[upbeat music] ♪ ♪ - [humming melody] ♪ ♪ [tender music] ♪ ♪ - This is my half-brother Sam.
We have different moms, but the same dad.
This is our dad.
Say "hi," Dad.
- Instead of home movies of birthday parties or baseball games, our home movies look like this.
- [screams] - [screaming] ♪ ♪ Don't kill me.
I got a wife and family.
Please, come on.
- We were making it up as we went along.
No scripts, no director, just a game.
- Go, Birdman, go!
You can do it!
[imitates bird call] - [laughing] - Sam was like this cartoon.
♪ ♪ He was always taking falls and then bouncing right back up.
- [screams] - Everybody, say "Hi."
Sam just fell out of his chair.
- We called him "Candy Bones."
- I love my swing.
[screams] - Oh, my God!
When I was 18 and Sam was 11, I found a Super 8 camera in my dad's garage.
♪ ♪ I wanted to try to make real films.
♪ ♪ I saw that Sam wasn't doing anything.
He was just sitting there on the floor, playing video games.
♪ ♪ So I lured him away by promising my yo-yo.
♪ ♪ Our first film was called "Sam One."
♪ ♪ And we kept going with it.
I would pick up Sam from school or his mom's house, and we'd drive all around Seattle, filming "Sam" movies.
♪ ♪ We would drive as far as we could, shoot, and sleep at a rest stop.
We were always running out of film, or gas, or sunlight.
♪ ♪ Neither of us had any idea that this would become a lifelong collaboration, or that our movies would become a key to unlocking the biggest mystery of our family.
[train clattering and whooshing] [Dead Moon's "DOA"] [garage rock music] ♪ ♪ - ♪ Into dark waters flow ♪ ♪ Bad dreams of long ago ♪ ♪ Children who never knew ♪ ♪ What doors would open to ♪ ♪ Flights taking weary souls ♪ ♪ Life shakes of bitter cold ♪ ♪ Love tears on golden shores ♪ ♪ Teenaged no more ♪ ♪ Yeah ♪ ♪ ♪ - One Christmas, we were talking about what our next film would be.
[bells jingling] Sam had all these ideas involving his alter ego, the Blue Panther, and how he'd be battling these evil twin robots, played by an actual pair of twins who divide into another pair of twins with trick photography.
♪ ♪ He just kept going on and on, but all I could hear was, "And then, and then, and then."
♪ ♪ Usually, I love Sam's ideas, but there was something bothering me, something that nobody in our family wanted to talk about.
[bright electronic music] ♪ ♪ Two and a half years earlier, Sam's mom disappeared.
♪ ♪ She left town without telling any of us.
There was no note, no address, no way of contacting her.
She was just gone.
♪ ♪ - ♪ Damn you ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I know you're changing ♪ ♪ ♪ - Everyone assumed she'd come back, but she didn't come back.
She didn't call or write either.
It stayed like that for years, and I was really worried for my brother.
Nobody was doing anything or even talking about it.
So I'm listening to Sam tell me how the Blue Panther is gonna dismantle some quintuplets robots... and without even thinking, I say, "How about the Blue Panther finds his mom?"
This had to be a painful subject for Sam.
But, really, I had no idea because he never wanted to talk about it.
Sam looked serious.
But then he nodded and said just one word.
♪ ♪ "Yeah."
So that's where we begin.
[phone beeping] [line trilling] [soft dramatic music] [line trilling] - Hello?
- What are you doing?
- I'm calling you.
- I've been thinking more seriously about finding Jois.
Do you want to do it?
- I want to do it.
I need to find a break that-- like, mid-winter break.
- OK. 'Cause I was thinking about, you know, starting the process by, like, interviewing people.
- That's a good idea, dude.
- Like I was just gonna do some initial interviews maybe with, like, Dad, or you, or Jared.
And then, also, you know, maybe if you wanted to do some interviewing, you know?
- I think that it's better if you did the interviewing because, I mean, it'd be harder for them to say exactly how they feel about me and my mother.
- Oh, good point.
Sam's mid-winter break was less than a month away.
If we wanted to find her, we had to gather some information.
[humming melody] - Why don't you tell me the whole story of what happened?
- The whole story?
- OK, let's see, it's three years ago, right?
Freshman year, maybe a week before school starts, freshman year of high school for me, she disappears.
♪ ♪ That winter, she comes back during winter break, and then she leaves again.
That's the last we saw her is that winter.
♪ ♪ - Did she ever take you aside before she left, and did she say goodbye or--?
Didn't say goodbye that time.
She didn't do a bad job raising me, I don't think at least.
She definitely babied me.
I was the youngest of three brothers.
I felt like I was so special around her, and she would dance to music with me on her shoulders.
♪ ♪ - Here's our dad, Randy, Sam, me, and Jois.
My dad and Jois married when I was five years old and had two children shortly after, Sam and Jared.
♪ ♪ They divorced when my brothers were little kids, and Sam and Jared had a routine of going between their two houses.
- [laughs] Uh, what are you-- what are you doing with that ba--oh!
The name's Jond.
- Jois would drive across town to bring the boys to school each morning.
She was a part of everything, always helping with homework, home-cooked meals, and she was super encouraging with the filmmaking Sam and I were doing.
It was all very normal.
- We had not a clue where she was, not one single clue.
- Jois is here and Sam.
♪ ♪ - Once in a while, you'll hear about a mother abandoning her children like this, but it's so rare.
- [laughs] - Hi.
- Oh, Cindy's here.
She made it.
- This is really peculiar for Jois.
We can understand kind of going away and needing that break from children and husbands and everything.
That would be wonderful.
But now, to go away permanently and nobody knows anything, I'm kind of scared now.
I'm wondering if Jois is OK. You know, has somebody done something with her?
- At the time that she disappeared, she was one of my closest friends.
I just remember being shocked at how nobody seemed to know what was going on, and it was just kind of scary.
