared it to her life. She started with the players. The two men were a stark contrast of each other. Player one was thin with a surfer physique, while the other looked like he attended the gym regularly. The surfer represented her mother, while the gym rat was her father. Next, she analyzed each player’s strategy and game play. The surfer started his turn with deep concentration, he stared down the stake. He practiced each throw before he would actually throw the horseshoe. He was feeling the trajectory of the throw over and over, trying to find the perfect swing and height before releasing his horseshoe. The shoe glided through the air like a fish in water and gracefully landed on the stake with a loud metallic clack. He proceeded with this strategy until he was out of horseshoes, indicating the end of his turn. He had scored two points out of three tries. The men swapped places. The muscular man took his stance at the starting point and threw his first horseshoe. He was more impulsive with his strategy, mindlessly launching the horseshoe. It sped through the air and landed half a foot away from the stake. Within a minute, Gym Rat was out of horseshoes leaving the stake standing in solitude.
“Stupid horseshoes!” He’d scoffed and swap places with surfer.
Samantha watched them for a few more rounds, examining their reaction to their style of competing. Similar to her mom, Surfer generally remained calm during his turn, while Gym Rat would curse after every missed attempt. Eventually, she left the game to return to her mother’s side. As she approached, she could sense the stagnant air of disappointment.
“Your father is coming to the beach to pick you up,” Leilani stated uneasily. Samantha’s heart dropped. She completely understood her mother’s concern.
“Mom! No! This is not the place I want all of this to go down,” Samantha protested. She knew the continuation of the phone argument would be unavoidable. The sheer embarrassment from the fight and onlookers would be more than torture for Samantha. At least at Starbucks, the emptiness of the parking lot provided a shield from other people’s eyes if the two parents were to begin verbally assaulting each other.
Leilani turned towards Samantha, already predicting what she was thinking. “You know this is not the place where I want a scene. You also know I don’t have any control over this. Anyway, he’ll be here soon, so you better hurry and put on a shirt. He’s already upset because of the bikini top I got you.”
Samantha sighed with her stomach knotted up. Relentlessly, she reached for her shirt and slipped into it. She began to gather her things and within five minutes of starting, she heard the dreadful voice of doom booming over beachgoers’ joy.
“Sam? Leilani? Sam? Where are you?” He had been drinking again, as he staggered around on the beach. Nothing really new to Samantha and Leilani. Samuel drank consistently during the day. The drunker he became, the more violent he grew. It was one of the many reasons Leilani left him.
In spite of wanting to bring attention to Samantha and herself, Leilani reluctantly raised her arm and shouted back, “We’re over here!”
Samuel approached them with his stone cold, expressionless face. He was not happy to see Leilani and, after one look at Samantha, he became furious over what met his eyes.
“What the hell is he wearing?” he screamed pointing to Samantha, who was donning a pink shirt with the words: Girls Rules! in bold black letters on the front.
Leilani, keeping her calm demeanor, retorted, “we have been through this already. She is not a he. You need to learn to respect your daughter. Let’s not have this conversation again here in the public. Besides, you’ve been drinking again.”
The words glided over to her father’s ears and stuck. One point, mom thought Samantha, thinking back to the horseshoe match.
“Yes, we have been through this. Leilani, we have a son, not a daughter. His name is Samuel Kaleiopu Jr. We named him after me. I don’t recall you giving birth to a girl.” He switched his attention towards Samantha, “Take that ridiculous shirt off!” he demanded.
Although it was a sloppy toss of words, she still gave it to her dad. One point, dad. It was true, Samantha’s name on her birth certificate was Samuel Kaleiopu Jr. She longs to change her name to match her identity, but without her father’s consenting signature, the task continues to remain impossible until she turns eighteen. Leilani and her decided to call her Samantha until then.
Samantha looked confusingly back at her mother, should she follow her mother’s orders, or her father’s?
Leilani glanced over at Samantha while cautiously considering her next line. “Samantha, you can leave the shirt on. It’s yours, honey, and I don’t want you to feel embarrassed.” Focusing her attention at Samuel, she leered, “Samuel, I gave birth to a daughter. Gender was assigned at birth and Samantha is not a boy. We both knew this change in her when she was five. You didn’t want to accept the fact that he is a she then, and you still don’t now. Your pride is what is killing your daughter’s chance at a well-balanced childhood.”
