I didn’t even know my brother existed until I was ten years old. His was a name I’d heard floating around, but I never actually attached it to a human being. Like how I know Napoleon was real, but when I imagine him I’m really only conjuring his portraits. My mother asked me if I’d like to spend Christmas with my dad that year, 1982. This was meant as a kind of present, I guess, but felt more like a punch in the beans. I’d never met my father. He and my mom divorced before my first birthday. And now, ten years later, we were suddenly going to spend Christmas with him?

No, I had it wrong.

Not we.

A real nut punch.

But I said OK, of course. I felt curious. I just wanted to see the man, you know? I’d peeked at pictures, but what do pictures ever really say?

So my mother bought me a Greyhound ticket and packed my Snoopy suitcase with comics, snacks, and a few clothes. As I got on the bus at the Port Authority I felt scared and bold. Me, all alone, on the five-hour trip to the city of S——, in upstate New York. (I’m obscuring some details here and there, changing names too.)

As the door closed my mother gaped up at me, so nervous she clasped her hands frantically. She didn’t even seem to realize she’d made the gesture. Like her body was saying a prayer her mind refused to entertain. I smiled down at her, waving, amazed to discover my tough mother could ever feel such fear.