♪ ♪ She needed to be dead or alive, and I really wasn't sure what had happened.
♪ ♪ - So our family files a missing persons report.
♪ ♪ One day, a police detective called us and told us they found her.
She's OK. She's not being held against her will, and she doesn't want to talk to any of you.
[somber music] ♪ ♪ Do you miss your mom?
- Uh, yeah?
I mean, I--I don't know.
Like, it's not, like, something I think about all the time.
It's only thought about when, like, problems are brought up.
- Like what?
- Like, where's my mom?
Like, I mean, it's just, like, problems like Jared.
- Jared was the star student in our family, but after Jois left, he stopped going to school, missing 80 days in one semester.
And even after switching to a new school, he was still struggling to graduate.
Do you think that your life would be different if your mom was still around?
- Probably would've graduated by now, for one thing.
- When Jois left, Jared pretty much shut down, basically just stopped coming to school for, like-- like, there was, like, a good two-, three-month period where, you know, you would see him maybe once a week, you know?
And I'd go to his house, and I'd just be like, "OK, you know, where the hell were you today, and why didn't you come to school?"
He'd just be sitting in his boxers watching, like, you know, "Jenny Jones" or "Twin Peaks" or something.
♪ ♪ - I see him maybe three times a week-- like, at the most, three times a week.
When Jared leaves, he's leaving me to deal with it on my own.
It's not a good feeling knowing that you can't, like, rely on your brother for this kind of stuff.
♪ ♪ - Up until then, my brothers were inseparable.
They were like this little team.
[laughter] ♪ ♪ What kind of effect do you think this has had on-- on you, on your life?
- At first, I always wanted to believe that it was a positive effect, like, of me becoming independent.
Then I started thinking that, like, Jared, like, his life was totally just slowed down by it.
♪ ♪ And me, like, nothing was happening to me.
That's why I kind of got scared.
I was like, "Wait, should I really be feeling something about it?"
I mean, it seems natural that I should feel sad or just miss her a lot, and I wasn't feeling it.
Like, nothing's affecting me.
Like, I could talk about it and just laugh it off.
♪ ♪ And see, I'd do that with Jared, and Jared got really angry with me when we were having this conversation.
I mean, us together dealing with it is out of the question now.
- You've given up on it?
It's not our problem anymore.
It's, like, an individual problem for both of us now.
♪ ♪ - And off we go.
Can I have a huggy?
- There's Auntie Jois.
- Oh, hi.
You remember this pose from our last video at the last birthday party.
- Why do you think that Jois didn't talk to you guys?
- I have no idea.
- Do you ever feel like she doesn't care about you guys anymore?
- Sometimes, but it just-- I don't know.
It doesn't really make sense to me 'cause she never really seemed that way ever.
Like, it just isn't-- it doesn't fit her.
- Oh, Jois?
Isn't that beautiful?
- The Harkness family is close-knit.
Everyone lives nearby and sees each other all the time.
[bright acoustic music] The adults are all teachers and involved in early childhood development, but even with all that, no one was equipped for this.
- When Jois first left, we just sort of let things lie.
We didn't bring it up.
We didn't console them because we were under the impression that they were not to talk about it.
- How do you feel about the way that the whole situation with Jois and Jared and Sam has been dealt with?
- It hasn't really been dealt with.
It just seems, like, malicious to those guys.
Like, this-- the harm she is doing to them is gonna affect them for their whole lives.
- I would check in with the kids, and it was very difficult because I didn't want to step on toes, and I didn't want to make the situation worse.
♪ ♪ I would talk to Randy, and he-- I think Randy's in denial, and I think not having a partner to lean on himself, that he didn't know what to do, and so, the best thing for him to do, he thought, was to kind of ignore it.
♪ ♪ - One option my dad had was to sue her for child support, bringing her into contact with us through the court system.
He chose not to.
- She was a good mother to her kids as she was raising them.
There's no question about that.
She just disappeared off the face of the planet.
So I just had to make do how-- however that I-- I could make do.
I didn't realize how much Jared in particular needed his mom around.
But I have no desire to interact with her.
I don't want to do that.
♪ ♪ - I was really angry, and it bothered me that he was ignoring it, because I--I felt it really needed to be let out.
I felt like there needed to be somebody, some ally, some person to help because it was, pure and simple, abandonment.
[creature growls] [The Sonics' "Cinderella"] [garage rock music] [tires squeal] ♪ ♪ - ♪ Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, everybody ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I'm out looking for a girl ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Disappeared by herself ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ When my clock struck 12:00 ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, Cinderella ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Where have you gone?
♪ ♪ ♪ - There was one family member we hadn't talked to yet.
[soft dramatic music] This is our stepbrother Peter, Jois' son from her first marriage.
He's about my age.
♪ ♪ All right.
- Which way?
- So you're not worried about her?
- No, I'm not worried about her.
And I know deep down that, wherever she is, she's happy.
- Don't you want to know where she is?
Don't you want to talk to her?
- I would like to, but I don't feel I have to.
I don't feel the need to.
Had I known she was gonna leave so abruptly, I wish I could've said like, "Hey, so long, take care."
- Do you have any knowledge about where she might be?
It's just mainly guesstimations.
- What about a professor?
- Could be.
- Could be?
I heard--had heard that you had tried to contact a guy that was a writer that had an email that you had tracked down.
- And that--nothing happened.
- And who--who was the person that you had tried to-- - I--that was a while ago.
I don't even remember.
The only one I know that might know is the person at Ray's Boathouse.
- Before she left, Jois worked at Ray's Boathouse in Seattle.
She was a hostess, and Phil was a server.
- It's a fascinating story.
She's a fascinating woman.
She just struck me as such a wonderful, unique human being, just the way she would wear, you know, a floor-length dress to work, faithfully, and she looked so beautiful in it.
I was the only one at work she confided in that she was leaving, and I couldn't mention it.
