The “being there” paradox

I see my sister sitting on the other side of the train. We’re on the Ebisu train in Tokyo at 3am. She’s in a dress, which is rare for her, and laughing with a girl I’ve never seen before.

Then I blink, and I watch her face rearrange itself into a stranger’s.

I miss my sister.

I see my mother at Australian grocery stores. Never her face, but I recognize her hands. She’s always had small, puffy hands. But she would never buy Vegemite. My fake Aussie mom stares into my disappointed face for a moment, then tosses her Vegemite in the cart and rolls off.

My dad roams the streets of New York City. I’ll catch his trademarked walk from the corner of my eye — the way he looks at his feet, hunched over, mowing tourists over with such purpose — but when I look up, he vanishes.

These faces make me guilty. My parents are getting older, the last time I called my grandmother she forgot my name and who I was altogether, and my sister and I have cut our texting time in half.

I should be there.

But if I was, then I wouldn’t be here.