Aloneha! Honeymoon for One
By Malina Saval
It’s five days after my well-intentioned but delinquent boyfriend, Jake, has packed up his beat-up, burgundy Chevy —”I’m going to get my life together, I swear“— and moved from Los Angeles back to Phoenix to live with his parents. And I’m sitting all alone on a beach in Ka’anapali, a resort area in western Maui, trying to figure out how I can simultaneously go swimming and prevent my backpack with my travelers checks, credit cards and camera in it from getting stolen. My notepad is in there too, and a pack of blue Bic pens, because I’ve come on this trip to write the Great American Novel (or, at least, the Great American Outline).
Jake and I had only dated three months, but he was funny, sweet, and sent me giant bouquets of flowers with the money that he should have been spending on rent. He would have fit the bill so far as romantic getaway companions go. And yet, here I was, alone, surrounded on all sides by hordes of annoyingly affectionate honeymooners while spitting on my finger to wipe the caked sand off my pen cap.
It started with Drew Barrymore. I had read an interview months earlier in which Drew talked about treating herself to a week alone in Hawaii. She gushed about the vacation in that decidedly Drew-esque way, sprinkling her travelogue with words like “maaaagical” and “phenoooomenal” and “amaaaazing.” In Hawaii, said Drew, she had found her best friend, her soul mate, the person upon whom she could count most in this world: Herself.
It was Drew Barrymore that Drew Barrymore could count on.
A year or so later, after scrounging up airfare and hotel from my paltry-paying job as an associate editor at a small (now defunct) magazine, I’m sitting on my oversized beach towel, repeating the mantra It’s OK to be alone…It’s OK to be alone until the hotel cocktail waiter, upon serving me my second piña colada of the day (and it’s only 10 a.m.), asks if I would like to see the hotel doctor.
I’m terrified, at 27, of winding up alone.
I had traveled alone before, several times, in fact, through Europe, the Middle East, Mexico. And yes, there were honeymooners there too, but there were also starving student backpackers and art museums and archeological ruins serving as convenient distractions. In Maui, there are just beaches to kiss on and waterfalls to kiss under and the ocean to kiss in.
And then there’s me. Drinking piña coladas at ten a.m. while repeating self-help mantras amidst the sound of gently rolling waves.
Then, late on day one of my solo Hawaiian holiday, I meet Javier and Keith, two single straight guys in their late thirties who were upgraded to a honeymoon suite after being mistaken for a gay married couple by the hotel management. Javier works for the Democratic Party in some vague capacity and Keith is a union leader who got to sit next to Barbra Streisand at the Democratic National Convention and touch her nails.
That night, Javier, Keith and I, the only three single people on the entire island of Maui, reap the glories of their honeymoon suite, star gazing on the balcony while drinking screwdrivers from the mini-bar and making out animal shapes in the navy-blue clouds. We laugh about the string of dysfunctional affairs we’ve all had—I come in first, with seventeen (eighteen?)—and by the end of the night, I slowly begin to rediscover the joys of traveling alone. The alcohol and jokes have done their trick and, for the first time since Jake left—and the dozen or so before him— I’m not panicked about turning 30 (in three years) and not being in a committed relationship with somebody that can take care of me.
The next morning, after walking to the local pharmacy for Monistat-7 (Jake left me with one souvenir), I inhale a breakfast of French toast soaked in cinnamon-vanilla egg batter and macadamia nut syrup, a Hawaiian specialty. After breakfast, I go snorkeling with Javier and Keith. We rent masks and flippers and spent hours gliding beneath the smooth, translucent blue water in Olowalu, just south of Ka’anapali. We spot tropical fish of every imaginable color, and I get to see what a yellowtail sushi roll looks like in its natural environment. I flap my arms up and down and push myself deeper and deeper toward the bottom (which, in this part, is only about 12 feet) until I am sealed off from the rest of the world. Everything falls silent, but not in its usual bad way.
That night, I sit at the hotel bar, writing on my laptop, while listening to a Jim Croce impersonator sing “Time in a Bottle.” I’m surrounded by couples in love: a man in a white bowling shirt embraces a woman in a floral-print sarong; a twenty-something brunette with a huge diamond engagement ring links hands with her fiancé. At one point, an older couple approaches, asking what publication I write for and why am I here alone?
“I don’t write for anybody,” I tell them. “And I’m here because of Drew Barrymore.”
The next morning I stay in bed and watch a local cable access segment called “Hawaiian Word of the Day.” I repeat mahalo (thank you) and Maui no kai ‘oi (Maui is the best) until I am ready to practice them on the hotel maid. I get dressed and take a drive to famous Honolua Bay, where I bathe in the warm, clear waters. I’ve left my travelers checks and credit card in the room, and, anyway, that Visa’s been maxed out since college. I am growing bold and brave.