I was sworn to not mention it to anybody.
And I knew she was leaving for months and months before she left.
And I thought, "Man, this is just the oddest thing."
♪ ♪ She met this person.
He was a well-known scholar, and he'd get invited to speak at colleges around the world and would pay for her ticket.
♪ ♪ She'd come up to me at work, and she said, "You're not gonna believe this.
Now, I'm flying to Paris," or, "Now, I'm flying to Oslo."
The first time or two she did it, she was like, "This is just wild.
"I can't believe I'm doing this.
"But nobody even asks, nobody cares, so I'm just gonna do it."
I remember the first time she did it, it was, like, really, you know, stepping out and putting her toe in the water.
And then, after a while, she just felt like, well, this is right.
This is working for me.
- I was finally able to pry a name out of Peter.
- Is she writing a book?
You know, that was a rumor that was going around.
- She was helping a friend.
- Somebody who's a professor at some university.
- She has a mentor that's helping her.
- Somewhere in California.
- I could never remember this fellow's name.
- Edward Gosling?
- Doesn't ring a bell, actually.
Come on, come on, come on.
- I think it was in Long Beach.
- Long Beach, professor, Edward Gosling.
♪ ♪ [dramatic music] No way.
[electronic music] ♪ ♪ So we made a plan to show up during the professor's office hours.
Maybe by seeing us in-person, he'd help us.
- What do you think about Sam wanting to go look for Jois?
- I don't know if I'd want to actually, like, go out and, like, find her.
Like, I'd write a letter or something, but I don't have her address.
- Will you write a letter?
- All right.
Go write your letter.
- Like, right now?
- Why not?
- I don't know.
I thought it was something I'd have, like, a few days to think about.
- Just write it.
Will you do it?
- I guess.
- OK. - OK. - Do it.
- OK. - OK. [soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ - I would rather go down there.
- And just see her face-to-face?
- You sure?
- I'm down-- - You gotta know that it could be a situation where--that gets, like-- you could get real sad or, like, you know?
Like, you never know.
- Yeah, you're right.
But I-- I think I'll be prepared.
- It's worth it?
- I think it is.
I mean, I'm--I'm more worried about my mom's reaction.
- That's what I'm more worried about.
- I'll go in, and you keep the car running.
- OK. - And then, I'll run out.
We'll knock on the door and run.
- I just want something to happen.
'Cause I think it's really important.
- You want to do it?
I think so.
- I'm super down.
- You are?
- With a couple batches of grandma's cookies, a few road maps, and our dad's minivan, we head south toward Long Beach.
[The Sonics' "Psycho"] - ♪ Whoa, baby ♪ ♪ You're driving me crazy ♪ ♪ I said, baby ♪ ♪ You're driving me ♪ ♪ Crazy ♪ ♪ Oh, well, you turn me on ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Then, you shut me down ♪ ♪ Oh, well, tell me, baby ♪ ♪ Am I just your clown?
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Oh, whoa ♪ ♪ Baby, you're driving me crazy ♪ ♪ I said I'm losing my mind ♪ ♪ You treat me so unkind ♪ ♪ Psycho ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Oh, whoa ♪ [somber music] ♪ ♪ - We stop in southern Oregon to visit Jois' family.
Sam decides to wait in the car as I talk to Jois' mother, sister, and brother.
- You see, we adopted her in Japan, and you don't know anything about the parents or anything over there.
- The only thing that they would tell you was that the-- the mother was Japanese and the father was American.
- An American.
- Before Jois left, I knew she had been searching for her birth records, and possibly her birth mother too, and that she had a strained relationship with her adoptive family.
- She was always just-- just Jois.
She just did whatever she'd want to do, and she didn't care if anybody liked it or not.
Jois was never normal.
Predictable, I guess you could say.
- Well, now, Jois for a long time called you every week.
She was good about calling me.
Yes, she did.
She called me every week.
And-- - Right up until she came down that last time she was calling you.
Yeah, you're right.
She did, yeah.
- Usually, every Saturday, she would give you a call.
- And then, all of a sudden, she disappeared, and I have not heard from her since.
- Where do you think she is?
- I don't have the slightest idea.
- What she did was so totally opposite of anything she'd ever done in the past.
- That's what I don't understand.
She made all those sacrifices for all those years, and then, just-- - Then, just-- just to walk out on them.
That's the thing I can't forgive her-- - I-- I just don't understand it.
- I am very, very upset with her because she left her kids.
So as far as I'm concerned, there is no Jois.
I have just wiped her out of my life.
Cause I know I'll never see her again.
So that's just the way it is.
♪ ♪ - There is a conversation I had with my mom when I was a lot younger, maybe seven.
That's when I found out she was adopted, and I just innocently spit out like, "Well, why don't you just find your mom?"
And she just snapped at me like, "You can't just do that."
And I just went down to my room, and I kind of passed it off as another thing like, well, I think I need to be older to understand.
- We're on our second day, and I'm starting to wonder if this is the right thing to do.
I talked to a couple of friends who've also experienced missing parents.
- You are making everyone so vulnerable.
What happens if Sam has to hear that his mom doesn't want to talk to him, doesn't want to see him?
- If you leave your kid... - Yeah.
- You're sending them the message that you don't want them anymore.
I get this, like, image of my mind of you guys going down and, like, knocking on somebody's door and being turned away.
I just don't want to see you try and take on something that... That you shouldn't take on.
[The Sonics' "Strychnine"] [garage rock music] ♪ ♪ - ♪ Some folks like water ♪ ♪ Some folks like wine ♪ ♪ But I like the taste ♪ ♪ Of straight strychnine ♪ ♪ You may think it's funny ♪ ♪ That I like this stuff ♪ ♪ But once you've tried it ♪ ♪ You can't get enough ♪ ♪ Wow ♪ ♪ Wine is red ♪ ♪ Poison is blue ♪ ♪ Strychnine is good ♪ ♪ For what's ailing you ♪ ♪ Wow ♪ ♪ ♪ - We stop at my mom's house in the Bay Area.
