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  • Our Missing Half
  • Karla Kim (bio)

Half is never satisfying. You don’t ever want to look at a glass half empty or half full; you want it to be bubbling over. Full is meaningful. Half leaves you wanting.

So when I met my half brother for the first time three years ago in the airport at Seoul, all I could focus on was his half-buttoned shirt, half- twisted necklace, and the way he half hugged my mom as she tentatively placed her arms around his neck.

“Well, this is weird,” I thought to myself. Mom’s hand remained gently encircling his porcelain neck as if she could never let go. “This is your sister!” she said, her eyes remaining locked on him. I tried to speak but the corners of my lips wouldn’t budge. Instead I extended my hand. He responded with one of his half hugs. Automatically I stiffened, thinking, “Well this is weirder.” I didn’t even know this person.

But that wasn’t true. Because I did know about him. All my life I’d heard about the son from mom’s first marriage, the son she was forced to leave after divorcing his dad. But when you hear so much about a person you’ve never met or plan on meeting, you begin to see him as a character in a story that you’re never going to be a part of. This character becomes less real and relevant.

Mom had lost contact with her son for sixteen years. Sometimes, as we sipped sweet rice water on the bed, our bare [End Page 23] toes wriggling under the cover, she would blurt out of the blue, “When you grow up, you’re going to have to become famous, go on national television, stand next to the president, and say, I’m looking for my brother, you understand?”

We’d laugh together, because we knew it was still, at that moment, just us two, and the thought of change anytime soon seemed a hazy vision molded too many times to our imagination.

I’d always felt sympathy for the five-year-old boy whose mother left him for a better life. But my sympathy was limited, for his mother was my mom, and I was part of her better life, the one she created with my father. So, even sympathy seemed cruel. Even my mother, as we skimmed the tattered photo albums from her past life, would say to me that it was all God’s plan, because without leaving her son, she would never have had me. My five-year-old self would vigorously nod, cling to her mom a little tighter, and smile in contentment.

When I was older, I couldn’t help but feel something was strange. Time began to untangle the barbed wires around my mom’s heart and she let her guard down. I would see her, crouching down under the dim fluorescent light at two in the morning, eyes glued to the same chipped pages of the old photo album. I had been happy to be with my mom but I had begun to see we were blatantly ignoring the lonely character on the other side of the globe.

But that didn’t mean I wanted to be jammed into the backseat of a rundown Hyundai with that lonely character once we were on the same side of the globe. On our way from the airport to a remote island called Jindo, I began registering the fact that I would now be stuck for four more hours with my half brother and mom. The car pressed us all together so that the thin, short strands of our hair grazed Mom’s, my half brother and I on either side of her.

“Do you like to sing as well?”

Startled by his voice, I winced as my elbow slipped off the leather lining and banged the metal handle. My mom and my half brother had been sharing old memories for what seemed an hour, [End Page 24] and I was unprepared to be hurled into this two-way exchange. I did like singing. In fact, I loved it. But...