In 1995 I was really into the BBS community in Birmingham. If you are not familiar with BBS think of it as AOL chat boards but before AOL. My Dad, the consummate lover of anything digital, brought home this fabulous contraption called a computer and with a phone line you could dial in to converse with other people in the near vicinity of you. I had become good friends with two of those people, Spencer and John. John and I met occassionally and would do things 17 year olds did, eating, talking, scheming, etc. One night we went bowling. When the lady in the next lane asked if we were twins we looked at each other and laughed. One of us answered “No, why?” to which she replied “you have the same smile”. And we did. We still do. Or atleast I think we do. John and I could go months without speaking (mostly due to his position in the Navy) but when we did reconnect it was as if no time was lost. Through the darkest and shittiest of times we have always been there for each other. If we were not siblings by blood we were definitely by choice.
John is currently stationed in Manama, Bahrain, doing whatever it is people in the Navy do there. I think it has something to do with selling Encyclopedias. Or heroin. In the fashion that is John and I we began scheming for his return stateside for the holidays. His mother was not expecting him until at least December 31st. However, John’s flight was scheduled for arrival on December 27th. This presented the perfect opportunity to surprise his family. And I took on the honor of delivering him to the same. John had not seen his family in almost 9 months so this surely was going to be epic.
Around 4 p.m. I waited in the newly renovated baggage terminal of the Birmingham airport. A jazz band, hired specifically for the holidays, was playing, setting the mood for excited and weary travelers alike. I settled into a comfortable chair with line sight to the escalator that deposited arriving passengers to collect their luggage. People were milling about. Some stopped to watch the band and sing along. A small family next to me passed their time playing on a tablet, congratulating each other on their high scores, and then arguing who would play next. I focused on the escalator. I glanced at the arrivals board and noticed that John’s flight status was now “deplaning”. I became increasingly anxious. I must have looked away for just a moment for as I looked back at the escalator he had already began walking towards me. I jumped up and began running towards him, almost knocking down a teenage girl. I might have squealed. We hugged and I kissed his cheek. He looked great. His hair recently cut and his eyes blurry from the 21 hour flight. We found his luggage and went to the car. I had purchased a bottle of water for him anticipating that he might be dehydrated. He gladly accepted it.
Now was the time for the big surprise. I was nervous. He was nervous. I asked “do you mind if I video the reunion?”. He hesitated, not really grasping why I would want to. “I always love watching those YouTube videos of soldiers surprising their families. Think of all the Reddit karma I could get!” I said. John agreed. The drive to his mother’s house was a little chaotic. John was trying to determine if his mother would in fact be home. He called his sister Gracie and her husband to get everything coordinated. Gracie’s husband said that Debbie was home, but was preparing to go out to dinner with her husband. We didn’t have much time.
Fairly soon we pulled up to the front curb of the house. It was dusk now and only a single light from the front porch was on. John quickly hopped out of the car to retrieve his bag from the trunk. “Turn on the video now if you want to get this”. I fumbled with my phone, trying to prepare to click record. As we walked down the path I tried to narrate but it came out awkward. We reached the door and John looked through the glass. Maybe hoping his mother would walk by and see him. “Ring the doorbell” I urged. As soon as the bell was rung, a small figure appeared, looking around the doorway. This small person suddenly and quite sharply screamed “RUSSEEEEEEEEEELL!” (John’s middle name and the name his family calls him). The little boy, Mikel, John’s nephew, flew at the glass door. Another voice, this time with a Russian accent, quizzically stated “Russell? Where?” We entered the foyer of the house, Mykel still yelling and hugging John. With the grace of a ballerina, this 5’2″ thin woman with a head full of blonde curlers, materialized from the doorway. She stood there for just a moment, completely speechless, her hand at her mouth. Suddenly John was engulfed in this woman’s arms. She began to quietly cry. Every few seconds she would pull away, John’s face in her hands, and just look at him. Almost as if making sure he was real.
“When did you get in?” she asked. “Just now” John reported. That is when they noticed they were not alone. John turned to me and said “Liesl brought me here”. I was rushed with a hug. Debbie whispered in my ear “Thank you for bringing my son home”. My eyes teared up. “It was the least I could do” I sniffled. Debbie ushered us into the living room to sit and talk. I sensed they needed some alone time, so I excused myself, stating I needed to get home to Hanlon and Kevin. John and I hugged and promised to see each other once he was over his jetlag. I hugged Debbie and her husband, Stevan. I felt high. I had delivered my brother to his mother.
When I got home that evening, I wanted to play the reunion for Kevin. My heart sank when I realized that I never hit the “record” button. It recorded just a few seconds of Debbie squealing with delight when she realized John was home. I felt a bit sick that I slacked on this wonderful moment. But, I hope that this written story will suffice.