that was then . . . this is now

One of Anna's best friends from Chicago came to visit. Anna and Haru haven't seen each other since they were three, but they've known each other since before they could walk. Although both are intense in their own way, they got on beautifully, as they did when they were tiny.

Haru still talks about the day they went sledding and laughed so hard that he began to cry, and both reminisce about the strange event that marked Haru's departure from Chicago--a huge rainbow over Midway airport, something I had never seen before and have never seen since.

When we met Haru and his parents at the airport, I was shocked by how old and lean he had become, by his changed voice and the way he expressed himself, casually mentioning his ex-girlfriends, for example. Anna and Haru refused to look at each other for the first five minutes at the luggage claim, but then, in the back of our rented minivan, they started to exchange suspicious glances. Anna broke the ice when she showed Haru the Praying Mantus she'd brought in her bug box.

From that point forward, the two were giggling and playing as if three years had not elapsed since their last encounter. They shared a bed in the loft both nights, and the first night, after they'd slipped under the blanket I asked Haru if he sleeps with a stuffed animal. "I collect them, but I don't usually sleep with them." he said, "But, I could use one tonight," he said.

"They still relate like an old married couple," Nobu (Haru's mom) said. And they did, each tolerant of (most) of the other's foibles, each thinking the other person's jokes were hilarious, and also scheming together against the rest of the world, in this case, against us grown-ups.

When we hiked to the lava tube, they even managed to share a hiking stick, at least until Haru was able to convince Anna that there are some things you just can't share. To be fair, there was one blow-up over a cocoa bean pod and Anna's attempt to appropriate it from Haru, but otherwise, they were like two peas in a pod.

We took Haru, Nobu and Alexi to see the flowing lava. When we finally arrived at the viewing area after our perilous walk over the lava fields, Anna glanced into the view finder on her camera, and then I heard a loud sigh. "My batteries are all used up," she said, her voice rising to a teary whine. "I need new batteries. Now." I looked around at the black lava on all sides, the streams of red flowing into the ocean and said, as calmly as I could, "You know, they don't actually sell batteries here."

But there was no stopping Anna's trajectory. She wanted photos and she wanted them badly. I tried to focus on the red rivers flowing into the ocean, the furious waves lapping the lava up, the sparks and shifting light and bright lava ridges. But Anna relentlessly tugged at my leg. "I need batteries," she reminded me. Haru unzipped his camera case, "Anna, you could use my extra ones," he said, handing his to her. And sure enough he had two extras, exactly the right size, which we slipped into Anna's camera, one more disaster averted.

But then Haru started getting agitated as he gazed through his camera. "How do you take a picture of lava?" he said. "All I can see are red dots. Just red dots." I wanted to take the two kids and shake them by the shoulders and say, "Have you ever considered just LOOKING at it? When did you two become the lava paparatizi?" But no matter. As I tried to focus on the site before me, Haru's frustration continued to mount as he rotated the camera for a better view. Finally, he sighed, "I'll just have to take them with my mind."

On the way back to the car, Haru held Anna's hand. And then he turned to me. "Gosh, Anna has changed so much," he said. He studied her in the gathering darkness. "Her hair is much longer, and her voice is different. And she's . . . taller." I glanced over at Anna who shook her head slowly, taking care to swing her long locks, clearly pleased that her old buddy had noticed. "Haru, you've changed much more than I have," she said, smiling shyly back at him.