In December 1999, my sister moved away. She’d made a plan with a friend in college to go west and even though the friend changed her mind at the last minute, Naomi went ahead with the plan. She left everything behind, packing her most important things in her car and drove west from Denver. We never heard from her again.
I wrote letters to her parents who live in Japan. I found her on myspace.com where I wrote. Later, via Facebook, I sent messages. I never heard from her. Every year on her birthday, our family celebrated even if just by a reminiscent conversation over dinner about how we missed her and wondered if she was still in the US, in Japan, or somewhere else altogether. We wondered if she was married, had children, and what type of work she ended up doing. She is a culinary school trained chef, preferring the art of crafting delectable pastries to other creations.
On December 3, 2010 my grandma died and as I grieved in the wide open crying place of sadness and severance, my thoughts returned again as many times before, to Naomi. I am a dreamer, a devoted believer in undying hope and love even when I deny myself to drink of love’s romantic mystery and allure. Unlike my tentative position toward men who have repeatedly crushed my hope for reciprocated relationship, I’m not bashful to bear my bleeding heart to my closest family. On December 31, I finally wrote to tell her of the news:
Naomi, I wanted you to know that Grandma Donna died. We are all very sad. I was looking in her dresser drawers for some papers and found the lovely orange bag and scarf you and your mom gave her the year she came to the US. Grandma kept it in a place where it would never get soiled. She so loved the things you gave her. I took the bag home and it’s hanging in my bedroom right now. I look at it every day and think of you. I wish you would write back.
January 3, 2011, on the eve of a trip to Key West, I found in my inbox a message from Naomi. She responded. After 12 years, my sister wrote back to me. I stared at the unopened email in the inbox for a long time, contemplating whether I’d open the message and celebrate a warm response or grieve another loss.
She told me she remembered Grandma well and that she was sorry to not have been in touch for so long. I stared at the message, reading each word over and over again. I could hear her voice and see the flash of her sweet smile in the words. I wish I could have bottled my happy tears so never to forget the moment I found my sister, our long lost Inokonoko Sanchez as we affectionately nicknamed her.
Soon, a work trip to Anaheim included a detour to meet up with Naomi. I’d dreamed of that day for years and now that it was within reach, an appointment on my calendar coded in pink for “personal”, my nerves sizzled with anxiety.
On March 25, we met at a hotel restaurant in Torrance, CA. I got there early, figuratively and literally wringing my hands, unsure of what to expect. I took pictures of our dinner table and waited for the space to warmly host our reunion. Each waiting second echoed of the past months spent wondering. The maitre d’ came to my table at one point and asked me, “Will you know your guest when you see her?”
I hope so.
We talked for three hours, reminiscing over obscure things that are most valuable when weighed by the scales of a fond heart. We talked about relationships, work, memories, dreams, family, a lost decade. We laughed, I cried. We called Mom and Dad. Mom choked up at the hint of Naomi’s voice and Dad quickly called her “punk”, a name of love he’d given her years ago. We laughed, shared, questioned, answered, and eventually hugged before venturing into the parking lot after a long, lovely evening.
When celebrities or reality show stars are reunited with the loved and lost, there are camera crews, pre and post-reunion interviews, and good lighting to help capture the moment on the background of a dramatic score. In my case, as a yet-to-be-discovered celebrity, there’s simply a reel that runs through my mind, visually in sepia…emotionally in Technicolor. At the end of the night, there wasn’t an audible crescendo and a list of credits. There’s one photo that the valet guy took of us. One photo to seal a silent decade.