Wednesday, July 26, 2017


I have a brother named Justin - a little brother, named Justin. We're four and a half years apart, and today's his birthday.

But most people don't know that because I don't talk about him a lot - both in person, or on this blog. Friends will ask, "How's Justin?" And I'll go, "He's good!" Vaguely.

That's not to say that we're not close - quite the opposite. We're four and a half years apart, but from the moment he was born, I loved him. I was also jealous of the attention he received as the youngest (check!) boy (check!) of a Chinese family (check!); attention that was lavished on him when we went to visit our relatives in Hong Kong - the fawning, the cooing, the adoration , which would make me shrink into myself a little bit.

But, I adored him. I always have. 

We're very different. Justin is laid back, introspective, logical, but wildly creative (he still draws Mother's Day cards for my mom). I'm fiery, high-strung, over-achieving, and a constant worrier.

Even so, my parents had unwittingly created the perfect set of cohorts: a sibling duo snickering at inside jokes; sharing music stands in summer orchestra and snacks in the back seat of the car on long road trips; bringing the other up when one was down. 

Well, I went home a few weeks ago and found my brother had turned into a little adult. Actually, a full-grown adult. And it threw me a bit. A lot. It made me misty-eyed and proud and sad and nostalgic all at the same time. I thought of this tiny 6 year-old who would quietly push open my bedroom door in the morning and climb into my bed for cuddles; who would hear me practicing Vivaldi's 'Spring' on the violin in my room and listen for me to stop, only to play it in the minor key on his violin in his room; who grew out his bangs so that they covered his eyes in junior high and who once played guitar in a band.

So, anyway, there we were: sitting on the sofa watching the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. I looked over at his ridiculously wide, flipper feet and a kind of sob caught in my chest because I just realized just how much I loved him.

And, along with that, the guilt. The guilt of leaving him behind when I went off to the East Coast for college, right when he was navigating the final years of high school - years that had been brutal even for me, with my Type A personality. Then I went further: to England. While he worked through finding his place in college, I was too busy being distracted by my new life and career in London to be there for him when he needed me.

As a result, I never felt like I've been there for my little brother. Not truly.

But he's always been there for me, counselling me through some of the hardest moments of my life, always knowing what to say, offering a shining beacon of perspective when the walls of my world feel like they're closing in on me. Saying, "Don't worry, Jaime - everything's going to be okay" or, more importantly, "I love you, sister!"

And now, with our parents getting older, he's stepped up in ways I couldn't have imagined him doing before as a scrappy little 6 year-old. Now, I find myself calling him for advice on matters concerning their health and well-being: me, 5,000 miles away and hysterical on WhatsApp audio and him, calm, reasoned, yet decisive on the other end of the line.

It's an incredible feeling, being on the same team.

One of the hardest things about living abroad is the inability to be physically present when you feel that you are needed. I owe it to my brother for looking out for (and after) our parents, and for never, ever making me feel guilty for not "being there".

So, Justin, if you're reading this, I love you, and I'm so proud of you. Forever and always.

Happy birthday. 

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