[bright electronic music] My mom has been such a huge influence in my life.
She's so nurturing.
And even with the divorce and distance from Seattle, I felt like I can always count on her.
♪ ♪ - I'm just gonna have you pick eight cards.
Put 'em face down in front of you.
Use your left hand.
It's your more intuitive side.
And just think about how is this journey going to evolve.
♪ ♪ You're gonna be feeling this sort of-- a bit of turmoil, but it's also gonna feel like a house cleaning time, which actually feels good.
It's like, when you clean out your closet, you get everything out and you look at it, and you decide what you want to put back in there.
That's what this is gonna be about.
♪ ♪ You two have been called into action here.
♪ ♪ You have set in motion a journey that will circle around and circle around in your life many times.
Things will not be the same after you do this.
Sam will be different.
♪ ♪ - Mom!
I'm in California!
Come out, come out wherever you are!
♪ ♪ I had a dream that she was a famous author, and, like, she had this huge mansion, like, made out of adobe, and, like, it was just so great.
I just remember we were playing in the pool a lot and stuff.
It was just, like, a fun thing.
I don't know.
Like, I imagine, like, that it's gonna be.
I want her to know that I'm not mad at it.
Like, it's not like we're trying to show that she's a bad mother.
It's trying to show that, like, she is wanted.
♪ ♪ - We arrive in Long Beach and head to the University.
[The Sonics' "Shot Down"] [garage rock music] ♪ ♪ - ♪ Hey, little girl ♪ ♪ I need you so ♪ ♪ Give you all my love ♪ ♪ Just let me know ♪ ♪ Stop running around ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I've been shot down ♪ ♪ ♪ [soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ - When we didn't find Professor Gosselin, I was thinking like, "Wow, we must be all out of cards now."
Like, what else do we have?
And so, I mean, I was like, "Eh, let's go to the beach."
♪ ♪ - This is pretty discouraging for me.
I'm starting to imagine us just getting in the car and driving all the way back to Seattle.
♪ ♪ Before coming down here, I had written down every phone number listed for all the E. Gosselins in the area.
We were worried that if we cold called, it would be easy for the professor to just say, "Sorry, don't know her."
But, now, this might be our last hope for contact.
- What's the number?
So what are you gonna say?
- I'm gonna ask for Jois.
- And if he says, "Sorry, Jois doesn't live here"?
- Do you know where to reach her?
- And you're gonna say "This is Sam."
I was gonna say, "This is Sam Harkness, her son."
- If Jois picks up the phone, what are you gonna say?
- Hey, Mom?
Long time no see, huh?
- Or something.
- OK. Later.
- What's the number?
- I pull out the phone.
I dial the last, like, phone number we have.
[line trilling] [phone beeps] Hang on.
It's been changed.
Here we go.
Here we go.
May I speak with Jois?
This is Sam.
Hey, me and Reed are in California.
We--we decided to come get you, or find you.
Just 'cause we wanted to go on an adventure.
Mom, this is so cool.
So I just, like, explained what happened in, like, three years within, like, two minutes.
I went to Japan.
It was so cool, because, like, we got-- I got a scholarship, going for free.
Jared got a girlfriend.
I got a girlfriend too.
Lately, it's been getting fun.
Junior year, which is this year, like, I have so many friends now.
Everything's just building up to be good.
The first thing she says is like, "Sam, all right, "I know this is hard for you, "but I need you to not tell anyone where I am or speak of finding me to anybody."
- So what?
She's gonna call us right back?
- That was crazy, Sam.
- I know.
That was really weird.
Like-- - Did she say that she wants to meet with you?
[phone ringing] - Hello?
♪ ♪ We're on the beach right now.
We're like-- my feet are in the sand.
♪ ♪ - It turns out she's living in a small town in Southern Oregon.
She invites us to come up there.
[garage rock music] So we get back in the van and head right back to Oregon.
♪ ♪ [punk rock music] ♪♪ - [singing indistinctly] ♪♪ [singing continues] ♪♪ - [chuckles] - Hi.
- Good to see you.
- Good to see you too.
- [laughs] - Hi.
- Come on in.
Come on in.
- So cool, huh?
- Nice house.
- Put that away.
[soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ - At this point, Sam hasn't seen his mom for three years.
♪ ♪ - I see this as an opportunity to control my relationship with each of you.
You understand what I mean?
- Where I was, when I was, everything was out of control.
I had no control over anything.
And I know-- I know what I did, and I know that people suffered, but I had to to save myself.
I had to get out of the control of everybody and then-- and then, step-by-step, build my life.
And it was difficult, but it was more difficult to not leave.
And I know that I'm going down in history as the woman that really broke a whole bunch of rules, but... [chuckles] I'm happy.
[laughs] You know?
[bright electronic music] ♪ ♪ - The next day, Jois offers to drive Sam back to Seattle, so I leave the two of them to reconnect.
♪ ♪ I'm thrilled that we found Jois, but it doesn't quite feel satisfying or complete.
- Hey, Reed.
- It never ends.
[laughter] - [grunts] [laughs] - When we got back, I imagined a kind of movie scene with my dad or grandma making a toast about how happy they are for this outcome.
Instead, there was a gathering to celebrate our cousin George's participation in a video game tournament.
Well, for $12.50... - How'd it go?
- Not bad.
I got, like, fifth place.
- That is terrific.
- Fifth place, honey, is terrific.
- I know.
I was so close, though.
- That is so cool.
- I can't believe it.
- Out of how many people?
- Like, 150 or something.
- He got fifth place out of 150.
Just being there, you did an excellent job.
- You did a fabulous job just going and participating.
- I was so confused that our family didn't want to acknowledge what had happened.
I hand Sam the camera and kind of crash the party.
