Upon leaving, saying farewell to friends
“In the end all we have are stories.
Stories are what we are,
What we become.”
Once again, leaving Saipan.
If I could bring you here,
I would take you to Wing Beach.
Drive down a bumpy, dusty coral road between green walls of wild sugar cane and then find the footpath that winds between coconut palms, candlenut trees, vines curling in-between until suddenly the path opens onto a beach, white, gently curved like a slow lazy smile. Pause. Listen. Hear the swish of waves gently rolling toward the shore, watch the rise and fall of water clear as liquid glass, a lagoon of turquoise and then beyond, the ocean deep, deep blue. Yes, I would bring you here and we would slip into the water, float over black velvet sea cucumbers curled around coral heads, and let ourselves be rocked by the waves of an incoming tide.
Perhaps we would sit on the beach, watch hermit crabs peek out of borrowed shells and then search for shade under a rocky shelf, open our backpacks and bite into ripe mangos, laughing as sweet, sticky juice drips down our chins.
Yes, I would bring you to Wing Beach and remember the picnics and barbeques with friends — watch out for fire ants! — paddle kayaks out to the reef’s edge, and when courageous, over the reef, nervous that a white-tip shark might cruise by, suggesting this might be supper time.
Wing Beach, witness to the final battle charge by the Japanese, the counter-charge of the American Marines to claim victory, where the blood of soldiers turned the waters red, soldiers, Japanese and American, now long gone. An airplane crash, a pilot, a crew, gone. Only a remaining wing to name a beach and remind us of their story.
Yes, then we would explore the caves and tunnels, places of hiding, of refuge from war or typhoons. Places of resilience. Places of hope.
And most important, before you leave I would take you to be with the people, the Carolinians and the Chamorro, whose families were caught in the crossfire between Japanese and U.S. troops, WW II when Saipan was a critical military location. The people here rebuilt. Here the family, the clan and community, continue to be first priority. Children are celebrated. I would hope you would come to a “first-birthday” fiesta and be welcomed as you have never been welcomed before. Eat … eat! You are urged, as you are given a plate heaped with red rice, chicken kelaquin, crispy fried reef fish, BBQ ribs … Or come to a celebration, Flame Tree the summer, be amazed at the “flaming orange umbrellas of blossoms. Watch the local kids play basketball or the Tanapag Stick Dancers leap and fly, soar and chant. Someone might place a wreath of flowers on your head, a mwaar, and the spirits of the blossoms would protect you from worries and troubles and keep you safe as you travel home.
And when it is time for us to leave, someone will ask, “Why don’t you stay?”
“Family.” I answer. “I need to return to family.”
Yes, they nod, they understand. Family. Family comes first. Nothing is more precious than family.