Like a page taken from the Old Testament, the rain on the north shore of Kauai lasted forty days and forty nights. Endless rains dumped a record ten and a half inches a day of hard, -even cold–pounding water from the darkened skies. An unbroken chain of black thunderheads hovered above the mountain range ringing the valley. Mt. Waialeale, one of the rainiest spots in the world, was our backyard neighbor. Pele’s rage was in full force and we, the apparent sinners, had become the targets and recipients of her greatest wrath. Sadly, we, had no idea how grievously our once idyllic Hawaiian paradise would betray us…
Paula and Percy and their two young children were one of the few of our tribe who actually lived in a real live house. We all were invited to use their space for showers once a week, meals cooked with real burners and a real oven for baking bread. One afternoon after the one-year birthday party for their second child, Kiawe (Kivo for short), they announced that they were packing up and returning to the mainland to try and buy land in Oregon. Within three days, they were gone–and we were in shock, reeling from this sudden decision and subsequent loss of our dear pals.
After a grueling, six hour flight, they stood in the baggage claim area at the Portland Airport, sleepy kids in tow, waiting for the parade of bags churning down the conveyor belt to spit out their bags. Percy turned to Paula and said, “you know, I don’t really love you anymore and I just don’t want to do this. I’m taking Kivo with me to Long-Jon and Annie’s for a month to think about things”…Paula, clueless and shocked, agreed, smothered her baby son with kisses and watched, as Percy grabbed two of their four bags, kissed 18-month old Cassandra and headed out the sliding doors, leaving his shocked wife frozen to the spot. Paula, knowing no one in Portland to contact, gathered up her child and the bags and headed back upstairs to the United Airlines ticket counter. Within hours, she and Cassandra were on a red-eye flight back to Honolulu. And. the next day, appeared on he doorstep of our house in Waineha Valley.
The night after Paula and 18-month old Cassandra arrived back, freaked out on the steps of our house, Joel announced that he was taking off for a couple of days to “find the sun” on the south side at Poli’hale Beach. The incessant rains had made him cranky and he was tired of mud, tired of being stuck in the house, tired of Marie’s crankiness, and needed some space away from his little family. With hugs and goodbyes, we wished him farewell and watched the rains soak him as he headed down the path to Waineha Road. I remember at the time wanting to go with him and feeling a little hurt that he hadn’t asked me to join him on his short journey to the sunny side. After all, I knew if there was a beach involved there would be shell hunting—and, after all, that was what we did together…
For the next 48 hours, the skies opened up and the rain and gale-force winds rocked the stilt house. Thunder boomed and cracked over-head, lightning lit the room like daylight for hours on end. It seemed that the rain gods had dug in their mighty heels right above our house, determined not to move on down into the valley. The storm roared and raged to the point that talking was impossible, as the noise from its beating down on the tin roof was deafening..
At dawn, it was impossible to differentiate between the dark of the night and any early light announcing the day. The rain had turned into a light drizzle and the sky remained an ominous dark, blackish gray. I woke in the morning with uneasiness, looked out the window at our once -gentle creek, noting that during the night it had jumped its banks and saturated the baby plants in our garden. All of the tender new buds were under a foot of water! I actually laughed as I saw the heads of our hearty radishes standing proud in their spots and hearing Joel in my head saying, “ Those damn radishes!” It figured that they were all that remained, as they had threatened for days to take over the garden.
As I pulled my clothes on, I decided to head down our path across our land, to the road and over to our 90 year old Hawaiian neighbor’s house, to see if Miss Mary thought we should be getting out of there or if we were safe to stay. I told my friends to stay put and I would be right back with news. As I opened the back door, I noticed that the last two steps of our staircase were covered in rising waters…I jumped over the side railing, headed around to the front of the house and made my way toward Mary’s.. When I reached the stand of thick kiawe brush, the water suddenly rose from my ankles to above my knee, and when I looked back up at the house, Marie was climbing out of the window with baby Sattwa on her chest in his Snugglie! Paula was still in the house, handing down Cassandra to Marie’s waiting arms. I watched as Paula’s feet hit the ground and suddenly, the water rose to the middle of my chest! I screamed, “Go back! Go back! No! Stay in the house! But they never heard me, because as the screams left my lips, a wall of water rose like a giant wave over the top and sides of our house. And, I watched, helplessly, as they were swept toward me on the crest of the raging waters…
I was holding on for dear life to the kiawe bushes, feeling the piercing thorns digging into my skin. With one hand, I tried to grab Marie and Paula to somehow guide them to the bush that temporarily anchored me. At the same time, I watched in horror as bicycles, surfboards, generator parts, and old lumber and fencing came at us, swept out from their storage under the house. My arm let loose of Paula to try and push a 2×4 that was heading toward Marie’s head as she clung onto the branches next to me, Sattwa unseen in the baby carrier on her chest…Suddenly, Cassandra was pulled out of Paula’s arms and Paula, screaming, let go and was pulled away after her…Marie grabbed for me as she too was wrenched from my side…and then, the waters tore my shredded hands away from the bush, and I, too, was tossed like a rag doll into the raging waters..