On day three, Javier and I decide to rent surf boards. The swells are low, and the waves are mushy, but I stand up on the board for what I’m sure is a good ten seconds (4.5 by Javier’s account) and throw my arms triumphantly up in the air. And fall off the board with a fantastic splash. Seconds later, I spot a shark, its mottled-blue fin cutting a cylindrical shape in the water. I shriek and flail my arms wildly like a bad B-movie actress, the theme song to Jaws drumming in my ears. I am moments away from becoming fish food. I am going to die on this trip.
The shark turns out to be a harmless sea turtle, bobbing playfully up and down for breath, and I make it to shore alive. But I am scarred by the experience. I am now officially afraid of sharks (sea turtles). I see a rock in the water and I think it’s a shark. I see my shadow, I think it’s a shark. Seaweed. Shark. Sailboat. Shark. I spend the next day swimming close to shore, alongside an elderly couple in rubber bathing caps, hoping that if a shark does attack, it’ll eat them first (I admit, this is very un-Drew).
Day four I hop from the heated pool to the foamy ocean. I observe people’s tan lines. I watch a man in a bathing suit that says BUDWEISER across the butt read James Michener’s Hawaii (Has he read Poland in Poland, I wonder?). For dinner I go to Burger King (money running low), and watch the sun set while I wolf down my chicken sandwich (no mayo). I sip my Coke and sit for a while, and it occurs to me that I’m not at all embarrassed to be seated at an outdoor picnic table eating a five-dollar fast-food dinner when the rest of the island (or so it seems) is in the throes of mad, first-class love. That night I even turn down an offer from Javier and Keith to go clubbing in Lahaina (We’re at that precarious point in a friends-you-meet-on-vacation relationship and I don’t want them to think we’re traveling together) and, instead, watch St. Elmo’s Fire on Pay-Per-View. As the credits roll, I apply refrigerated aloe vera gel to my brown-red skin, and fall fast, fast asleep.
My last day in Maui. Napili the bellhop insists I visit Hana, a rainforest on Maui’s unspoiled eastern coast. I take off in my red Chevrolet Cavalier rental (after searching over an hour for it in the parking lot among all the other red Cavalier rentals) and head towards Hana. Along the way I pass the plantation town of Pa’ia, a windswept beach favorite of windsurfers, and stop at Twin Falls, where I sample a pure sugarcane juice shake. I hike Twin Falls’s two twin waterfalls, sloshing my way through the swampy undergrowth as cool, fresh water flows over me, and snap a few self-portraits lest I come away from this trip without any photographic evidence that I was actually in Hawaii.
The road to Hana is video game-curvy, winding its way along jagged, thousand-foot high cliffs; the entire time I’m driving I feel like I’m going to vomit up my sugarcane shake. It’s 52 miles of one-lane roads and rickety bridges and I’m stuck behind an endless line of couples that pull over to make out at every vista and snap duck-lipped selfies. After two hours of managing not to retch, I decide to turn around. I suppose a co-pilot would have come in handy, because Hana is considered by some to be paradise on earth, but I don’t really care about where I haven’t gone. Right then and there, all I want is my hotel pool, an icy-cold Coke and a Dramamine.
It’s my last night in Maui and I’m sitting on the beach, waiting for the sunset. Balmy trade winds blow lightly through my hair. My skin is sticky from the salt water and I dig my toes into the cool, plush sand. I’m writing in my journal, awaiting that maaaagical Drew Barrymore moment when the sun turns white-hot and then fiery orange and then a flash of green and then—
The next day I say aloha to Maui. After a short inter-island flight I am sitting in a Burger King in the Honolulu Airport. It’s 6:30 p.m. and my connecting flight to Los Angeles doesn’t leave until nine. I snack on McD’s fries and fill up my cup with ice and Coke (I have $18.67 left to my name); a bird is flying around the drink dispenser, flapping its tiny wings. Through the airport window the evening sky is muted blue with leaky streaks of pink and purple. I feel oddly calm, not un-like, I imagine, Drew Barrymore feels on a daily basis. There are no boyfriends to abandon me. No obligations to go clubbing. Just me. In the airport. Eating McDonald’s. Watching a tiny bird flap its wings.
And that, mahalo, is enough.
Malina Saval is the author of “The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens” (Basic Books, 2009) and the novel “Jewish Summer Camp Mafia.” She has been a featured guest on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” Fox News, the Patt Morrison show and Tavis Smiley. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Glamour, LA Weekly, the Jerusalem Post, Forward, Variety and “Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers” (Penguin, 2010). Her website is www.MalinaSaval.com.