Summer in Seattle was paradise, my mother liked to say, and she was right. It was easy to forget the gray blanket that covered us the other three hundred days of the year.
The tree in front of our house was an evergreen. In the fall, the pine cones fell and formed a spiky nest underneath. My parents liked to pose us in front of it and the needles poked us. There is a photo of my brother and me. We are holding hands so tightly. I was a full head taller than him then, so I had to look down to see him. In the photo, we’re grinning at each other so hard that you can almost see the hearts radiating off of us, like in a cartoon. In the Facebook caption, I write in Korean: Little brother, look! Byong, byong, byong. The sound of the hearts in our eyes, the cute Korean sound that means I love you. An onomatopoeic placeholder because we can’t — we won’t — say the actual words.
My brother’s high school buddy emails to ask me for help:
We are planning a bachelor’s weekend for your brother in Seattle. What should we do out there? What does he like?
I stare at the screen while the cursor blinks at me. I blink back.
Finally, I write:
One thing I can think of — we used to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s a lot as kids. We left Seattle when he was eight, so bear that in mind.
Other things he liked:
The Seahawks and the Mariners, Transformers. He liked noodles (jajangmyun is a favorite, I think). And he really loved our house. For a long time, he kept a picture of it on his desk. I don’t know if he still does that. Does this help?
Great, that’s awesome, he writes back.
A lifetime ago, we moved to New York, so I could study music. So I could have the chances that only come from an entire family’s sacrifice. An entire family’s generosity. An entire family’s love. Byong, byong, byong.
Weeks later, my brother’s Facebook posts reveal that they didn’t go to Chuck E. Cheese’s after all. I text him and he responds a day later: Oh, it would have been weird to go there, a bunch of men in their thirties.
Instead, the photos are of them visiting my father’s old hospital, my kindergarten playground, his elementary school. And finally, our old house, where he stands in front of the evergreen tree which is gigantic now, looming so large it stretches far out of focus, obscuring our house and its brown-tiled roof and cream colored façade, crisscrossed by the typical slats. Look how huge the tree is, my parents marvel and point, stating the obvious in a way that makes my heart ache.
My brother is standing, his arms akimbo, surrounded by friends who are mugging for the camera. He looks radiantly happy, dimples etched deeply into his face, his eyes crescents. He looks exactly as he did at four years old, holding my hand and beaming up at me, our knees bruised from climbing the trees.
In the distance, I see the border of saplings, now luxuriously full.
My father was right. They make a perfect frame.