As I was slammed through rusty barbed wire fencing, knocked into trees and gobbled up by the water’s force, I knew that this was my end, my death in paradise…its true, your life does flash before your eyes…I thought of how devastated my parents were going to be once they learned of my death–and wondered which LA friend would end up taking my dog, Yana. It felt like the waters raged and spun me for hours…I never saw Marie or Paula during that time, never saw any living thing at all–then, as suddenly as it had risen, the waters released me and returned me, bruised, battered and laying on the ground in less than a foot of water…
Marie was the first one that I saw. She was perched, less than a yard away from me, holding on for dear life to the trunk of a lone bent papaya tree, one side of the baby’s carrier untied and hanging from her body…. emptied of the small baby I had seen attached to its mama’s chest earlier..
All I could hear was the eerie silence of devastation–the true calm after the storm….soon, the forlorn wails of a mother’s loss came from Paula, calling her daughter’s name as she trudged into view thru the mud, bruised, battered, clearly in shock….all I could think of was, be strong, Linda, you have to be strong for your sisters who have just lost their children… you cannot freak out…be strong, be strong…
But, I couldn’t move. I stared at Marie glued to the bent papaya trunk, knowing that we were rooted to the spot, our cut, bloodied legs and arms immoveable and held tight by a cement-like terror, shock and grief…all we could do is listen to Paula’s cries from somewhere behind us. Marie and I had no words and we remained, voiceless and staring into each other’s faces.
Suddenly, I heard shouts and above my head, I could hear the sounds of a helicopter coming closer somehow. I remember being scooped up into the arms of what looked and felt like a giant. He was a young, local ‘Moke’, a Samoan guy, probably in his twenties like us, who I recognized as the son of a neighbor up-valley. He was one of our peers and one who had no great love for we hippies. He had once tossed empty Primo beer bottles at the heads of Joel and I from the back of a truck occupied by he and a slew of his drunken buddies, as we hitched into town one day.
I remember him setting me on the ground and being wrapped in blankets. I remember watching the sounds of a helicopter landing. And, I remember Marie and Paula holding each other, sobbing hysterically next to me. But what I remember most was hearing a voice yelling, Paula! Paula! Through the trees, our friend David Black (the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic Medical Director and our part-time neighbor) appeared out of nowhere and was walking toward us. And, in his arms, lay a limp, but crying and alive 18- month old Cassandra. Paula unfolded herself from her blankets and stumbled to her child, crying, “my baby! My baby!…I looked into Marie’s eyes again and saw the odd combination of joy at the news, and a palpable… pain. Boo had been found! I remember being happy!
Yet, no one could bring themselves to ask: where was Baby Sattwa…
When Joel caught his last ride to Polihale that day, the skies had clouded over and the rains had come fast and furious. The morning of the flood, he had gotten an early start, hitching back toward Hanalei. When he and his last ride reached the Hanalei bridge, they found the island’s two emergency vehicles, a fire truck and an ambulance, acting as a roadblock. Part of the bridge had washed away, stated one of the officers. We couldn’t even make it over to the other side for an emergency in Waineha before it had collapsed . Joel told me later that in that moment, he knew ..
