Connie Pan is a fiction writer originally from Maui. She received a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University and an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University. Her writing has appeared in Rosebud Magazine, Hawai‘i Review, and Bamboo Ridge. “The Patron Saint of Exits,” an excerpt from her novel in progress, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives on O‘ahu, where she works as a technical writer.
From “Night Fishing”
My great-grandfather was a healer. Even though he was attached to his tobacco pipe, Tatai lived to be 104 years old. Despite his ability to remedy colic, dirty mouths, and infertility, my family credits his long life to his diet, which mainly consisted of saltwater fish.
His favorite was a silver fish, papio. Not only because it’s ono—it’s a vicious predator that takes skill to catch, spinning and whipping with quick retrieve. Papio are bold, rushing close to shore to snag their prey, and fearless, striking lures half their size. You can catch them by land or boat. They roam the reef, searching, until they reach ten pounds and transform into ulua, big-time game fish.
Tatai liked to fish at night. He’d walk barefoot down sea cliffs carrying his single-seat boat over his head, his equipment on his back, and bait in a charm bag hooked to his belt loop. Every time we drive by on the Pali, my father points out Tatai’s fishing spot. I’ve jumped off of Backside, Black Rock, Cliff House, and Venus Pools, and the Pali still makes my knees as soft as poi, but Tatai knew the best way down, weaving through rock formations.
My family moved every three years because my father was in the army. It took me years to warm up to people and places, so I read. I read until my perfect vision withered and purple moons sharpened under my eyes. What I yearned for in all those pages was a connection, but I didn’t see myself in any of the characters. The closest thing I had to a soul sister was Claudia Kishi from The Baby-Sitters Club.
As I grew and my search expanded, I discovered friends in the stories and poems of Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros, Junot Díaz, Joy Harjo, and Gabriel García Márquez—all great comforts, but not exactly what I craved. Toni Morrison insists, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I was tired of looking, so I began writing.
When I think of stories, I picture my grandmother at her kitchen table. At her house, I am always listening, waiting for her to begin a story. As soon as her mouth opens, I drop my pen or book; I turn down the volume on the TV, shush others in the room. It’s her stone face when she tells these stories, how she laughs so hard that tears gather in the corners of her eyes, her pregnant pauses, the flourish of her hands that have inspired me. And my obsession with folklore, the magic of Hawai‘i, the tension between legend and “fact”—my obsession with this family that has haunted me for almost a decade now.