NAS Barber’s Point
When Mike was growing up, he never imagined doing anything as exotic or dangerous as spying. That changed one day when his dad advised him, “Mike, if you want a happy and successful life, you have to go where your talent is recognized and appreciated. Eventually, you’ll have to get out of North Dakota.”
Twenty years later Michael Holmes is a naval air intelligence officer at Barber’s Point Naval Air Station. It’s on the leeward side of Oahu in the tropical paradise of Hawaii, light-years away from the frigid hills of North Dakota.
One Saturday night near the end of his tour, he’s invited to a party at the home of Louis and Celia Cravino. Lou is a lieutenant commander and a pilot. They’re a wild couple in their mid-thirties.
To give you a taste of their style, one evening Mike was at a party with the Cravinos, and it was time to leave. Lou and Mike were on the front lawn chatting with another couple for several minutes. Finally, Lou turned toward the house and yelled impatiently, “Celia, are you coming?” To which she yelled back,
“Hell, no—I’m not even breathing hard.”
This party is a sizable affair of about twenty-five people. Most of the ladies are in muumuus with flowers in their hair and pikake-shell necklaces. Women like muumuus because they’re comfortable and colorful and conceal figure flaws. The men have on Hawaiian shirts and white shorts, some with battered straw beach hats. The house is decorated in a tropical theme with flowers everywhere and a couple of torches and tiki god statues on the lanai.
They mingle, eat, drink, chat, and have relaxing fun playing charades. Celia points out Grace Donaldson and suggests that Mike should talk to her. Despite the last name, she’s a Chinese girl probably in her midtwenties, a neighbor of the Cravinos. She has a strong presence that is quite compelling. She’s tall and very pretty with skin like porcelain. Her red-flowered muumuu hides what appears to be a slim figure. Even when she’s standing at ease, she gives the impression of being very focused. Most amazing are her blue eyes. When Grace talks to someone, she gives them her full attention. She’s smiling, soft spoken, but direct. Although it’s obvious from remarks during charades that she’s quite intelligent, she’s also very approachable. Her smile envelops and warms you like sunshine in the morning. Her presence draws you in. It might be his imagination, but she seems to be watching him. Clearly, it’s time to move in and cut her out of the herd.
“Hi, I’m Mike Holmes. Did I hear your name is Grace?”
“Yes, I’m Grace Donaldson. Donaldson is my husband’s name. I’m here alone because his unit is deployed to WestPac. My Chinese family name is Liu, and my given name is Chan-juan.” She laughs deliciously when she explains that it means “graceful” in Chinese. “Are you related to Sherlock Holmes?”
“No. Not at all. He was English, and I’m primarily a Luxembourger.”
“When you say ‘primarily,’ what does that mean?”
“It means I’m three-fourths Luxembourger and one-fourth Sioux Indian.”
“You don’t look Indian.”
“How do the aboriginals of your imagination look, may I ask?”
“Actually, I don’t know, but you do look a little Mongolian, Are the Sioux and Mongols related?”
“I suppose it’s possible that the prehistoric Mongols traveled across the Bering Land Bridge and met or became my ancestors. But perhaps we might move on to another topic of greater promise,” he says with a sly smile.
Despite this frosty opening, there seems to be some unexplainable connection between them. He decides to test it. “May I obtain a libation for you and invite you to accompany me to the lanai, where we might separate ourselves from the flock? Once there we may be able to converse without megaphones.”
“Such a gracious invitation certainly cannot be refused. Do you always speak so correctly?”
“It’s a by-product of three years at Oxford. I was on a Rhodes scholarship and I picked up their more formal way of speaking sometimes, just for fun. But let me assure you, dear lady, that whilst I admire the post-Edwardian syntax of our British cousins, I am not what you colonists call a ‘stuffed shirt,’” he proclaims with a mock-pompous tone.
“Well, ya couda fooled me, brudda,” she replies in beach-boy patois. “What else can you tell me about yourself?”
“An abridged biography would reveal that my grandfather emigrated from Luxembourg in 1898 and settled in North Dakota. He married a Sioux Indian woman. I grew up next to the reservation, where I learned a lot from my Sioux cousins about sharpening your senses—focusing and concentrating on all the sensual signals around you.” Pausing slightly to test the effect, he continues, “I say, madam; I believe I detect a very slight Asian accent, which suggests you are not a native of this splendid isle. Am I correct that it is most likely from central or perhaps northern China? If you were to speak Chinese, I believe I should more closely identify the region.”