Four days after the North Shore flood in Waineha Valley, a local fisherman on the west side of the island had cast his lines into the sea one bright dawn morning…as he watched the waves breaking on the shore, he noticed an oddly shaped fish floating between two rocks, his lines tangled around it.. As he steadied his pole and reeled his line in, he never expected Sattwa Cielo Morningstar to be the catch of his day…
Marie’s shock understandably lingered. She refused to go back to the Wainiha house and told our friends and landlords, Chris and Peter in Hanalei (who had graciously offered their home to us) that they were welcome to keep whatever they wanted of hers from the house. She was never going back. And, when the message came to us that Sattwa had been found, Marie adamantly refused to go to the coroner’s to identify his body. I volunteered to accompany Joel to the morgue inside the back doors of Wilcox Hospital in Lihue, where Cassandra slept down the hall and around the corner in pediatric critical care, her small body recovering from shock and hypothermia, both of her parents and her brother now together at her side… that same little brother, Kiawe, at her side, the little boy named after the thorny bush that had trapped her, gently wrapping one of its reedy branches around her little neck, keeping her afloat and on her back until found that day by David, in our neighbor Mary’s front yard after the water had receded…
The coroner asked who I was, and Joel immediately said, this is my sister and she is coming with me. Sister…yes, I thought…and that’s how it always will be..as we walked out of the coroner’s office, Joel turned to me and said, “Please, you have to come back to SF and help me take care of Marie…please, you have to come
As we hitched home that day after identifying Sattwa and filling out the forms, we stopped at a turnout off the road to take a hit off a joint. Suddenly, a truck went racing by, saw us and pulled over, screeching to a halt in front of us, almost hitting us in the process. A huge Samoan with dark eyes and reeking of beer, leapt out and headed toward Joel, screaming, “Where were you, pussy! Why you no be der to take care of your family, eh pussy…I’m gonna kick the shit outta you..where were YOU..
And in that moment, I jumped between them and into the face of the moke who had rescued me the day of the flood. All of grief’s next step of rage had engulfed every fiber of my 116 pound frame, and I screamed, slamming my fists into his chest, “HE—WAS—TRAPPED ON THE OTHER SIDE!! HE JUST LOST HIS SON, ASSHOLE! HIS SON! LEAVE HIM BE!
Amazingly enough, he did back off in that moment, but as he walked back to the truck, he shook his fist at Joel and said, you bettah watch your back, and you bettah get the fuck off this island..
All we could do is stare after him, remembering the empty beer bottles that had once whizzed past our heads coming from the back of that same blue pick-up…
I was the first to leave the island a week later, heading to LA for my dog and to load up my ’58 yellow and brown VW bus with what I could. I headed up the coast, headed for 2020 Fell Street.
Marie and Joel had left three days after me and were joined by Mary, Annie’s sister, who had put Percy and Kiawe on the plane back to Kauai when they got word of the flood. Mary left Jon & Annie’s in Oregon and arrived the day after Marie and Joel arrived home to Fell Street.
Marie stayed for one month. Then, she and Mary left for Michael DuPont’s wife’s farm in West Virginia. Marie never returned to live at 2020 Fell.
Some of us were able to maneuver in this world after the ‘hippie dream’ was lost. Others struggle through this lifetime, unable to forgive themselves and letting their guilt overwhelm. Marie fell in both of these categories.
Joel was kind enough to always take care of her financially over the year, through all her future drama and dreams…she had a used clothing store in Santa Cruz for awhile, worked with some lesbian midwives in the Santa Cruz Mountains, then attended massage school. Somewhere down the line, she met someone who turned her onto two things: the easy money that could be made as an on-call masseuse…and cocaine. Joel finally drew the line when he realized that her financial crisis’ were mostly feeding her budding drug habits and he eventually cut her off. Marie became a full-fledged heroin addict, living with her pimp in an apartment in the Tenderloin. In 1982, she had cleaned up and had a son with her pimp. On a Sunday afternoon, she left her six-week old baby with his daddy and headed downtown to the clinic to pickup her daily dose of Methadone. On her way home, she stopped at the donut shop on Bush Street for a coffee and a donut. She took one bite of the donut, choked, went into cardiac arrest and died on the spot. The autopsy showed that she had an untreated, fairly large cancer mass in her right lung.
Marie had never forgiven herself for untying the Snugglie that day of the flood, letting she and Joel’s baby drift out to sea.
On the ridges high above Waineha Valley, the water catchment’s holding tank was being replaced by the County of Hawaii Water District. The old-timers say it had been “forgotten” by the county since the last big flood of 1926 and had not been checked or replaced since then. This tank had broken into four pieces during the worst of the storms the previous year, sending a tsunami-like cascade of water onto the valley floor, into the river and creeks and eventually, out to the sea. Two creeks jumped their banks causing some flooding and minor injuries.
There was one casualty.