I have to write about “This is Us.”
I tried not to because so many recaps and fan comments are already out there, and I get impatient when I have to recap something but during a recent episode, two episodes ago, the one that aired on Halloween (?), I had to pause the recorded episode more than usual, to let some feelings sink in.
We see a flashback to Young Boy Jack waiting in the passenger seat of his dad’s car, while the dad is getting drunk at a bar in broad daylight, where his boy can see him. Jack looks sad and disappointed, but also like he’s had to endure this sh*t before. Suddenly, a younger boy pops up from the backseat, adjusting his glasses after waking up from a deep car nap. Jack has a little brother.
I wish we hadn’t deleted this episode from our DVR because I want to know exactly what Jack said that got me intensely feeling some feelings and screaming, “Pause it right there, ermagawd, pause. I can’t take it.” He tries to comfort his little brother about how even though the dad isn’t there, he (big bro) is there so little brother need not be afraid.
Now, this is why this show will drag me back to therapy or serve as some bootleg therapy or both.
That moment that may not have done anything for other viewers touched me.
It took me back to my own childhood when my parents were not yet home past the usual time they were supposed to be home. We were latchkey kids because my parents had to work long hours at whatever small business they owned at the time. My parents mourned this often, the fact that their choice to immigrate to this country resulted in a latchkey life for their two young kids, after my dad’s employer in Korea went belly up.
When they were late getting home at an already late hour, my brother would start to get scared, whimpering, “Nunah, what if something happened to them? What if they got into a car accident? Why aren’t they home? What if they never come home?” I would try to calm him down by trying to distract him or divert his attention (good training for motherhood) but ultimately, my brother would start crying.
I would even try to coax him to fall asleep so that when he woke up, he would wake up to my parents being there.
I wanted to cry, too, and not have to front. I wanted to slap some bravery into my brother as I was secretly a-quiver with fear and his free falling tears were too much for me. I wanted someone to comfort me but I had to be Small Mommy, my nickname.
Jack’s moment of comforting his little brother struck a chord deep within my 41 year-old heart because it took me back to remembering that feeling, how my body felt heavy and unmoored, feeling just as scared as my little brother, but having to fake the funk in order to comfort him.
I didn’t want my brother to know that I was also just a kid who was wondering if something had happened to my parents, the parents I wished I could talk to about my day at school, share my constant stream of thoughts and observations with, and all the tender emotions I carried with me.
When Adult Jack woke up in the middle of the night to dig up an old photo of him in the military, surprising us viewers by showing us his grown up little brother in the same photo, still wearing those heavy-framed glasses, looking very much like the sibling who needed protection from the world, I was undone. “Pause it again, Kevin. Pause!”
Siblings share the same family experiences, joys and burdens alike, so I used to say, “Shouldn’t we turn out the same?” I learned that though we are part of the same family unit, we still are different individuals with different defining moments and constitutions, with different relationships within the same family.
So we all get to write different endings. I’m just glad that my brother and I still get to be in the middle, not the end, and just like the White Saviour Judge said on last night’s episode:
“Can you find me a different ending to your story?”
We don’t have to be stuck in the same family roles or repeat the same dysfunctions that our well-meaning parents passed down to us.
I love that every day is a chance at a new beginning, middle and end. The beauty of this show is that it takes me back to my own childhood, tiny yet grand moments I would not have revisited or processed because everyday is a flurry of raising our own Big Three.
Every Tuesday night, after our blessings go to bed, I don’t have to be The Mom. I get to visit my inner child and see how she’s doing.
I love you, NBC’s This is Us. Thank you.