She pulls back in surprise. “You’re good. You’re a smart-ass, but you’re good. Yes, I was born in China and grew up in Henan Province. How could you tell?”
“It’s simple. At Oxford I concentrated on Asian studies. Chinese language was part of it. By listening closely, I learned a bit about the tonal differences within Mandarin dialects. Plus, I heard a very slight tick when you said some English words. There are certain sounds that are difficult for northern Chinese to make. Please continue.”
Smartly brushing away her lustrous, gardenia-scented black hair, she throws her shoulders back and lays into him. “Mr. Holmes you are something special. However, it is abundantly clear that you are uneasy and overplaying your hand. This is probably an outgrowth of having encountered an intelligent woman of taste and beauty who is not overwhelmed by your pretentious manner. I must exercise a high degree of forbearance if we are to find a common ground on which to converse.”
Mike is momentarily knocked off center by her. This girl doesn’t take crap from anyone. This could be fun, if he doesn’t screw it up.
Taking a sip from her tall, frosty drink, she continues, “For your information, sir, my family has a military background. My father, General Liu, was Chiang Kai-shek’s chief of staff. When the Kuomintang lost the mainland to the Communists, we left with Chiang to Taiwan,” she goes on to explain. “My father eventually had a falling out with Chiang over his brutal rule of Taiwan. Secretly, the CIA helped us obtain visas, and we escaped once more, this time to Hawaii. Since my father had extensive knowledge of China’s military capabilities, we were welcomed and put on an accelerated citizenship track. Within a month we were citizens. I was twelve when we arrived. I didn’t have a problem quickly learning English. However, the bruddas sometimes don’t enunciate very well, so I may speak a bit of three tongues simultaneously.
“A few years after we immigrated, I attended Stanford, where I completed my bachelor’s degree in Asian political economics in three years. It wasn’t difficult since I had grown up in the middle of it. I was nearly finished with my master’s, but my father suddenly became quite ill. Having no siblings, I came home to help my mother. Is that sufficient to satisfy your inquisitiveness?”
He thinks, “What an explosive start. I’ll have to choose my words carefully in the future. It’s clear she’s a very insightful woman.”
After an hour they’re into a more comfortable flow. Starting with typical cocktail-party news of the day, squadron gossip, and the weather, gradually and easily they shift toward more personal issues such as interests, hobbies, and experiences. She reveals a quick wit and an appealing sense of humor. Although she’s very relaxed and somewhat open, Grace isn’t flirting. There is a boundary. There is something about her that he’s never encountered. Growing up in China during the civil war and Japanese occupation, fleeing to Taiwan, experiencing Chiang’s harsh dictatorial rule, and then escaping again to Hawaii—all have left their mark. This is an extraordinary person.
Too soon she says she has to leave because she’s doing some modeling the next morning. Mike’s more than disappointed. He needs to spend more time with this remarkable woman. She’s the epitome of what he’s dreamed of since he started thinking about girls. Celia had introduced Grace as a neighbor who lived just a few doors away. Mike offers to walk her home, and she doesn’t refuse. They say good night to Celia. As they leave, Mike tells Lou that he’s taking Grace home and will be back shortly. Lou nods with a lascivious smile. Dirty old man.
They step out into a gorgeous tropical night. The air carries the scent of hibiscus, gardenia, and orchid. A soft breeze rattles the palm fronds. The sounds of the night are soft, mystical, and exquisite, and so is she. Some invisible night bird calls, and its mate answers. A three-quarter moon paints the sky a deep-velvet-blue backdrop for a million stars while casting shadows along their path. The soft light on her perfect skin is mesmerizing. Mike strolls as slowly as he can without being too obvious. He wants this evening to last forever. As they near her house, he tries to find some way to keep the conversation going that isn’t totally stupid or maudlin. Eventually, he has to say good night in a way that’s sincere and won’t be a cliché. He doesn’t hint at coming in, and she doesn’t offer. Finally, he says, “Grace I’ve had a delightful evening with you. You’re an extraordinary woman. I hope we have a chance to meet again. I would ask you out, but you’re married, and I respect that.”
Grace listens without a word. Then she reaches out her right hand. He moves a half step forward and takes it, not knowing what to do next. After a second, he expects her to pull away, but she holds on and looks deep into him with those crystal-blue eyes. Without thinking, he pulls her hand up and kisses it.
