My phone buzzed. A text message from my brother. Hmm. That’s odd. We really don’t talk much unless it’s something really REALLY important.
I have some news. Call me when you can.
Blah. It’s really REALLY important.
I replied. K. I’m at work and I still have a few more clients to see. Then I’ll call you.
As if this year hasn’t been hard enough! I don’t know how much more I can possibly take.
I finished up with my last client and escorted her out the door, my stomach churning and my mind racing at the thought of what my brother could possibly have to tell me. I locked the door and dialed his number. My hand shook as I waited for him to answer. I almost didn’t want him to, but why delay the inevitable?
“Hey Jake!” My voice crackled, holding back a possible flood of tears. The unknown was at the doorstep, ready to knock me down to try to get in past my proverbial walls.
“Hey Jen. So I’m not sure if Mum ever mentioned this to you and well it comes as a shock to me too but …”
Bile crawled up my stomach into my esophagus. I could taste it on my tongue, bitter and green, sour and acidic.
He continued. “We have an older half brother, his name is Jeff. He found Aunt Patty through a Genealogy website and contacted her. She knew about it but had apparently kept it a secret all these years. Well, the secret is out!”
A stunning life shifting silence settled over me as my jaw hit the floor with a thud.
For three decades it's only been me and my younger brother, Jacob. We call him Jake. We got along as much as any pair of siblings six years apart would be expected to. Come to think of it, I always wondered why my parents told me not to date anybody with the last name Katz. I’m mean, how old is too old for a surprise?
“Um wow! I mean that’s good news right?” I started pacing.
I questioned it only because I didn’t quite believe in the genealogy website stuff, what with all the conspiracy theories floating around about how these companies sell our DNA info to the government and science? No thanks!!
Yet, this answers a hundred questions I already had and conjured up ten thousand more. There was always an inkling in my brain. My intuition told me that a family secret lingered.
At the same time, I’ve never heard it mentioned at any family dinner or gathering - that Dad had a kid before he met my mom. It was a family secret kept tight, sealed up and locked in an old trunk in the attic of the house he grew up in.
But we can’t even ask him about it.
Dad died unexpectedly exactly a year ago today. Our family was devastated and my mom was left in a spiraling depression that she never seemed to recover from. She lost her parents and the love of her life.
I dwelled on it all. This WAS good news, right? Our family is small, and the loss of my grandparents and my dad all in the same year made it even smaller. Adding another adult seemed like a crazy good thing. Sure, babies are sweet and cute and funny, but they are still babies for a long time. They can’t drink or party with you, celebrate at weddings, cry at funerals, go hunting, go four wheeling, or do all of the things we do. My dad could never be replaced, but could this be the next best thing? I was on the fence.
Jake nudged me out of my myriad contemplative thoughts. “Yeah it turns out he knocked up his girlfriend when they were still in high school and they gave the baby up for adoption...Jen? Jen! Hey, I’ll forward them to you. The pictures Jeff sent me. Tell me what you think.”
Dink! Jake forwarded me the email with some pictures of our “new” brother, his cars, his house, his friends.
I put him on speaker as I opened up the link. My jaw dropped again. Damn is it gonna be sore in the morning.
“Oh my god. He’s daddy! He’s us! His name even starts with a ‘J’ like ours!”
This is bonkers!
In the picture a handsome older man with glasses and partially graying hair, a sweet smile and kind eyes stared right into the camera. He was leaning up against a 1978 Chevy pick up truck, green and white, almost identical to the one my dad drove.
In another picture he had his arm around some running buddies, sweaty and high from the endorphins after doing a race for charity. He wore his number affixed to the front of his shirt, and above that he wore another big smile.
“Jake, this is crazy!” I’m also a runner, I have a crap ton of participation medals and t-shirts to prove it. Lots of money donated to charity. Lots, in comparison.
“Yeah he wants to meet us all for dinner soon after Christmas. You in? I’ll text you his email address. He's nervous but he told me he’s excited to get in touch with you.”
“Of course! Ok well I wanna get home. I’ll text you soon. Love you!” I hit the red button and ended our conversation, still reeling with something. Confusion? Excitement? Concern? All of it.
I slumped to the ground in my empty office. Jake’s text came through and I immediately sent my “new” brother, Jeff, an email. Tears dripped from my eyes. I missed my dad, but I was intrigued to find out I have another brother.
Is this a true Christmas miracle?
Wait, what if he is just looking for money? What if he is a psychopath? Or a serial killer? Maybe this isn’t a good idea.
No way. Not if he’s part of us.
I began to type on my phone, my fingers shaking, misspelling half the words, delete delete delete. What do I say to somebody who shares the same genetic material as me, yet I’ve never met him?
Hi! It’s me, your little sister! Sounds weird to say it but I’m super excited! Count me in for dinner. I’ll be there no matter what. Send me the details when you have them. Here’s my phone number. Can’t wait to meet you!!
Is that a lie?
Sunday December 27th Dinner at Angelo's, see you all there!
I checked the group email one last time to make sure I was at the right place on the right day at the right time.
I was. Phew, sometimes I have the tendency to screw that up. Hey, nobody’s perfect!
Okay, I might have been a half hour early. I didn’t see Jake or my mom yet, so I continued to chew on the cuticles of my fingers until they arrived. Suddenly, my desire to know more about my brother-from-another-mother outweighed my fear.
Once we were gathered around a table in a private room at an Italian restaurant in the middle of nowhere, I relaxed a little. Just a little. Me, Jake, my mom, my “new” brother, his mother- the one who adopted him- and my uncle. My two brothers sat next to each other, and I observed them from the other side of the table.
Despite the two of them having nearly thirteen years in between them and raised in two completely different households, they could pass as twins. Everything they did was simultaneous and practically identical, rehearsed even. At one point during all of the excited questions going back and forth, both brothers laughed, crossed their arms and leaned back in their chair. At the exact same time. Their movements were like synchronized swimmers in a crystal clear pool, as if they’ve been doing this for an entire lifetime. Their right hands both shook, just like my Dad’s, an involuntary thing probably from years of sports, too much caffeine, a bout of anxiety, or some inherited trait that nature dealt them.
No doubt we are related.
I finally found the courage to speak out loud. “So Jeff, why did you pick this restaurant in the middle of Nowhere, BFE?”
He laughed. “Well, I own it!”
“I wanted to treat you all and show you how grateful I am to know that I have an entire family that I didn’t know about. You all have been so welcoming. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Dad though, but it seems like I may already know him.”
A sigh left my body and the tension melted.
He’s definitely not a serial killer and he’s definitely not looking for money or inheritance. He’s looking for connection with his biological family. He’s looking for a connection with us.
We found out that not only does he own a restaurant, but he has a Doctorate in Pharmacy and has written several books on fishing and the outdoors. Another writer and another brainiac to add to the family. I guess the apples don’t fall far from the tree, regardless of where those apples ended up.