His Brother's Keeper
On this warm April afternoon, Ryan Lane is nervous as he drives north on Interstate 5, bound for the Ball Road exit, headed for Anaheim’s Greyhound bus station. Wouldn’t you be if you were on your way to your first face-to-face meeting with your half-brother?
Ryan, a 20-year-old Costa Mesa college student, spoke to 22-year-old Ron Lane for the first time, on the phone, in January.
For the next five days, Ryan will have something he has never had before: a roommate. Ron’s mother, Deena, left his biological father, also named Ronald Lane, shortly after their son was born. The elder Lane died while his second son, Ryan, was still in the womb of his mother, Jeanne Rice.
Ron knew as a young boy he had a half-brother somewhere out in the world, but he never felt a burning urge to find him.
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Ryan, for his part, desperately wanted to locate his sibling ever since being told about him, also as a youngster.
And now, thanks to Ryan’s noodling on the Internet and some direct hits on MySpace, Ron will soon be pulling up on a bus that departed Kingman, Arizona, overnight.
This is actually Ryan’s birthday gift. For the past couple of months, a surprise visit was planned by Ron and Ryan’s mother, Rice, whose photographs have appeared everywhere from OC Weekly to Rolling Stone.
Ron cleared his work schedule in Kingman and insisted on paying the bus fare to Orange County. That a brother he has never met is coming to celebrate Ryan’s birthday is, according to the birthday boy, “awesome.”
“I didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” he says, his eyes still glued to the road. “I thought maybe this summer.”
The anticipation is eating at him. The tiny Anaheim Avenue station is just up ahead.
“I don’t know what I’ll do when I see him,” Ryan says.
* * *
The rise in social networking in recent years has led to a boom in similar sibling encounters and reunions of long-lost loved ones.
Terri Fuller of Layton, Utah, created a MySpace page to announce she was looking for her son, whom she had given up for adoption three decades ago. In January 2009, Rustin Hawve, who lived hundreds of miles away, sent Fuller a message saying he believed he was her biological son. They reunited three months later.
In July of that same year, brothers John Mellinger of Spokane, Washington, and Dan Newburn of Las Vegas, Nevada, reunited after having separated 70 years before. They found one another through Facebook.
Bruce Marler, a domain-industry entrepreneur, discovered Rob Monster, CEO of Epik.com, was his long-lost sibling in April, after their respective blog entries were stacked atop one another’s on Domaining.com, a popular aggregator of blogs related to the domain industry. They are now planning projects together.
April Berger of Erie, Colorado, thought someone was playing an April Fool’s joke on her last month when she received a Facebook message that read, “Is that you, sis? If so, it’s your little bro.” It was her 13-year-old brother, Jesse, whom she had not seen since their mother was killed by a drunken driver seven years before. For most of those years, they lived in the same Colorado city without knowing it.
A meeting very similar to that of the Lane brothers happened in February, when half-sisters Elizabeth Delmonico and Sheri Drucker, who had been separated for two decades, reunited in Castle Rock, Colorado, thanks to a Facebook query. They had lived 20 minutes apart for much of their lives.
Ron and Ryan lived less than an hour away from one another for most of their lives. Ryan was raised in Costa Mesa and attended high school there; Ron spent his first 18 years in Whittier, moved to Rancho Cucamonga for a year and has been in Kingman for the past four years.
* * *
Sitting in his car, parked in front of the Greyhound station, Ryan says of the impending meeting, “It definitely couldn’t come at a worse time, or the greatest time.”
He explains it’s test week at Orange Coast College, a crucial time as he prepares to transfer to a four-year university’s film school. He’s also on the college’s successful crew team, which is preparing for the year’s biggest race, the Newport Regatta. And he has just started a new job, where the boss already told him not to bother coming back if he misses any shifts.
Despite the stress, he says of meeting Ron, “I’m glad we are not prolonging it. I’m still young. We can still do so much together. I’d rather we found each other now than later.”
He’s glad they found each other at all because, as far as Rice and the Lane family were concerned, Ron and Deena disappeared after she left the boy’s father. The search for them ever since has been a Rice and Lane family effort, especially by Ryan and Ron’s Aunt Stefani, who in recent years tried without luck sending messages through Facebook and Classmates.com that were never answered—or perhaps never even received.
All they had to go on was that the boy, born Ronald, went by “RJ.” RJ had received death benefits from their late father through Social Security, just like Ryan; Rice and the Lanes asked the federal agency to help locate Ron, but nothing ever came of it.
Ryan has done his own Internet snooping over the years, and this past January, he zeroed in on a Kingman security officer he believed might be Ron’s current stepfather. He was. That led Ryan to Deena’s MySpace page, the discovery that “RJ” was now Ronald Joseph Lane and, finally, Ron’s MySpace page.
Ryan sent Ron a message saying hello, but he did not mention their common father. When a return message did not come back right away, Ryan didn’t know what to think.
“What if they tell us to leave them alone?” he remembers thinking. “That, fortunately, was not the case.”