Samuel quickly snapped back, “Oh yeah, well, I bet if you took off his pants you would see the truth. He is my son and I don’t want him wearing girlie clothes. I am not raising a sissy boy.”
It was a direct hit on the stake in the verbal game of horseshoes. The words enraged Leilani on the inside, but devastated Samantha’s heart, immediately bringing her to tears. This was the reason she was against staying with her father. She hid herself when she spent time with him. He continued to force her to conform to societal male gender norms and belittled her either at home or in public for dressing to express her authenticity. It was clear he refused to understand her identity or accepted it.
Samantha looked back at her mother, wondering how she was going to overcome that statement. Leilani glared thoughtfully back at Samuel. Her rebuttal had to be ironclad. The trajectory of her statement had to be perfect enough to land on the stake of reason, but glide over the drunken state of her opponent.
“This is not about us,” Leilani switched to fully enraged pidgin mode. “Ho, you drunk! You made it clear that you not going to accept the fact your child is transgender. Brah, what kind parent, you? You suppose to care for your keiki. You suppose to take care of them. Protect them. But, nah, you like make fun of your child. This is why I no can stay with you. This why we wen get a divorce. I could handle your drinking problem, but I not going to stand aside and watch you constantly hurt your daughter, Samantha!”
Samantha could feel the fury filled blow delivered in every pidgin word that landed on her father. Though she was proud of her mother’s tenacious approach to the argument, she knew the battle was far from over until one side scored the most points and conceded. Nervously, she turned to her father to see his reaction and listen to his rebuttal.
Samuel shook his head in disagreement. “You crazy, Leilani. My son is no mahu! I not going to raise one mahu in my house. This is why I left you. You t’ink you know everything. What kind parent let’s their son wear girl’s clothes? This why I fight you in court for custody. You the worst parent.”
Samantha felt her father’s rebuttal wasn’t very eloquent. In the verbal game of horseshoe, it would have miss the targeted stake by at least one foot. It was a simple statement with no aim or glide. In other words, there was no supporting evidence; just his raw emotions regarding his child’s identity. Glancing back at her mother, she waited. Leilani’s face seemed calmer than it was after the stinging strike from Samuel earlier. Samantha could almost hear the gears of thought rotating faster in her mother’s mind.
“Yes, what kind parent am I?” Leilani finally broke the silence between her and Samuel. “I am the kind of parent who listens to their child. I am the kind of parent who respects their child for who they are and who they will become. I am the kind of parent who puts her child before her pride. You can continue to deny your daughter of her identity, but you don’t have the right to take that identity from her. I am the kind of parent who will die protecting my daughter and her identity. If you don’t want to raise a mahu, as you put it, then you can leave her with me because I am the kind of parent who will raise their child regardless of their gender. That’s the kind of parent I am. If you have any further questions regarding my child rending skills, well, we can always settle this argument in court.”
Samuel stood stunned at the words. He wanted to say something back to Leilani. He wanted to find the right words to thrust in her face and overturn her rebuttal. Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe his own unwillingness to learn about gender identity. Whichever it was, he was rendered speechless for a while.
“Fine, whatever. Lei, you like raise one mahu, then you go. I no get time for this kine. I’m done fighting with you.” He conceded and stormed back to his truck. He stuck his middle finger back at Leilani, the only gesture he could think of. He climbed back into his raised pick-up truck, revved the engine a couple of times, then sped away.
Leilani’s tears gently streaming down her face. She turned towards Samantha, who was still filled with hurtful sobs. They exchanged glances and embraced each other, realizing they would have another week together, but hoping it would be longer.
“Samantha, you listen to me. I will always accept you for who you are. I will never treat you in any other way. You are my daughter and you always will be, regardless of what your father, or anyone else thinks.” The warmth of her mother’s words and arms were the reassuring gestures of comfort Samantha needed.
Samantha continued to hold her mother tightly. “Mom,” she stuttered in between sobs, “I don’t want to be called Samantha anymore.”
“You don’t have to. We can find a better name for you. One more fitting.”
“I have one in mind already,” she quietly declared. “Leihua.”
Leilani beamed at her daughter and the name she chose and understood why Samantha wanted the name. Like the native Hawaiian flower ohia lehua, her daughter had blossomed into her true self. She knew similar to the Hawaiian legend of Ohia and Lehua, two lovers who were brought together forever in the form of a native plant, they would also be together forever as mother and daughter.