“Sorry,” I panted as I climbed into the back seat. “Last time I was here they didn’t have Uber.” I’d just lugged my suitcase from lower level baggage claim to ground floor arrivals while my driver drove in circles around the designated rideshare pick-up area. I’d been in transit for at least 20 hours.
“Where are you going?” The driver asked, expecting, I assume, a hotel in Waikiki.
“Beretania.” I said.
“You’re staying with friends?”
“A dormitory. Up there, on the left.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“Yeah. Years ago.”
I hauled my suitcase up the entrance stairs. The dormitory manager met me at the door. “You look familiar.” Did she remember leading a caravan of students to the Windward Coast years ago? Her husband caught an octopus, and they sealed it into a plastic container to take home and cook. Before we’d even left, the octopus had squeezed out of the smallest crack and was swimming freely in the cooler. But I guess he never escaped that, because the next day they were grilling octopus.
She led me to the kitchen to assign my storage bin. They’d moved the giant refrigerator into a different corner — or did I just remember it that way? The dining area was the same. Same ping pong table. Same drinking fountain. Were those the same vending machines?
After paperwork she showed me my room. 316. I was 317 before. Just across the hall. This room didn’t have a balcony. The bed was in a different place. But the windows were the same, those same jalousie slats that I never saw outside Hawaii.
I left my bags on the floor. Unpacking would come later. With zombie speed I changed into my pajamas and wandered downstairs to fight futilely with the soda machine.
“We never use that,” a girl called as my money shot out of the coin slot for the third time. “It doesn’t work.”
“Oh,” I sighed, wondering if I should bother going to the store.
“You can have some of ours.” A boy held up a 2 liter of Coke. There was a group of them sitting around the table, eating a late dinner. They invited me to join them. I declined food, my stomach queasy from exhaustion, but took the offer of Coke and sipped as they chatted with me and with themselves.
I was a resident at this dorm in 2010. I cooked my meals here. I stayed up all night studying here. I made close friends here. Those friends have moved on, to other cities, to other countries, to other lives. I’ve been here five days, and I’ve slipped right into place. It’s not like I never left, but rather, like that gap of time doesn’t exist here. My dorm mates greet me when I enter the room, ask how my day was, offer their help, as if we’ve known each other for ages. I walk to class, and the streets feel familiar. Some places have closed, or changed, or opened anew, but it still feels the same.
I had several options of where to take my CELTA course. Chicago would have been closer to home. Japan would have put me more in touch with the market I hope to enter after graduating. But I’m glad I chose Hawaii. It’s comfortable. I’m not wasting time and energy stressing about how to get around, dealing with culture shock or navigating in a foreign country. I can focus on my course.
For Ryan, who helped me find home.