Henry’s mother was the kindest, gentlest, and most beautiful person he’d never met. Sure, there were pictures of Henry and his mom the day he had been born and on his first day of kindergarten and some from his first few birthdays, but Henry had no memory of her outside the photos and keepsakes. But the stories. Oh, the wonderful stories. For as long as Henry could remember his dad would spend at least an evening or two a week telling Henry about his mother and just how amazing she was.
Henry’s dad William had met Aolani, Henry’s mom, while stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu. At first she wasn’t interested in the dashing young airman, but over time the two had fallen passionately in love. A relationship that almost never started ended up with the most beautiful Hawaiian wedding ever. William and Aolani said their “I do’s” with a setting sun peaking through clouds surrounded by a perfectly red sky as the backdrop. The sand of the beach was whiter than snow, and the ocean was as blue as Aolani’s eyes.
Just over a year later, Henry—named after his paternal grandfather—came on the scene to make the clan complete. They were the perfect family living in paradise until William's orders came. William, Aolani and two-year-old Henry were destined for Malmstrom Air Force Base in Cascade County, Montana. There was no way William could know when the wheels of the airplane lifted off the runway that his beautiful wife would never see Hawaii again.
The cancer came like a thief in the night. It robbed Aolani of her energy, her passion, and eventually her life. William was left with the painful memories of a story ended too soon, but Henry didn’t even have that luxury. He had a hole in his heart only a mother could fill but all he was left with were stories of Hawaii and its magic.
It was William’s dream to take Henry to the exact spot where he had first laid eyes on Aolani. He wanted Henry to feel his mother's spirit, but just like so many dreams, it wasn’t meant to be. Three months before Henry’s 23 birthday, William lost his own battle to cancer, leaving this world with only one wish. On his deathbed, he made Henry promise that he would take William’s ashes and spread them on the beach where his parents had been married all those years ago. Henry, of course, made this promise to his dying father knowing he could never fulfill it as Henry had one of the worst cases of aerophobia, fear of flying, ever diagnosed. To add to Henry’s misery, he was also afflicted with debilitating seasickness. He couldn’t fly to Hawaii nor could he take a boat. William’s ashes would not be spread on the beach in Hawaii; they would sit on Henry’s mantle, reminding him of his unfulfilled promise.
To try to quiet his demons, Henry eventually moved to San Diego. Somewhere deep inside he hoped that the magic his father had found in Honolulu wasn’t reserved for just Hawaiian beaches. Henry was obsessed with finding the perfect wife, just like his his father had found in his mom. His lack of success was not a function of his effort as Henry had dated numerous young ladies. He had grown into a very handsome young man, taking the strong jaw and muscular build from his father and the darker skin and blue eyes from his mother. Everywhere he looked, there were beautiful, young, eligible women. Almost every time, he would ask one out they would say yes. Sometimes there would be a second date or even a third. A time or two the relationships would last for a few months, but no woman could live up to the standard set by the stories Henry’s father had told him about Aolani. To Henry the only way to find that perfect woman was to go to Hawaii.
To many California is paradise, especially where Henry called home. Almost every day in San Diego is exactly the same: sunny, low humidity, and 72 degrees. It was perfect, so perfect it was almost boring, so when Henry woke up that rainy, cold morning, he excitedly jumped out of bed and headed to the beach. To most, it was the worst day in months, but to Henry, it was different. He needed something different. Unlike every other day, Henry was able to walk down the beach alone with nothing but his thoughts to keep him company.
His mind wandered from subject to subject, never stopping on anything important enough to remember until he began to contemplate giving up and moving back to Montana. He had come to California chasing Hawaii and had been totally, regularly, and depressingly unsuccessful.
His mind was almost made up when he saw it.
At first, he wasn’t sure what it was. It flashed a little bit of color, but from a distance it looked like trash. As Henry walked closer, he realized it was some sort of antique lamp. It had obviously spent years in the ocean as it was tarnished and green. Henry reached down to pick up the object. When he did, the detail, hidden by grime, was unmistakable. The lamp had to be the handiwork of a master craftsman, and, although not an expert, Henry was positive it was made of pure gold. Instinctively, Henry took his shirt sleeve and made an effort to rub some of the crud off the lamp.
No sooner had he done so then it started to shake, falling from Henry’s hands. Before it hit the ground, smoke started to pour out of the front. In what couldn’t have been more than an instant, Henry was no longer alone. Standing in front of him, at least twenty feet tall, was what can only be described as a genie—just like the ones children read about in the adventures of Alibaba.
“Thank you for freeing me from an eternity of captivity!” The genie exclaimed with a voice both booming and authoritative. “What is your name?”
Henry should have been scared. He should have run, but he was a man at his wits end and had nowhere to go, so he stayed and answered the genie’s question.
“My name is Henry,” he responded without the hint of fear or trepidation. “Why do you ask?”
“Because Henry, my good man, you are to be rewarded for your kindness. For freeing me, I offer you one wish. You may have anything you like.”
In all the stories about genies, the men and women who were granted wishes would always labor over how to best use those wishes. But not Henry.
“Here is the thing,” he started, as if he had planned every word in advance. “I want to, no I need to go to Hawaii. I made a promise to my father to scatter his ashes, and somehow I also know it’s only there that I will find my true love.”
“Go on,” the genie replied, a look on his face that betrayed his confusion. It was as if his expression was saying: You don’t need me to get to Hawaii. But the genie hadn’t heard the rest.
Henry continued. “Here’s my problem I am deathly afraid of flying, and I get dangerously seasick, so I’ve never been able to go. My wish, my only wish, is that I want you to build a bridge that goes from the beach here in San Diego to the beach in Honolulu so that any time I want to go to Hawaii, I can just jump in my car and drive.”
For what seemed like forever yet was only a minute or so, Henry and the Genie stared at each other in silence until the genie finally spoke. In a voice dripping with disdain, the genie replied, “Are you insane? Have you thought of the logistics of this wish? Do you know how much concrete it would take to build such a bridge?” The genie paused to gather his thoughts before continuing the inquisition. “How about the cable? How much cable would it take to build such a bridge? How deep would the concrete pylons need to be sunk into the ocean’s floor to withstand not just the regular waves but also the inevitable tidal waves? This is the most ridiculous wish I have ever heard. It can’t be done. You’ll have to wish for something else.”
Henry, headstrong just a few moments earlier, was visibly shaken by the genie’s response. It was a ridiculous ask, and he was ashamed for even contemplating it.
This also created a problem. Henry didn’t have a backup wish. He had wanted to go to Hawaii for so long he hadn’t taken the time to wish for anything else.
Then it hit him—he did have another wish. “I have it!” Henry said as he told the genie his new wish. “I have dated quite a few women in my life, and I am perplexed as to what makes them tick. They laugh when you think they should cry. They cry when you think they should laugh. They want you to know what they are thinking, but Don’t ask them! My wish, my replacement wish, is I want to be able to understand women.”
“Ok,” said the genie. “With that bridge, did you want two lanes or four?”