There wasn’t anyone else for us. We were best friends. We were brothers and sisters. We fought like it. We played like it. Our lives were each other’s.
Kids at the orphanage came in and out. Some left quickly. Some stayed for years. Sumi and I were only there for a year and half. Within a couple months, Jhanavi came to the orphanage. We became best friends. We were the two oldest which also meant we competed to be in charge.
Four of us were chosen for an intensive English course with Barbara Auntie, a volunteer from England. Because we spent all day studying, going on field trips together, eating, sleeping, and playing together, we became best friends that were inseparable. Mari, Jhanavi, Sumi, and I. Family.
Sumi and I were the first to be adopted. Then, Mari and his sister, Devi. Then, Jhanavi and her brother, Manju. Jhanavi and I were older so we kept in touch. But, we lost Mari. Sumi and I asked about him, thought of him, missed him for years to come. My Mom found that he had been adopted somewhere in the Northwest. I remember some years ago, I was having lunch in Olympia and I met a young man adopted from the city I was adopted from. I questioned him and prodded him to remember if he was from my orphanage, but it wasn’t him. I looked for Mari in every adoptee I met.
Two months ago, I went to England on a whim. I had a few friends I wanted to see including my old English teacher. It would be over 18 years since I’d last seen her. We’d kept in touch over email and it had been a long time dream of mine to see her again.
Seeing her was magical really. I was rather fascinated to hear her and talk to her as an adult. As a child, she had won my heart. And, there is vulnerability in such connection. Because, for her, I was a blink in a lifetime of experiences and people all over the world. I was amazed to hear about all the countries she’d lived in and the years of various experiences she’d had. For me, she had been a life-line in a season of destruction. It was lovely to see her life and find how intelligent, brilliant, and kind she is. She is truly full of love. In her whole life of sensational adventures, she remembers every detail about us- little children who didn’t mean much to most other people.
We didn’t talk about the orphanage much. But, we talked about Mari. I missed him. I told her how we still long to see him and remember him. Inspired by this connection back to my past, I came back to the states and gathered a bit of information about him- the address he had been adopted to.
Last year I had moved to Seattle. The address was in Snohomish, WA. A simple 45 minutes drive. I asked my friend, Lydia, to drive me over and help me. We found that the house had been transformed into a small shop. We knocked on the door of the neighbor’s house. Lydia took a step forward to make the introduction. I had told her before starting our journey that she was the brave one of the two of us- she was always bold enough to talk to new people. But, as we approached the door, I had confidence. I wanted to do this. I was excited about this. I looked at her and said, “Actually, I can do this.” I knocked on the door. An elderly woman opened the door. I ignored the dubious look on her face and very quickly introduced myself and Lydia. I told her that I was looking for a family who had adopted two children from India in 1999. She remembered. Her grandchildren had played with them. But, they had moved away 15 years ago. They had lost touch. My face fell. She said they were happy children. I walked away not knowing how to find them but somehow comforted to know they had been happy. I had been worried for them for so long. Lydia suggested I collect the little shop’s phone number and call during the day to see if they had any information.
I went home wondering how I could move forward. I was consumed- I was on a hunt and I wasn’t going to give up. I had no time to think about the reality of what I was doing. I called a couple friends who had grown up in Snohomish and sent them a photo of Mari and asked them if they had seen any children adopted from India in 1999 in their community. One of the friends, Tricia, talked to her Mom. The Mom called her friend and she knew him! Her daughters, also adopted from India, had been friends with the kids. Tricia found his name on the friend’s list of one of the girls. Around 1 am she contacted him to ask if he was the one we were looking for.
Meanwhile, not knowing anything was happening on Tricia’s side, I called the shop in Snohomish the next day and the owner told me he did not know any information. But, he gave me the last name of the woman he had bought the house from. I looked for Mari ______ on Facebook and could not find him! I was again at a dead end.
Tricia texted me asking to meet me right away simply because it had been a long time since she’d seen me. Not wondering beyond being filled with the sweetness of a friend who simply wanted to see me, I met her at a park. She walked up and immediately handed me a card. Inside the card, two phone numbers for Mari & Devi. I screamed. Tears came to my eyes. How! She told me the story. I was in awe. I took a deep breath. I was speechless for a moment. I have to call right now! I dialed Mari’s number and my eyes lifted to up in awe to look at Tricia. He answered the phone. I timidly said, “Mari? This is Namitha… I don’t know if you remember me. I grew up in the orphanage with you.”
His response, “What the ___!! Holy___!!” I laughed. We agreed to meet the next week.
I remember walking to the bar. The bus ride was too long. The walk was too slow. I was filled with that sort of blood-rush that comes when you’re nervous about what’s going to happen next. My stomach was doing flip-flops. I called my big brother, Jake, and left a voice message, “I am about to walk into one of the craziest situations in my life, and I just wanted to tell you.”
I walked in and my eyes landed on the lone figure at the bar. He turned and smiled. I recognized him by the scar on his forehead and his smile. He was the same. So different but the same! In my mind he had always been seven. I laughed and gave him a big hug. “Can you believe this?” I exclaimed. We laughed. They asked to seat us. I grinned at the waiter, “Do you know what is happening here?!” I explained the story quickly. I don’t think they understood. Then, I made some remark about my excitement to try their food and they were quite happy about that. I made up for my ridiculous giddiness, I thought.
We sat down and without words, exchanged our memory books from the orphanage and flipped through the pages. He made fun of my penmanship and my drawings. I couldn’t disagree. My art had never improved. Though, I proudly explained, my penmanship was in much better shape.
There were so many questions. I had so much to tell him but at the same time, I didn’t know what to say. He was my brother. My old friend. Then, he was this new grown up man I had never spoken to; I did not know anything about his life. The juxtaposition of familiarity and strangeness were somewhat disconnecting for my brain. Overarching all of these feelings was a giddy energy that spilled out into my expression of my awe and happiness, at moments in tears that brimmed in my eyes.
We didn’t miss a beat. We rushed through sharing pieces of information about our lives, trying to update each other on 19 years we felt we had missed out on.
He took me to his home after to introduce me to his sweet wife. Tomorrow we are going hiking all together, and I get to meet Devi again, his sister, who was also in the orphanage with us.
It’s hard to mentally comprehend that we are reunited. We are in each other’s lives again. Back to normal. The fact that we missed 19 years doesn’t seem real. It’s natural and odd all at the same time. Brother and sister. Family that was once lost is now found.
I can’t explain all the feelings, but those are just a few words to share with you about my happiness. I don’t know why I get this gift- this gift of reconnecting the pieces. I hope this gift somehow fills this world with a little bit more love. In the midst of so much loss, these are the little treasures I get to cherish.