I Saw Her Again

I was 6 feet tall when I started high school. But during those four years, I grew just one more inch. So in 2006, during my previous stay in Hawaii, I had assumed I had stopped growing, and would remain 6’1” for the rest of my life. Nothing wrong with that, right? 6’1” is a pretty respectable height. But anything less than 6 feet is considered short in my family, so at 6’1”, I was just barely making the grade.

Now that I’m back in Hawaii, people constantly remark about how much I’ve grown since the last time they saw me. I didn’t realize it, but in the four years I was away, I grew two inches, and am now 6’3”. (Once again, I’ve assumed I’ve stopped growing.) In addition to height, I added some bulk (also without realizing it), and I think it makes people think I grew more than I actually did.

But people also mention how much more mature I am now. I think they mean well, but it kind of makes me think I must have been a snotty little brat back then.

In any case, I don’t feel any different. Whether it’s physical or emotional growth, I never really notice it. Life feels like one big on-going experience to me.

I think when people think of themselves as “mature,” that’s when they stop maturing. I think a lot of these “older more mature people” who talk to me as if they have matured, have themselves stopped growing, and I don’t mean physically. When I look at them and the way they live, they seem to have cut themselves off from learning, get stuck in unproductive habits, and refuse to change, even when a more beneficial way is presented to them. And I’m not talking about things like technology, I’m talking about simple things like putting aside petty differences, and not holding grudges. These people are usually more than twice my age, so you’d think they’d be able to see things more clearly than I could. But because they think of themselves as “matured” they’ve stopped learning, and have settled into their lives as basically being the same person they will always be. I don’t mean to sound insolent and disrespectful, I just think it’s sad how they’ve shut themselves off from learning anything new.

Growth, I think, is a choice. We can’t choose how much we grow physically, but we can choose how much we grow emotionally. It seems once people hit a certain age, they tend to think, “I’m old now. I’m not gonna learn anything I haven’t learned already.” But it’s exactly that kind of thinking that interferes with their learning process.

I think of maturity as an on-going, never-ending process. For this reason, I will never think of myself as “mature,” but rather, “maturing.” Even when I’m old and gray and on my death bed, I will still think of myself as in the process of maturing. Sure, we need a certain amount of maturity to accomplish certain tasks the right way, and I can recognize when I’m more mature than I was before, but I won’t ever consider myself “mature” as if it’s some sort of defining plateau one has to reach. As long as I’m alive, I never want to stop growing. There’s just too much out there to learn. A thousand lifetimes could never answer the questions I have.

Perhaps maturity is just doing what you know to be right. I think there’s something inside all of us, a little voice telling us the right thing to do. But we so often let external influences prevent us from doing it. Pride, I think, might be the biggest influence of all. We’re so worried about keeping our pride intact that we stop ourselves from making the right decisions. And the person we hurt most when we do that is ourselves.

When I first moved back to Hawaii in 2006, I didn’t know too many people, since I had either lost touch with most of the friends I grew up with, or they had moved to the mainland. I was 19 years old at the time, and I had a cousin who was around 13 or 14. I didn’t have too many other friends, so she and I started hanging out. I figured it was good to get to know my relatives more.

I normally try not to talk too much with young girls. In this case, by “young” I mean any girl under the age of 18. It’s not that I mean to be rude and ignore them, but young girls are impressionable, and tend to get easily attached, if you know what I mean. I just don’t think it’s right for an older guy to hang around young girls.

But I figured there was nothing wrong with hanging out with my cousin. We’re related. It’s okay. Right…?

We enjoyed each others company, and grew closer as cousins, but there were a few strange occurrences. For instance, we were walking in the mall one day when she saw a girl she knew. They talked for a bit, and later I asked, “Who was that?”

“Why do YOU want to know?” she said, as if I had some secondary intention.

“I was just asking.”

There were little things like that that made me think there was some jealousy on her end. Jealousy is always unhealthy, but it was even weirder since we’re, you know, cousins.

My cousin started calling and texting me alot, and frequently asked me to pick her up from school and hang out. She was getting too attached to me. But naively I didn’t think too much about it, figuring, “We’re cousins.”

We went to the Punaho carnival where we ran into one of her teachers.

“Who’s this?” she asked, referring to me.