- You've probably heard from Sam his-- - No, really, we haven't heard-- - No?
I heard--did-- OK, well-- - I've talked to everybody, haven't I?
- Well-- - Obviously not.
- I got involved with this whole thing, because, like, everything just felt so heavy around Jois.
It was just like-- you say Jois' name, and it just, like, drops like lead.
It's just, like, what?
You know, it's such a-- such a, like, sensitive thing.
So I--I don't know.
I felt uncomfortable about that, and I think whenever I feel uncomfortable about something, I usually like to do something about it.
So... it kind of came down to Sam.
And just kept asking him, "Do you really want to do this, Sam?"
And he did.
Damn, I want to talk right now, but, like, I can't talk because my voice is gonna crack up.
So--um, I think that's like-- - We understand what you're going through.
- Well, it's one of the bravest things that I think I've ever seen anyone do.
- It was very brave without knowing the consequences or anything.
Well, I think that this was an amazing, amazing odyssey.
- I know.
- The strange thing is it seems like everyone would rather not talk about it, like before.
[soft dramatic music] And I still don't understand how Jois was able to just leave.
- I knew that, for the most part, the boys would be OK.
I knew this was painful, but I felt like I just didn't want to drive them down this hole.
♪ ♪ I got on a train, which is very romantic, right?
Get on the train.
And I got down to Southern California, and I felt such a release.
It was like walking through a portal, and I had gone through difficult transitions before, and I was simply not up for another one, and I had to do it my way this time.
♪ ♪ - My brothers seemed happy with the outcome and were doing really well.
[bright music] Jared seemed to completely turn around.
♪ ♪ - Let me bring up a super senior, Jared Harkness.
[cheers and applause] - Hi, everybody.
High school's been a bitch... [laughter] But I pushed my way through, and here I am, and I probably couldn't have done it without the help of a lot of people.
First of all, my family, the Harknesses.
- I'm proud to be a Harkness.
And I hope you guys are proud that I am one.
[cheers and applause] And to the graduating class of 2003, rock and roll.
[cheers and applause] ♪ ♪ - Like a shark in the ocean, Sam Harkness ain't joking.
When I jump in the air, I cast a shadow of darkness.
I'm still playing fair.
It's called the eclipse of Harkness.
♪ ♪ - Sam was overflowing with confidence, excelling at sports, even getting picked for Team USA and winning the world championships for Ultimate Frisbee.
♪ ♪ This all seemed to bring Sam and Jared back to being close again.
♪ ♪ It felt like Jois was really trying now.
She even invited Jared to come down and live with her.
- I said, "Jared, do you want come see us?
"You can look for a job, "and we'll see about getting your driver's license too.
And then, while we're at that, you may as well go to school."
♪ ♪ - Do you think that this is helping to mend anything that-- you know, that had happened before?
OK. Well, you can use that word.
I think it's--it's just another development from it.
What do you think, Jared?
Is "mend" a good word?
- OK. - OK. We can agree on "mend."
I mean, I'm not in a position to say... mend and say, "Yes, that's a good word," because I'm not the one being mended.
[Smog's "Rock Bottom Riser"] I think when you use terms like "mend" and "healing," it's isolating events.
And I realize that I don't have any say over this, but I guess I prefer to think of it as just a process, more painful for some than others, and that, if you think of it in terms of mending and healing, it's giving it more of an eternal sense than it deserves.
- The fracture you actually sustained, you can see it right here in the scapula.
- I have no right arm because I am now mortal, as I have discovered.
Used to think my bones were made of rubber.
[mellow acoustic music] - ♪ I love my mother ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I love my father ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I love my sisters too ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ I am a rock bottom riser ♪ ♪ ♪ - I've always admired how Sam can get right back up... ♪ ♪ - ♪ And I owe it all to you ♪ - But it's almost like he's too resilient.
- ♪ I am a rock bottom riser ♪ ♪ ♪ - I don't think she needed to leave you guys in that way.
- I mean, you're not alone in thinking that.
- I think that there's no good reason, and she shut off her family, and I don't think that you should even believe that she did the right thing 'cause she didn't.
- Well, I don't think any good can come from me believing she did the wrong thing.
Whereas I think there's a lot to gain from me trusting her still.
♪ ♪ - Don't you feel a little bit like you wanna know why?
- The trip wasn't to find out, like, why I was left.
There was a problem.
My mom was gone.
You came, and we solved it.
That's what matters to me.
The problem is gone pretty much.
♪ ♪ ♪ I am a rock bottom ri-- ♪ - So when we set out to find your mom, what were you hoping to accomplish?
- I think I had a kind of a fantasy in mind of what was going to happen.
I don't think I actually cared that much for a relationship with my mom.
At that point, I was, like, fairly independent, and I didn't really think it through to be honest, like, emotionally how I'd feel about it or what it would do to me.
- Did you get what you wanted?
- If you were to ask me, like, right after the trip, did I get what I wanted, I would've said yes.
But now, asking myself in, like, my late 20s, no.
Even finding her, like, the connection is still a little severed.
Later on in my adult life, I kind of found out that I was both concerned with myself being capable of abandoning somebody and also concerned about being abandoned by more people.
And then, realizing that I had that capability, I was like, "Oh, no."
Like, I can't just, like, shut somebody out.
[somber music] ♪ ♪ - In just a few weeks, Jois will be coming up to Seattle to see Sam and all of us together for the first time since she left.
So you're feeling a little nervous?
- [exhales] I'm worried that-- that this trip, I am going to really, like, enjoy being around her 'cause she's fun, and I like her a lot.
She's great, but she doesn't treat me like a son.
I think I would just want my mom to want to spend as much time as, like, our dad wants to spend with me and-- and you and Jared.
Like he's so invested.
He, like, drives around the city looking for me sometimes, when I'm at, like, practice and stuff, which is crazy.
He has no idea what field we're at practicing, but he'll just go out 'cause he wants to come see me.
