Sunday, June 03, 2012
The credits were rolling and Florence and The Machine's "Breath of Life" filled the theater. William checked his messages and my brother-in-law, Greg, left a message that my brother had gotten in touch with my family. I sat there shocked, unable to form words.
My brother, Dwayne, has been missing for 22 years. He left when I was still a child and until yesterday, we had not heard a single word from him. We didn't know if he was married or had kids. We didn't even know if he was alive or dead. Sometimes my mom would call in the middle of the night, crying and asking if I had seen my brother. Sometimes she was so convinced she had seen him at the grocery store or that the news clipping about a mysterious fallen solider was him.
I pictured this moment a thousand times over the two decades. I used to think that we'd get a secret message or a mysterious envelope would appear with clues to his whereabouts. Sometimes when my sisters and I would be sitting around a table, we would imagine scenarios of his return.
What I couldn't imagine was exactly how I would feel. The initial feeling was disbelief. Was it him? Was it really him? Or was it someone else who was just pretending to be him? Then there was anger. Why hadn't he contacted us? Why did he abandon us? Were we that bad? Then there was acceptance. Then there was happiness. Then there was fear. Would he leave again? Would he like the people who we've become? Would we get along? Would he want to stay in contact? What happened to make him reconnect after all this time?
For an answer to a mystery – probably one of the biggest mysteries of my life – there were many, many, many questions.
When I used to talk about my brother, I would do so offhandedly or with a little ironic laugh. Kind of like it was no big deal. Kind of like everyone had a sibling who was missing. Someone once said that it seemed like I had moved past it, like I didn't care. But this isn't something that you move past or not care about. It's something that becomes a part of the structure of who you are. At the core, there's an absence and a loss. You build around it, creating walls, layering it in scar tissue. You always wonder. You smile to cover the hurt. You laugh to muffle a cry. You don't "get over it"... you just "get by".
I talked with my parents. I talked with my sister. But I didn't talk to him. I was still in shock.
And then the phone rang today and it was him. We exchanged greetings after twenty years of not a single word. His voice was like my own, but different. I could hear in it my father. I could hear in it my grandfather. I felt nervous and anxious... but curiosity kept me on the line. As unsettled as I felt, I also felt strangely at ease. Kind of like going back to a familiar place. We talked for a few hours. We talked until the phone pressed against my ear hurt. I asked questions I had asked myself a thousand times, but never got any answers to. This time there was a person with answers; this time there was a person who knew all the answers to the questions I wanted to hear, my brother.