My cousin gave a long, winding, and confusing explanation of how she knew me. I really don’t know what she said. But the way she said it, it sounded as if we weren’t related.

The woman gave me a sideways look, as if to say, “What are doing with a girl her age?”

You know how some girls mature faster, so they look older than they really are? Not my cousin. She was 14, and she looked 14. Not that it would have made it any better had she looked older, but at least it would have looked less weird to passersby.

Her teacher left and I asked, “Why didn’t you just tell her we’re cousins?”

My cousin replied with another long, confusing explanation. I shrugged it off, thinking, “Girls are weird.”

Later we met some of her friends. They asked me, “So how did you two meet?”

“We’re cousins,” I said.

My cousin started ignoring me after that. Every time I’d say something, she refused to say anything, unless it was to find a way to snidely insult me. But she had no problem talking to other people.

“Something wrong?” I asked. Obviously there was.

She said something like, “If you don’t know, I’m not telling you.”

Seriously? What kind of reply is that?

“Why did you tell them we’re cousins!?” she finally asked.

“Because we are,” I said. She should be thankful I didn’t say I’m her babysitter.

She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the evening.

I thought, “She’s giving me the silent treatment? This is ridiculous.”

Now her friends knew that we were related, which, I guess, threw a wrench in her plans to use me to make her peers think she had an older guy-friend. I didn’t really mind her using me. It was kind of flattering, actually. I just didn’t like the bratty drama queen way she was going about it.

“I’ll leave, if you don’t want me to be here,” I said.

“I don’t care,” was her reply.

“You can get a ride home with someone else, right?”

“Yeah.”

So I left. She was with her friends, she had a ride home, I didn’t want to be there anyway, so I figured it was okay.

I got home and I received a text message from an unknown number. Turns out it was from one of her friend’s phones. It said, “Why did you leave her all by herself? You should come back and pick her up.”

Now I see why statutory laws exist. As much as they are to protect young girls from older guys, they’re also to protect older guys from young girls.

“Tell her to walk home,” was my reply. I’m not the type of guy who puts up with high school drama games. There was no way I was going all the way back when she had already told me she didn’t want me to be there.

Later we had an argument. I think she wanted me to get down on my knees, beg for forgiveness, and worship her majesty. But that wasn’t going to happen. She was giving me her little cry-baby run around, the way 14 year old girls do, but I wasn’t going to put up with that. I don’t remember what I said exactly, but I said something mean. Really mean. Poetically mean. That was the last time we spoke, some 4+ years ago.

They say girls mature faster than guys. But a 14 year old girl does not have the same maturity level as a 19 year old guy. (If she did, there’d surely be something wrong with the guy.) So what kind of scummy dirtbag goes around purposefully emotionally hurting young girls? Me, I guess.

Over the years, while I was in Seattle, I felt bad for what had happened before. She was wrong, but so was I. Her behavior was immature, but instead of fixing it, I let her bring me down with her. I shouldn’t have been so mean to her. Besides, she was only doing what insecure young girls do.

So two Christmases ago I sent her an email asking how she was, and wishing her a happy Christmas. I didn’t get a reply, so I figured she was still mad. “Oh well,” I thought. “At least I tried.”

Since I’ve returned to Hawaii, I knew I’d see her again eventually. I figured I might see her for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years, but I didn’t.

Not too long ago, I went to my aunt’s 80th birthday party. It was held in a big ballroom, and there were a lot of people there. It was more like a wedding reception than a birthday. It was a family reunion of sorts, and I got to catch up with a lot of relatives I hadn’t seen in a long time, and even some I had never met at all. I figured my cousin wouldn’t be there, since she goes to college on the mainland. Break had ended for most college students, and I assumed she had already left.

I was talking to another relative, when he mentioned my cousin. “Did you talk to her yet? She’s sitting over there.”

He pointed across the room, and there she was.

I had long ago decided that when I saw her again I was going to be nice and talk to her the same way I would talk to anyone. I figured I wouldn’t say anything about what had happened before, unless she brought it up, and even then, I would talk about it as if it were no big deal. Maybe she was still mad, but as far as I was concerned, it was water under the bridge.

But now that the moment had come, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was having second thoughts.