That kind of, like, wanting to be around your kids, I think is supposed to be the norm.
[soft dramatic music] ♪ ♪ - Jois meets us for breakfast, and things are relaxed and comfortable.
♪ ♪ Then Jois suggests we go see our dad.
♪ ♪ Our family's always just dropped in on each other... ♪ ♪ But he hasn't seen her in 12 years, and he never remarried after their divorce.
♪ ♪ - Why?
- I don't know.
He probably is awake.
♪ ♪ [knocks] - Would've been a mercy.
No one's recording.
- Come on in.
- We ambushed you.
- Hey, Dad.
- Oh, God.
- I'm just get-- I'm getting going.
What time is it?
- We just had breakfast.
We decided to come by.
- Oh, come on.
- [laughs] - Hi.
- I just got out of bed.
- Sorry, we-- - Let me get some-- let me get some clothes on.
- Oh, you're fine.
- It's been a long time.
- He looked at me.
He had me--he was genuinely-- - Well, I'm sure he's in shock.
He hasn't seen you in a long, long time.
This is a lot.
This is wacky, man.
This is so weird.
- Oh, how great.
- This is Ned's wedding.
- Jois, I did not recognize you.
- I know you didn't.
- How did this happen?
- How did this all come about?
- How did this happen?
- It was very organic.
- We had breakfast, and we were sitting there talking, and I suggested we come over here.
- What in the--what happened here in this house right now?
[laughs] - Just what you're seeing.
- It's not--it's-- it's--is this--is this some kind of fiction going on here?
It did occur to us for a minute that you'd be really, really surprised.
- [laughs] - For a minute, you thought it would surprise me.
That's an understatement.
So, Jois, you came up here to see the kids.
Is that right?
- Yeah, yeah.
Yeah, that way.
It's--it's not--it hasn't been easy to get away.
So we--we found a space and the weather to do it.
So I'm up here now, yeah.
- Oh, hi, Mom.
You ready for a little surprise?
Reed's here... Jois is here, and Sam.
Yeah, and I thought I'd come over with this entourage here.
Well, I don't know.
It's--it's--it's-- it's a nice easy, easy flow conversation.
[laughter] ♪ ♪ - All right.
I don't believe it.
♪ ♪ Come on in and sit down, honey.
Oh, my goodness.
This has been a-- - Surprise.
Trick or treat.
- I need to put on some coffee or do something.
[laughter] For the first time in my life, I'm unprepared with a cookie, even.
Isn't that terrible?
I can't believe it.
Why am I being--?
[laughs] - What?
- What is this business here?
- Oh, you know Reed.
It's attached to him.
It's his body part.
- [laughs] - I made peace with that a long time ago.
- Oh, I guess you'd have to.
And how's everything going with you down south?
- Well, well.
- That's Ed's grandson, my grandson.
- Oh, my God.
- That's his son, David.
And that's Caden.
- Oh, how cute.
Do they live around there any place?
- They live down in Southern California.
- Oh, they do.
- Hey, Peter.
- Hi, Peter.
- For goodness sakes.
- Did you fly over on the wind?
Oh, I hope I didn't interrupt your day.
- No, I thought you were going to Harry's.
- Have you been to-- - Oh, yeah.
We were gonna-- I thought you'd go with us.
- My dad calls more family members to see if they want to come join us.
- What's up?
- Well, I think that they are just a little too much blindsided by this whole thing.
And they're-- - I am just looking at this from a totally different perspective, I guess.
It's like--it's like-- I guess 'cause I've been spending so much time with Reed and the boys, that it's like I'm already immersed.
So I don't see it as being a big deal.
But-- - Right.
♪ ♪ - We all head over to see Jared at the coffee shop he just opened.
He and Jois are still on good terms and in regular contact.
♪ ♪ - What was that like, seeing Jois after all these years?
- I was really missing her, and she looked so good.
- It was pretty freakish to me.
Freak-- - Pretty amazing.
I'm really glad that she came up.
- Little bit uneasy feeling for me.
I have to tell you the truth.
- How did you feel?
- I--I just was really, really glad to--to break that long period of time that we haven't seen each other.
♪ ♪ - What'd you think about today?
- I think I'm gonna kind of just put off processing it for a while.
What just made her ready to, like, talk to my dad?
And what made her ready to talk to grandma and these strange things?
Like, Mom being in Grandma's house was something that was, like, long in the past.
And that's something that, like, I had come to accept that, like, my mom would never be in that house again.
And then, my dad in the same room.
It's like things that have just-- have not happened for longer than a decade, probably 15 years.
I'm still in, like, the what the [bleep] just happened?
I'm not quite into, like, oh, man, Mom's really changed and, like, is making a solid effort to, like, build a relationship with me and my brothers.
And, you know, I'm still kind of in, like, what the hell?
Those look like stripes to you?
My marker's about to die.
I just gotta get, like, four more stripes.
Four more stripes, four more stripes.
Grab the-- - Wait, let me out!
- You almost forgot everything.
- Yes, let's leave.
♪ ♪ - Jois still lives in the same house where we found her with her husband, Ed, the professor.
This is a tree.
♪ ♪ So birth.
- My mother had me with her until I was about 18 months old.
It was in a rural part of Japan.
She had a half-Caucasian child, which was a big no-no.
In fact, she would've been ostracized by her family.
She would've been on her own.
She would not have been accepted back into the family with this child, half-white child.
So she needed to find a place for me.
And, you know, 18 months, that's a long time to have a kid and then give them up.
So it must've been a decision that she didn't make lightly.
♪ ♪ I have these memories of-- of, like, the smell of, like, torches or creosote lamps at night.
I remember being carried around and my face rubbing against the fabric of whatever it was she was wearing.
I can remember what it felt like.
And, for some reason, we-- we seemed to be out at night a lot.
I kind of wonder if that's when she felt safe to have me out.
She couldn't take me out in the daylight.
