There. In the front room of my family’s first single-detached home in Whitby, my mom told me I had a brother.
I don’t remember much, only that I was 11 or 12. And her urgency to tell me was due to some family member – not blood – flapping their damn gills too much.
There were tears. I’m not sure who or when. Just that it was a watershed moment. I dealt with a lot as a kid, health issues, being bullied, but this was different. I had a full-blood brother. A younger brother. He was somewhere out there.
It’s always someone else who attempts to reveal secrets that aren’t theirs, fitting it would be one of those who ostracized my parents when they came back from out West.
British Columbia was not a happy three years for my folks. My mom was far away from her Pelham roots and it rained. The goddamn rain was unbearable. From my parents’ descriptions, it was biblical.
I was just a toddler when my folks fled the Ontario recession of the early ‘80s and drove out to B.C. My brother was swimming in the womb, a mere pollywog.
My mom had a tubal ligation at a young age. She was pregnant when she shouldn’t have been. My dad was moving us out West on the whim of his dad’s (construction was stalling in Ontario) and all I cared about is that I got to share the back seat with our tuxedo cat, Amy.
Then my brother was born prematurely. Not overly so, but enough for my mom to lose a lot of blood. C-section. The doctor denied a transfusion. Perhaps he knew about HIV before its mid-1980s prominence.
Still, my mom had a tough time after birth. I don’t know much about this time. As a man fast approaching 40, I still have so many questions. All I know is postpartum wrapped its tendrils around her. Seized her.
There was no support system in B.C., alleged family feigned interest. “Oh, I’ll help unless I have something better to do”, and often times they did have something “better” to do. My dad admitted to me later in life he blamed himself for everything.
My brother slipped out of my parents’ hands, taken by the province at the behest of a doctor and was put up for adoption.
I know, before we left for Ontario again, my parents attempted to get my brother back, after a year of being with another family. But my mom acquiesced.
We came back to Ontario a family of three. I was five. Back in Pelham. Eventually Mississauga. Eventually Bramalea. Eventually Whitby. I always wondered why we moved a lot. I also wondered why there were no family friends. It’s always been my parents, a cat or two and me.
Perhaps, because my parents seemed cowed, yoked with an unrequited guilt due to the people who didn’t bother to help – but certainly reaped the rewards of the Baker misery – they trusted few.
I was oblivious to all this. It’s hard to remember the emotions of your parents. You feel them sometimes. But never understand them as a kid.
When the British Columbian government changed their adoption rules in the early Aughts, I took it upon myself to find my brother. Anyone over the age of 19 could be sought out.
I did so quietly at first, using the resources of the student newspaper I wrote for at the University of Toronto. When I look back, I realized how naïve I was to go it alone.
When I was striking out, I approached my mom. She gave me a name and last known whereabouts. Remnants of that attempt to get him back. I don’t remember my mother and I’s exchanges, but I knew she was keen to see where it would lead me.
The next day, sitting in a windowless, New College Window office, I called the town information line for Smithers, B.C. Back when municipalities had those. The first person I spoke to knew the family. They put me in touch with my brother’s roommate down in Kamloops. He was going to school at Cariboo College, now Thompson Rivers University.
Adam was the roommate and he knew that my brother had been adopted but didn’t know the full details.
A day later, after Adam took my email address, I received an email from my brother. That was around November 2000.
I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It was serendipitous. He was interested in keeping in touch. I wrapped university and entered the world, and by 2004, I had saved enough money to buy a ticket to fly out West and meet him.
This was his wish. He wanted to meet me first, which created some tension between my mom and I. My dad was indifferent. He kept his distance from the whole search. He was aware but provided very little input. I never pressed him further.
As it were, with my brother living in Calgary, Alta. I flew out, just to hang. The plane ride was not long. I read a few horror paperbacks and got off the plane in a new city.
It was a long walk through the Calgary airport. Objectified Canadiana greeted me with wooden grins. A Mountie here. A moose there. A back-bacon sandwich in the cafeteria. And my brother, nervously waiting for me at the luggage carousel. I could see him from a distance. I could tell the mannerisms right away. Those Baker traits.
It’s hard to explain, but when you meet someone who is a full-blood relative, and you weren’t raised with them, you notice the intricacies, the nuances. It’s what you see in your dad. It’s what you see in your mom. You rightly begin to question what’s genetic and what’s learned.
He takes after dad, a jock. I take after my mom, the writer.
We shook hands. He looked scared. I was oddly relaxed. We had Vietnamese food with a bunch of his friends. He worked at a bar called the Roadhouse.
It was one of the best damn weeks of my life.
We’ve kept in touch since then. Watched each other grow both as people and professionals. I became a journalist. Ironically, he became a police officer. He was a groomsman at my wedding, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned gill flapper.
I’ve seen our families grow. I have a son and a daughter. I often feel like Franz Boas watching the Inuit when I watch these kids adapt to their environment. That’s what being raised an only child does to you. Siblings are as foreign to me as topsoil in the Arctic.
My brother has two sons. Both adopted. And so that circle continues. They say there are certain behaviours that carry on through generations. After all, my maternal grandmother was also adopted.
My family’s mystery continues to fuel that journalistic curiosity inside of me.
I always need answers, and eventually, I’ll ask that question, how was I not taken away too?