“I haven’t seen or talked to her in over four years,” I thought. “I have no idea what her reaction will be.” More drama? Maybe. Maybe she’d try to make me feel bad about what happened, or maybe she’d try to justify her position. Maybe she’d expect me to apologize and drop rose petals on the ground she walked on. Maybe she’d treat me like dirt, insidiously looking for ways to make me look bad, while keeping a sweet demeanor on the outside, so that no one else would know anything was up. Or maybe she’d completely ignore me.

You know in cartoons when they have a devil and an angel trying to guide the main character? That’s exactly what happened to me. There was a puff of smoke, and a miniaturized devil version of myself appeared on the table in front of me.

Devil Rob: “You know, Rob, you don’t have to talk to her.”

At that point, there was another *poof* and an angel version of myself appeared on the table next to him. They both looked up at me.

Angel Rob: “Of course you have to talk to her. It would be rude not to.”

Devil Rob: “You could pretend like you didn’t see her. She might not even know you’re here.”

Angel Rob: “Whatever. She knows you’re here. Girls somehow always know things like this. They have built-in-radar, or something. She probably knew the moment you got here.”

Devil Rob: “Yeah, well, Rob doesn’t have built-in-radar, so he can’t be expected to know these things.”

Angel Rob: “He should get it installed.”

Devil Rob: “Hey, man. There’s a lot of people here. If you wanted to, you could probably avoid getting near her at all. Talk to other people, then slip out nice and casually.”

Angel Rob: “What kind of attitude is that?”

Devil Rob: “I’m just trying to look out for Rob here. This has the potential to be super awkward.”

Angel Rob: “It also has the potential to be a good thing.”

Devil Rob: “She didn’t respond to your email. She probably hates you.”

Angel Rob: “Maybe she didn’t see it. Or maybe she didn’t know what to say.”

Devil Rob: “Or maybe she hates you.”

Angel Rob: “So what if she hates you? Be a man and talk to her anyway.”

Devil Rob: “It would be weird.”

Angel Rob: “It got weird a long time ago. It can’t possibly get worse.”

Devil Rob: “Famous last words.”

Angel Rob: “She’s family. You can’t go the rest of your lives without talking. You’ve got to talk to her again at some point.”

Devil Rob: “Just talk to her next time. Nothing wrong with that.”

Angel Rob: “There’s no time like the present. It’s not good to leave things unresolved.”

Devil Rob: “Other people are talking to her. It would be rude to interrupt.”

Angel Rob: “Lame excuse. Talk to her anyway.”

Devil Rob: “If no one had pointed her out, you wouldn’t even know she was here. It’d be so easy to just forget about her.”

Angel Rob: “You gotta talk to her, Rob. Put your big boy Nike’s on and just do it.”

Devil Rob: “New Balance is better.”

Me: “I’m tired of this. Wait here.”

* * *

“Hey! How are you?”

“Tired,” she said, as if we had just talked recently. “I was up late last night, and had to wake up early this morning…”

I had no idea what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that. She seemed apprehensive, but not upset.

“So…how have you been?” I asked, trying to make conversation.

“Okay…” she said. Suddenly her countenance changed entirely, she flashed a big nervous smile and said, “Sorry about what happened before!”

Before even giving me a chance to reply, she added, “I know you remember!” just in case I was going to pretend like I didn’t. And just like that, all tension between us had disappeared.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said.

“My head’s gotten a little smaller since then.” She framed her head with her arms, as if to show me that her head did, in fact, get smaller.

“Why didn’t you come over for Christmas?” she asked.

“I wanted to! But my grandma didn’t feel like going anywhere. She was too tired.”

She said, “I leave for the mainland tomorrow, but we should get together when I get back during the summer and catch up!”

“Looking forward to it,” I said, and I meant it.

 

Angel Rob: “Aren’t you glad he talked to her? She was probably waiting to say that to him for a long time. And to think, you wanted him to avoid her entirely.”

Devil Rob: “Grr….” * disappears angrily *

 

It’s so tempting to take the easy way out instead of doing what we know to be right. But doing the right thing is always more rewarding. People will sometimes do you wrong, but even so, you are also wrong if you fail to treat them right.

We talked a little more, and she again apologized about the things that had happened all those years ago.

“I grew up a little since then,” she said.

“I grew up a little, too.”

 

I’m Rob Kajiwara. No matter how old I get, I’ll never stop growing. Thanks for reading.

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