♪ ♪ I wanted to know if I still had roots in Japan, and so, I did a little bit of research, and it turned out that my mother married someone in '62, came to the United States in '63, and became a citizen in '69 in Chicago.
She's this blank.
I have no idea what she looks like.
I know that she's close to 80 now, but I really don't have an impulse to look them up.
I have no idea what her family knows about her past.
And so, it doesn't seem fair to intrude on that.
She did what she could, and it's--it's OK.
It's really OK. ♪ ♪ There is no way I could ever tell her about my childhood.
♪ ♪ It just would be too awful.
♪ ♪ - What do you remember about that transition from adoption?
Every day was fear.
I was afraid of water.
I was afraid of rain.
I was afraid of riding in a car.
I was afraid of everything.
♪ ♪ My mother and I never got along.
I was supposed to be this-- this grateful, little oriental thing, like something they picked up at the souvenir shop.
I was supposed to be good, and I was terrible.
I was awful.
So we were always at odds.
And I always knew I was adopted from the very beginning.
I always knew that I was there under very tenuous circumstances, like I could get sent back any minute.
I was always reminded that they had the option of sending me back, you know, to go eat fish heads and rice back at the orphanage, and they leveraged it, all through my childhood.
♪ ♪ - Is there anything that you regret about the way that you raised Jois?
♪ ♪ - No.
I raised my-- all my kids the same way.
♪ ♪ So we never looked on her as adopted.
I mean, she was just one of the kids.
- She was one of the kids.
- I don't think she ever went into much of her personal life when-- - Yeah, she was very private.
When we were talking or anything like that.
- I don't tell my mother my deep dark secrets or anybody else.
I don't tell anybody, and that's the way our family is.
None of us.
We deal with our-- - Deal with your problems yourself.
The world doesn't need to know.
- Nobody needs to know about it.
♪ ♪ - Early memories are, for the most part, very unpleasant.
Endless standing in the corner, always being punished for this or that.
I just can't remember a lot of warmth or love or acceptance.
♪ ♪ In a sense, that child was kind of destroyed, and I'm like this ghost.
♪ ♪ And I think that that's one of the things that people don't understand about abuse is that you can damage people beyond repair.
It's not like dramas on television where, oh, there's a happy ending when the person finally gets treated decently by nice people.
It's like, no.
That doesn't fix it, not always.
♪ ♪ I disassociate myself from that little girl, that little helpless kid.
♪ ♪ - I do feel emotionally crippled.
I feel like I don't feel things the same way a lot of other people do.
♪ ♪ There are times when I can just, like, shut out certain emotions.
And I don't know.
I think it's a strength and a weakness.
- So are you ready to talk about your mom?
- [laughs] Yeah, sure.
It's just a scary concept to think, like, to just completely open up to a person that, like, did that to me.
And really damaged the way I value myself.
Some of my mom's habits, I had picked up on.
She, like, wasn't very responsible with other people's feelings.
And I--I was definitely the same way for a long time.
I could be, like, doing what my mom did to people, and, like, that would be awful.
A lot of it's just, like, being aware of, like, the cycle you might be getting involved in.
And, like, I'm the one to make a decision to step out of it, right?
♪ ♪ I think a big turning point, or kind of like a bottom for me, was a pretty major breakup with a girlfriend.
It felt like self-sabotage, like I want to ruin this before it goes bad, like I want to be a step ahead and really isolated myself.
Kind of, like, fell into this depression for a bit, and I was drinking a lot too.
And then, I went to therapy.
I was sober for, like, a year.
And that's when I kind of just dug up a lot of stuff about just my own value and, like, what happened with my mom.
♪ ♪ Now, like, I have to start, like, leaning into that discomfort, or I'm going to be, like, emotionally stunted my whole life.
I don't want that.
♪ ♪ - So it seems like you guys have never really talked about your mom leaving together.
Like, I was wondering why that is.
- I feel like we have, but it's-- maybe I'm just making that up.
- I think Jared was, like, spiking up and down from things 'cause you were actually, like, dealing with it.
Yeah, I guess so.
- As an adult, like, that's what I learned was, like, I think I saw that, younger, as, like, a weakness of yours, when, now, I've come to realize like, oh, you were actually just, like, much more emotionally, like, competent and dealing with it, and I chose to ignore it and, like, stay very, like, guarded and protected by it.
♪ ♪ - I feel like we're gonna get stuck up here.
- You have to count to ten.
- OK. One, two... - Go, go, go.
- Three, four... - No.
Come back, come back, come back.
[laughter] - Sam has been with his partner Bailey for the past five years.
Every Monday, they take care of Bailey's niece, Nina.
- Nice, Nina.
♪ ♪ And then bounce.
- Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy.
- [laughs] - I like coming to playgrounds with her.
We had a good--a solid hot lava monster game going.
- It was too tough of a course, though.
- Too tough of a course.
It was hard.
It's hard as a hot lava monster.
[laughs] - Yeah.
- Do you guys ever talk about having kids?
I started the question of fostering or adopting.
- I mean, I honestly had never even, like, considered that until you brought it up, but I think we're like-- we, like, plan on doing that.
- [child speaking indistinctly] - Yeah.
Hey, do you wanna race me up the top of this slide?
- Which one?
- This one.
- I think I have a sense for, like, nurturing.
I like it.
I enjoy it.
I think that's, like, why I worked with young people a long time too, like coaching.
I think there's also just, in my family, there's, like, a lot of, like, nurturing in the family.
Like, lots of teachers.
My dad, I think, was really big on raising a family.
♪ ♪ - Over the last decade, Sam's career has been centered on youth social work.
♪ ♪ - I think relationship building is, like, the most important thing you can be doing with young people experiencing homelessness, getting out to them and having conversations.
So many adults have wronged them forever and ever and ever and ever, and you're just... one of those adults too.
