It’s hard to appreciate someone when they’re around. People always say that you only realize something’s value when it’s not there anymore, and that’s true.
I’ve known my brother Orson for seventeen years. There were days when I came home from school and was annoyed to find him playing Team Fortress loudly on his laptop, leaving his stuff sprawled over the dining room table, or ignoring the overflowing garbage can (for which I received the blame). When he took the car to go hang out with his friends and I was stranded at the house, I didn’t feel so opposed to his moving across the country.
After Orson got on a plane to go to college, I lay down on the couch and used the now-quiet space to watch Futurama. Missing one person wouldn’t have too much of an impact, I thought. What mattered was that now we had more flexibility, right? I’d drive the car just because I could, since there was no one else to take it from me.
The longer Orson was gone, the less I occupied the space that he left behind. His room grew dusty, and his desk piled up with mail. I thought our family would be like a river, and when a rock moved, we’d flow over the hole. But we were more like a three-legged animal, awkward and lurching in his absence. As weeks stretched into months, I missed him; I’d had someone with whom I could share everything, and now it was just me. More than a decade and a half of inside jokes, carpool rides, grilled cheeses, advice, and video games were over. If not over, then at least different. I tried to call Orson more often, and we’d FaceTime as a family, but it wasn’t the same. Our conversations consisted of catching up on our daily lives, giving a surface-level summary. The essence of our relationship couldn’t fit into 20 minute calls with spotty reception and freezing images. I’d see Orson struggling with the workload or talking about being so far away from home, and I felt useless. Hugs can’t be virtual.
I needed Orson to be here, to sit next to me, to exchange glances when our family members said something problematic, to be someone to talk to when stuck at weird adult functions; however, that can’t happen when he’s thousands of miles away and occupied with his own college work and drama. I felt Orson’s absence acutely, and my parents realized that. Holidays like Thanksgiving became the most exciting events for me during the school year. Last year, his first year of college, I picked him up from the Oakland Airport, and we hung out for the next five days straight. His coming back meant everything was back to normal; with Orson present, everyone smiled more, argued less, and finished the food in the house. It was hard to say goodbye.
This year, when he left in September, I marked Thanksgiving in my planner and counted down the days. Every so often, I reminded my parents and friends just how many weeks it would be until he came home. In a couple of hours, I’m leaving to pick my brother up from the airport, where he’ll come off his flight from Pittsburgh. And this year, I’m grateful that everything will be right, even if it’s just until Sunday.