She smiles with a look that reveals pain somewhere inside. Then, she says, “Michael, I’m usually not this bold. But I want you to know how memorable this evening has been for me. You’re a remarkable man. I’ve never done this before, but I would like very much to keep in touch with you. We can’t be together, but do you see any reason why we couldn’t just be pen pals? If you feel the same way, and you have time to send me an occasional postcard or note from your travels, it would make me very happy. Address it to C. J., and sign it Sherlock, just for fun. Send it to my mother’s address on this card,” she says, handing him a card from her purse.
While he’s still holding her right hand, she reaches out with her left, touches his cheek, and gives him a light kiss. She turns quickly and walks up the path to her house. When she reaches the screen door, she turns, pauses, gives him a little smile and a small wave before opening the door and disappearing. He’s transfixed.
Finally, he turns and walks back to his car thinking, “Wake up, Michael. She’s not a mirage. She’s real.” His two years at Barber’s Point had been taken up with work and competitive golf, so there wasn’t much time for romance. Now, suddenly his old, primeval impulses emerge. It’s almost like hitting puberty again. Unfortunately, there is that insurmountable problem. No matter how he slices it, she’s married, and nothing is going to change that. Celia told him that Grace’s husband is a playboy, and she thinks their marriage is not especially happy. That only makes it worse. ¬
The following Tuesday Mike receives orders for his next duty station, Washington, DC. He’s to leave in two weeks. As much as he would like to call Grace to say good-bye, it seems inappropriate. He decides he has to write it off as a wonderful night but an impossible situation. All he can do is exchange notes with her from a distance, almost like grade school. Perhaps over time she’ll drift away, and this will be just a beautiful memory.
On Sunday morning, Mike’s phone rings, and it’s Grace. “Michael, I have to talk to you. Can you meet me at Maili later today?”
“Yes, what’s the matter? Are you okay?”
“I’ll tell you when I see you. Don’t worry. I’m all right. Park in the Maili Beach parking lot and walk north along the beach. I’ll watch for you. I’ll be waiting at six o’clock. There shouldn’t be many people there at that time.
“As he hangs up, he racks his brain. What could this be about? “I don’t think I did anything to hurt her. All I did was kiss her hand.”
By 1745, he’s at Maili. He takes off his sneakers and walks barefoot northward along the tide line. In about a quarter mile, there are no people except for one woman sitting on the beach a hundred yards ahead. As he gets closer, she stands up and waves.
She takes his hand and leads him to a sheltered niche. “Let’s go over here.”
“What’s the matter, Grace?”
She pauses, looks at him in a vexed manner, and blurts out, “It’s you. We have a word in Chinese for people like you. It’s hundan. Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, it means ‘bastard,’ doesn’t it?” “That’s what you are—a hundan, a big, bad hundan.”
“What in the world are you talking about? What did I do?”
“You messed up my life. That’s what.”
“How did I do that?”
“I was going along comfortable in my marriage, and then you came along and upset everything.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Look, stupid. I’m married. Maybe it isn’t as hot as Romeo and Juliet, but I was content. Now you show up and…and…and mess with my head. Don’t you get it? I’ve fallen for you, or at least I think I have. Kiss me, you bastard. Maybe that will break the spell.”
She looks around and sees no one. Then, she puts her arms around his neck and lays one on him. Wow. She means it. His lights go on, and bells go off. He can feel that they do for her as well. Gradually, she pulls back and looks intently at him, seeking an answer. Then, she makes another run, and this one is more serious than the first. Finally, she steps back again, takes a long, deep breath, looks around the empty beach as though expecting something, and then starts to cry. “You see what you’ve done? You’ve totally messed me over, you bastard.”
“I should sincerely appreciate it if you would choose another appellation, madam.”
“Don’t give me any of that British crap. I’m serious.”
“I can see that.”
“So, don’t just stand there, sailor boy. What are you going to do about it?”
“Me? I’m upset too, but I figured I just had to get over it in the next ten years or so.”
“Well, it’s not that simple.”
“Have you talked to anyone about it—maybe your mom?”
“Yes, I did. She understands but says this might just be a hot flash. She says I should let it go for a while and see if it wears off.”
“You mean like a bad rash?”
“Don’t trivialize this. I’m hurting, and you caused it. You kissed my hand. Who do you think you are…you hand kisser?”
“Grace, I’ve run all sorts of scenarios through my head, and none of them work. I want to be with you, but I don’t see any way for it. You’re not going to get a divorce over a two-hour conversation, are you?”
“Just shut up and hold me. You can do that, can’t you?”