♪ ♪ I was thinking a little bit about how all my work revolves around helping those that, like, need a lot of help and didn't have easy access to help.
Just, you know, whenever I have problems, I think I try to, like, fix other people's problems, and that's a way that I can kind of focus on not handling my own [bleep].
♪ ♪ I asked if, because of all the trips to the Third Beach, have you ever felt like you were like a professional boulder jumper?
Because I definitely felt like that growing up.
Like, I could just run on driftwood and boulders and never fall.
♪ ♪ I don't think that anymore.
I'll definitely fall.
♪ ♪ Actually, I don't think I'd fall, ever.
♪ ♪ All right.
What questions are you gonna ask me?
- What's happening for you right now?
- With my mom?
- Well, she was, like, angry with me, because I, like-- I hadn't, like, responded to her messages for, like, a while or something.
And it was--I hadn't.
But she was just saying some, like, pretty harsh things that felt like this side of her that was like only really shown to me.
- I was upset with him because I never heard from him.
I never got acknowledgments for gifts that I had sent, never heard from him on holidays.
Christmas, wouldn't hear from-- hadn't heard from him on Christmas for, like, two years in a row.
And I thought, "OK, you can at least do that.
"You can at least go through the motions.
"It's a little dance that we do, that people do to make each other feel better."
So I felt like he was punishing me for some reason, and I let him know that.
- I get an email from my mom that's basically just, like, calling me out.
Like, you've always been ungrateful.
Like, what did I ever do to deserve this kind of treatment and that I had, like, never, like, forgave her for her leaving, like things like that.
So I respond apologizing that I had hurt her, and then, she went off again responding just like, "You're trying to, like, social work me."
And that's kind of like what I brought to Jared.
And I was like, has this ever happened to you?
And he's like, "No, I've never seen that."
And I was like, "Has she ever talked to you like that before?"
And he was like, "No."
And that felt super isolating.
It was just like, I'm the only one experiencing this.
It really feels like I'm the reminder of her mistakes.
I'm the only one that's, like, called her out and tried to hold her accountable to it.
♪ ♪ - It just gets kind of hard to talk about.
And I have to-- gotta tell you that.
There were times when I felt that I was verbally abused, little bit of flying off the handle directed right at me.
And I didn't know when that might happen.
- I know what it's like to lash out.
Randy's felt it.
- Randy knows.
You've gone through it.
- Under siege.
- I--I know that-- I know that behavior and that state of mind.
- We were talking about another individual who was narcissistic.
She turned to me and she said, "That's me."
- That's me.
I know it.
- Well, I've got a book I want you to read.
Have you heard about it, "The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists"?
In this book, it's almost something you can't throw off and get rid of.
It's-- it's a have-to-win style.
And so, I don't think that's where you are.
- I don't know necessarily that it's have to win as much as you need to en-- you need people to engage with you.
And the only way you know how to do it is at this one level.
- Oh, yeah.
- And--and-- and I was telling Reed, it's like you get into this spiral, like, you know, like, the Tasmanian Devil.
- And--and you just whip-- get whipped up and you can't get out of it.
It's like-- you know, it's like your toddlers that have temper tantrums and they can't get out of it.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah.
- They can't stop.
That is-- - Until you've got some catharsis, and it usually means hurting somebody or hurting yourself.
- You know?
But--but that's what stops it.
- I feel pressure to be like, "Get over it."
But I don't have to get over something to build a relationship with my mom.
I can still be like, this is something you did.
Let's work on our relationship still.
I think it's just, like, super complicated, even to talk to Bailey about, like, the relationship I want with my mom, like, still wanting a relationship.
And, like, I'm learning how to engage and disengage if needed, set boundaries and all that.
Me, Jared, and Bailey went down to Jacksonville for Thanksgiving dinner, and I think there was, like, a sense that I didn't want to spend too much time down there, and I don't think she really wanted to, like, have us spend a ton of time down there either.
Like, this is about as much as we can, like, handle of each other right now, and that's OK.
So, you know, it was, like, one night, and then we left the next day.
Yeah, which is fine.
- I have no ill will about her at all.
I just feel like maybe we-- we fuss and stew around about people and what they should look like and what they should do and how they should act and what kind of parents they are.
The individual happiness has gotta have great importance for every individual, and you don't just stick around with something that you hate, and I think that's where she was.
♪ ♪ How long can you hold a grudge anyhow?
It's not good for you.
♪ ♪ I think, ultimately, she did the right thing for herself.
And she-- I think she's enjoying taking care of-- of her husband and her house and her garden.
And I think that it's what Jois was looking for.
You don't know what goes on in other people.
You have no idea what people are thinking or what their deep thoughts are about things.
They're not gonna reveal that to you.
Jois sure didn't.
♪ ♪ - When we started this, all Sam wanted was to get his mom back.
Did we ever get her back?
I don't know.
We may try to change things, but we end up in the same place.
We're playing our scenes over and over, generation to generation.
♪ ♪ Sometimes maybe we can catch a glimpse of the cycle we're in and see for a moment how everyone is playing out their own version of a story that came before.
♪ ♪ One thing I keep going back to is how I just wanna hang out with my little brother like we used to, no more questions.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ - ♪ Come rain, come rain ♪ ♪ Come down and wash us away ♪ ♪ Come rain, come rain ♪ ♪ Come down and wash us away ♪ ♪ Come rain, come rain ♪ ♪ Come down and wash us away ♪ ♪ Come rain, come rain ♪ ♪ Come down and wash us away ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Wash us away ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ Wash us away ♪ ♪ ♪ - ♪ If this journey takes us forever ♪ ♪ I will always stay by your side ♪ ♪ I will never ever remember ♪ ♪ Oh, the day you told a crazy lie ♪ ♪ So don't worry ♪ ♪ Put your head on my lap ♪ ♪ We'll spend the morning here ♪ ♪ If this journey takes us forever ♪ [upbeat music] ♪ ♪