I thought it was a trick, that middle-of-the-night knock on my dorm room door 17 years ago. It was a few days before Halloween in Honolulu and my friends and I were looking forward to all the treats Waikiki had to offer. I was just a freshman, a very long way from home, yet never felt what being homesick was until I opened the door to find a small group of close friends huddled together to inform me that our friend, Ross, had been killed in an accident.
I’ve written about Ross before, the first time was an op-ed piece in the El Paso Times several years ago during a time when, for some reason, the area had experienced higher numbers of young people dying on the roadways. This isn’t a public service announcement as much as it is a ritual for me every year to remember a pretty cool guy.
At a time when a local comedian named Bu La’ia ran for governor – he was later disqualified when it was discovered that he was too young and had used his brother’s driver’s license to file his papers – and every third person I knew drove around Honolulu in a red scooter, Ross rode a big boy bike, a fast Kawasaki Ninja. Our friends dubbed me his motorcycle bitch because I hitched a ride with him so much. And had it not been for a senior named Dana Morris, chances are pretty good that I could have been on that bike that fateful night.
Ross had given me a ton of crap that afternoon for not wanting to go out with him to celebrate our first free night as full-fledged fraternity brothers. As pledges, there was no such thing as having a social life, as our every movement had to be accounted for. And as our pledge class president, Ross was boss; whatever he said, we followed. Our pledge class, Zeta class, always stuck together.
“Dude, you have to go out with us, you’re going to be the only one missing,” he kept insisting.
I stubbornly held firm with my intent on going out on a date with Dana.
“I’ve been putting off this date for weeks,” I explained. “And to be honest, I need a break from you guys, we’ve spent so much time together.”
So I went on my date that night, smoothly escorting Miss Morris to watch a movie at Kahala Mall on The Bus while my roommate and partner in crime, Eric, took my spot as Ross’s motorcycle bitch that night.
For me, the rest of the story sort of just flashes like a picture slideshow you’d see on your smart phone or Power Point presentation:
Here’s a picture of Dana and I. It would be my only date with her, although we kept in touch until she graduated the following semester. In some strange way she may have saved my life.
Here’s a picture of Eric and Ross, huge smiles on their faces, as they party with all the guys, including Mike Irvin, another pledge class brother of ours and dear friend even though it’s been years since I last saw him.
This next picture is Mike and Ross looking for Eric, whom they assumed hitched a ride with someone else at the end of the night, when in reality, by the grace of God, went outside to either urinate or throw up and probably ended up doing both before passing out under some boxes and other debris.
This next picture is Mike and Ross waiting for the green light on University Avenue in Manoa. After the light, University Avenue turns into Oahu Avenue and it’s just a few short blocks uphill until you get to the old fraternity house. With both Mike and Ross without their respective motorcycle bitches, Eric and myself, the two are free to see who has the fastest machine, according to what Mike told me back then.
The next picture is Mike looking back at Ross, who in his eagerness to blow by Mike and his Suzuki, released the clutch too early, stalling out his bike at the light.
Mike told me that he pulled into the driveway at the old fraternity house but Ross never made it. The theory is that after he stalled his bike at the light, Ross eagerly tried to make up his lost time and took a turn too fast, exploding into a telephone pole.
And so shortly after that knock on my door, when I was able to throw some sandals on, we hopped in a car back to the fraternity house, where a friend of ours, a priest named Father Mark, consoled us. Until that point life was a beach.
I always tell people that I learned and developed more on the island than any classroom could have taught me. And the guys I hung out with back then are a huge reason why, especially Ross.
And as telling scary stories are commonplace this time of year, the real scare for me is in the “what could have been.” That used to haunt me.
Now, I look back on what actually came to be, count my blessings, and raise a glass to a really special guy, incredible people and a magical place that will always stay with me.