Column: Blood living oceans away

‘Even though my grandma said that family is important, it’s hard to believe when I don’t know anything about mine.’


Jannelle Everett

“I started to realize he doesn’t know anything about me either. He doesn’t know my personality, my passions, my struggles.”

“Family is important. Friends come and go, boyfriends leave, but family is forever. You’re stuck with us, anak,” my lola (grandmother) said to the 3-year-old, wide-eyed version of myself that’s been lost in my memories.

I thought of all my family members, my mom, my dad, my ate (sister) and kuya (brother). I thought of the few aunts and uncles who I could remember and my grandparents and great-grandparents. I could even remember the nanny who took care of me every day. Yet, I failed to picture my own half-brother.

My family moved away from the Philippines when I was 4, so I don’t remember much of it. I remember the large living room my siblings and I slept in, the large towering spiral staircase in the house we lived in that seemed to go on for miles and the cracked roads leading to the wooden shops that sold rubber bands and candy.

One memory in particular, although foggy, always appears in my head. Blue tiles colored the walls and bright towels were messily thrown onto the floor. I was sitting on my half-brother’s lap, water droplets dripping from our elbows and noses from swimming in the pool. We were laughing like it was the last time we’d laugh together, maybe because it would be.

My family sometimes mentions kuya Diego, who lives with his mom in the Philippines. He’s the oldest out of all my siblings. I wonder what he’s like. Is he protective like my sister? Would he tease and make fun of me like my brother? Either way, I wanted nothing else than to meet him again and find out.

Every morning while I was young, I would walk to school with my stubby legs and look up at the sky. It was still dark, with only small bits of light peeking through the clouds. I would watch as shooting stars flew past, wishing to meet him again soon. I blew on dandelions and birthday candles, I broke wishbones and found fallen eyelashes. But no matter how many times I hoped, my wishes were never granted.

A few years later, I didn’t have silly false hopes to rely on. I wanted to feel close to him. I don’t know why I did. I wanted to still think we were best friends.

I told everyone my old pink wooden bracelet was from him, and while I knew it was a lie, I started believing it too. I took it everywhere and pretended it was his parting gift to show he cared.

It wasn’t, though. I found it in the back of a drawer. It eventually broke, the fantasy following in suit.

Now I’m older, a gross little middle schooler. I barely thought about him; at times it only felt like I had a family of five, even though a sixth member was oceans away. Then, after years of hoping and wishing, I found out I would finally see him again when we went to the Philippines on vacation.

I didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t remember anything about him. We met him at a restaurant on our last night in Cebu. It felt as if he knew everything about me and I knew close to nothing about him, like a distant family member I only got glimpses of as a baby. My brother and I didn’t know what to say, and he didn’t either. We asked each other awkward questions back and forth, with random spouts of silence in between.

“How’s school? Oh, good… that’s good, yeah. What about work, are you working yet? Oh you can’t? Oh wow OK that sucks. Any boyfriend? You’re too young anyways.”

Finally, we skipped the small talk and went to see a movie. I fell asleep through all of it, but when I woke up, everything was over. That was it. Who knows when I will see him again. We flew to Manila and didn’t look back, only having five hours to look back on for the next few years.

I find out random facts about him every day. Now he has a girlfriend, his birthday is on Valentine’s day, and his real name is Timothy, not Diego. It’s weird to think I have someone so closely related to me so far away, and to be aware of the fact that I know nothing about him at the same time.

Occasionally I go down a rabbit hole of curiosities. If he has any other siblings, ones that I’m technically not related to. If his life is good in the Philippines, or if he’s miserable. Then, I started to realize he doesn’t know anything about me either. He doesn’t know my personality, my passions, my struggles. I have a plethora of questions, some I may never know the answer to. Even though my grandma said family is important, it’s hard to believe when I don’t know anything about mine.