A friend request from Ron was waiting in Ryan’s MySpace inbox the next day. Included was this message: “Call me.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Ryan says.
* * *
The bus is about to pull in, and Ryan is talking about the Lane brothers’ first phone conversation. They yakked for two hours and discovered they had a lot in common—like similar, sarcastic senses of humor—and a lot not in common.
Ryan is an athlete and driven community-college student preparing to transfer to a four-year university.
Ron dropped out of high school and is content working at a media store he says is frequented by meth-heads and hanging out with his closest friends making fun of the customers. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in flamboyance.
That is evident as the brothers lock eyes for the first time at the bus station. Ron’s hair, which is usually blond like Ryan’s, is dyed candy-apple red. A bright-blue ball pierces his tongue. He is not giving off the jock vibe—indeed, just the opposite.
Their first embrace is as awkward as you’d expect from two strangers being watched by another stranger with a notepad.
They are also self-conscious about Rice shooting every moment of it, with the noise from her camera’s automatic winder leading fellow bus-station denizens to falsely believe they are in the presence of celebrities. Her boyfriend, Shane Frederickson, is also capturing every moment on a Flip video camera.
By the time everyone piles into cars for the ride back to Costa Mesa, tears are streaming down Rice’s face.
She’s dreamed about this for a very long time.
* * *
With Ryan back behind the wheel, now going southbound on the 5, Ron mentions how when he was 8, his mother told him he had a brother; she had just split up with the man Ron had believed was his natural father.
He holds no animosity toward Deena for this, saying a young boy probably would not have understood the nuances between a father and stepfather anyway.
Ron calls the way he learned about Ryan reaching out to him “really weird—and funny.”
Deena is a medical biller at Kingman Regional Medical Center, and she called Ron from work one day in January, after Ryan had e-mailed her.
“She started talking about my brother, something we had not discussed for quite some time, but she was speaking in code, trying not to air her personal business at work,” Ron recalls. “And I didn’t know what she was talking about.”
The next day, they met for lunch, and she showed him a printout of Ryan’s e-mail; Ron then went to a computer to request Ryan as a MySpace friend.
“My mom is genuinely happy for me,” he says, noting that she has also invited Ryan to stay with them in Kingman.
“The whole thing has been intense,” Ron says as Ryan merges onto the 55. “We just kind of went from zero to 60.”
He says of Ryan, “Nothing against him, but this was something that was not bothering me. It was not nagging at me. I was completely fine. I guess I thought, ‘If it happens, it happens.’ But once it did happen, I would not change a thing.”
* * *
On the eve of his return to Kingman, Ron is reflecting on what he calls his “mini-vacation.”
In between sips of coffee under an umbrella at the South Coast Plaza Borders store, he recalled the first night’s small, informal reunion with Ronald Lane Sr.’s side of the family—including Aunt Stefani—at Boomers in Irvine.
The following days included watching the Newport Regatta and one of Ryan’s early-morning crew practices; doing some charity work together; and visiting Disneyland, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and—Ron’s highlight—South Coast Plaza.
All packed into five short days.
“It’s been very surreal,” he says.
Sitting next to him, Ryan mentions how he had work and school during most of their short time together. In fact, he left Disneyland to man a shift, and then returned to the theme park to catch up with his brother.
For years, when people would ask Ryan if he had any siblings, he would just answer no because explaining the truth would take too long.
“So, when I told friends about finding Ron, they’d say, ‘I thought you didn’t have any siblings.’ And I’d have to tell them the whole story,” he says. “But they are all super-excited.”
That’s exactly how Ron describes the reaction of his friends in Kingman.
“It’s like a reality-television type of thing,” he says. “Everyone is so happy for me, happy for the whole situation. My best friend Keight added Ryan as a friend on MySpace.”
He now believes being with his brother “was meant to be.”
“It’s like something clicked inside me,” Ron says. “I might have been okay not knowing him, but I do not want to go back to the way it was.”
The highlight for Rice was a quiet moment, when she sneaked a peek into Ryan’s room while he was doing homework and Ron was snoozing away on the bed.
“I had a big smile on my face, and Ryan looked up and caught sight of me, and he just knew,” Rice says. “We never thought this would happen. Ryan wanted it so bad. I felt like this piece of the puzzle was missing. It felt like our family came together, and it was definitely meant to be.”
* * *
Ryan thought he would be working as Rice and Frederickson dropped Ron off at the bus station for the return trip to Kingman. But he unexpectedly got off early, joined his brother for one last Mexican-food meal and got to go to the station to say goodbye.
But that is not our brotherly tale’s final twist. This is: Two years before Deena gave birth to Ron, she had a girl with Ron and Ryan’s father. That baby was put up for adoption.
Ron and Ryan are talking about looking for her.
“Definitely, at some point,” Ryan says, “that will be something we will pursue.”
Keep those MySpace accounts current, boys.
Click here for the slideshow of Ryan and Ron Lane's time together.
This article was published in print as "Found In Space: For his 20th birthday, Ryan Lane got a present he’d been wanting his whole life: Ron Lane."
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