A Runaway Sister’s Survivor Guilt

a woman in a coat and hat walks down a snowy road, alone
Photo by Michal Koralewski via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Catapult has a personal essay by Chris J. Rice about searching for, and finding, the baby brother she left behind when she ran away from their abusive mother. Rice left home at 15, when her brother was just a year old. For years, she wondered about him, and felt guilt about having gotten out when he was stuck.

I hadn’t seen him since I was fifteen and he was one. I have a single Polaroid of him: a family shot taken when he was a few months old, nestled in Mama’s lap. Like her, he had a full head of dark hair and searching eyes. For years, I didn’t know how best to reach out to him or how to let him go.

I wondered what became of him. I wanted to know, but I was afraid to find out. At sixty, I didn’t want to reach out to a brother I’d left behind only to be turned away, or worse, blamed for the hard life I’d left him in.

If I’d stayed, I could have protected him. That’s what I believed. Maybe he believed that, too.

Then Mama died, and I put aside fear. I used every resource I had, and some money too, to find a likely contact number. I discovered it through a fee-based public records database. His number, listed and active for years—kept through every change of address and dropped like breadcrumbs as he went along—convinced me he might want to be found. Still, I had to muster the courage to connect.

With trembling hands and a trembling voice, I left him that message and waited.

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