My brother and I were separated when we were 7 and 13 years old. My mom and stepdad were planning on moving from Houston, a city we’d just arrived in less than 6 months ago, to Japan. As a middle schooler I couldn’t see the kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would be. All I could understand was that I would be even farther away from my friends in California. So after some discussion, plans were made for me to move back to California to live with my dad, stepmom, and sisters.
I said goodbye to my mom, stepdad, and stepbrother at the airport in December 1984 and didn’t see my brother again until sometime in 1992.
The phone rang. An unfamiliar yet familiar voice greeted me. “Hi Jiejie!” It was my mother. The last time I had heard her voice was the day after I arrived in California eight years before. Then I had been in the middle of my eighth grade year; now I was in my third year of college.
I don’t remember what else she said; it was small talk. But I do remember my response. “You can’t just call me after eight years as if nothing has happened!” I hung up. Ring, ring. I picked up even though I was enraged, relieved, confused.
This time she cut to the chase, “Jiejie, I need you to help your brother.” Jeffrey needed me so I listened. It turned out that my mom and stepdad had left my brother with some family in a not-so-far town in California with the agreement that they would send money to this family to care for him. I still can’t tell you all of the details of why they did this; the explanations were fuzzy. Something wasn’t going well and my mom wanted me to go check on him.
I was able to make arrangements to pick up my brother for lunch. I took our two closest cousins along with me. They had missed him so much and asked about him regularly during our separation. I knew they’d want to have the opportunity to see Jeffrey again.
As we drove east to where my brother was staying, my cousins asked the questions aloud that I had been holding inside.
“I wonder if we’ll recognize him!”
“How long has he been so close to us?”
“Is he going to remember us?”
“Do you still think he has a cucumber face?”
“Who are these people he’s staying with?”
We arrived in less than hour. How could my brother have been so close to me and I didn’t even know?