by Sean Ramia
My childhood in the early 1970s was spent in the rural Hawaiian town of Kaneohe, on the quiet east side of Oahu. Our home nestled itself at the base of several rolling hills and mountains, dappled with sunlight, and carpeted in tropical vines. One only needed to walk a few steps from our backyard to be engulfed in a jungle. My friend Chris and I would climb the trees here, never daring to venture out beyond the edges of the thicket that still counted as home. With each year, the untamed wilds of those mountains began to take on a sort of beckoning challenge in our adolescent minds. By the time we were 10, we felt emboldened to act on the
A day marked by heavy rains common to Kaneohe seemed as good as any other to make this trek. I fell in step behind Chris’ larger build, his blonde hair at times the only visible mark in the dark forest. We walked for miles, forging a path at random through thick vines and undergrowth. Just beyond a brook, lay a dark structure, almost unnoticeable under a shroud of overhanging trees. This abandoned home turned out to be one of many, a cul de sac choked off by tropical foliage. The only inhabitants for miles around were the Hibiscus and Plumeria trees, whose unrelenting branches seemed to embrace these homes as their own possessions.
One house, with a low-slung roof reminiscent of the 1950s, still held on to pieces of eggshell blue paint, streaked white where the coat had peeled away to expose drywall. The shutters and picket fence had long since splintered where years of exposure to the sun, wind, and rain had taken their toll. Carpets of dark moss littered the shake roof, and emerald green vines hung listlessly over broken windows. We pulled open the door, its hinges creaking in protest, entering a living room that had clearly spent many tranquil years untouched. We were thrilled–this would be our fort, a home for the adventurous spirit of two boys. We scrambled around, peering into each room for trinkets–even old coins and bottles were lost treasures to our imagination.
We made our way into the next home, continuing both our treasure hunt and conquest of this new world privy to only us. As I walked through a kitchen whose cupboards revealed only rusted pipes, I heard Chris shout from further down the hall. Running to him, I entered what was once a study, littered with books fallen from sagging shelves. My eyes squinted in the sudden stream of sunlight, where the roof had been completely torn off from the walls, oddly in this room alone. Chris’ hands grasped at my shoulders, turning me to face the southern end of the wall. My gaze lowered from the opening in the roof to an array of several dozen light-green plants, carefully set in pots. The damp soil of the plants had clearly only recently been watered. It was then clear that this world wasn’t truly ours to trifle with–a fact only reinforced by the familiar, multifaceted razor-edged shape of the leaves. I instantly recognized them as Marijuana, a common staple for many of the locals, but still a frightening, unfamiliar object to two children. Chris and I looked at each other in unspoken recognition of what we had found. The battered homes had been converted to a Marijuana farm, and that could only mean one thing–danger. Every child on the islands had heard countless stories of pot farmers stopping at nothing to defend their crop with rifles and booby traps from unwary, curious visitors.
Time stood still, waiting for one of us to blurt out our next move, while we looked at the tall plants, and then again at each other in quiet shock. In answer to our indecision, we heard footsteps, about 50 feet away from the perimeter of the homes, but rapidly approaching. Chris’ eyes widened, and I felt him tense instantly at the sudden noise. Panic-stricken, I rapidly turned around, looking for a way out. One of the windows near a broken shelf was half opened. We both saw our exit and swiftly pushed the gap further apart. Chris motioned for me to enter first. Free from the opening, I looked up to see his hands, gone white grasping the sill of the window for leverage to free his larger frame. I saw his face quickly poke through the breach, his face beet-red and sweat dripping from the strands of his hair. The sill suddenly made a loud snapping noise. For an instant, we looked at each other, knowing that our chances for escape had just narrowed significantly. We heard the tempo of the footsteps increase through the brush. We scrambled to our feet, as a gunshot rang through the air. Pure adrenaline drove us quickly between two of the faltering houses into the safety of the jungle. We never looked back.
To this day, we do not talk about our childhood “adventure”; but we still share a certain unspoken brotherhood from the experience. Life-threatening experiences, when shared between two people, impart a certain unbreakable bond like no other.