Jocelyn Quiambao, a recently retired Guam teacher, never expected she would get the one thing she really wished for on her 55th birthday.
"My husband asked me, 'What do you want for your birthday?' and I told him I really don't want anything, I just want PJ – we call him PJ – to be home," she told The Guam Daily Post on Wednesday.
Her son, Peter John Quiambao Jr., moved to San Francisco three years ago and the chance of him coming home during the COVID-19 pandemic was unlikely at best.
PJ Quiambao was in a good groove in California, finding success as a sales marketing video producer at the video game livestreaming company Twitch, and enjoying an active social life in a bustling city.
"Then, like for everyone else, life totally changed when the pandemic started," he said.
The extrovert who thrives on connecting with people suddenly found himself stuck in his studio apartment. Alone. For months.
"To go from infinite social interaction to zero was the hardest thing," he said, and to make matters worse, his family was thousands of miles away.
"What's going to happen to my parents all the way in Guam?" he asked himself.
For Jocelyn Quiambao, her son's pain was her own.
"He said, 'I'm all alone,' and he has never said that. He has always been so jolly. For him to say those three words, 'I'm all alone,' it really hit me. It hit me so hard," she said.
Coming up with the plan
But her son was hatching a plan that would serve as a balm for both mother and son.
"I got the idea to surprise my mom when all of the science and data was showing it was safe to travel and the airline industry was taking it seriously," PJ Quiambao said.
The "icing on the cake," he said, came when testing for the virus became more easily accessible in both San Francisco and Guam.
"The process that I came up with to come here safely was to get tested in San Francisco, so I know I'm not bringing it from San Francisco to Guam, quarantine by myself and get tested on Guam so I know I didn't catch it on the airplane, and then if both those thing came out negative, surprise my mom," explained PJ Quiambao.
To make sure his mom did not catch on that he was actually on island in quarantine, he even took the extra step of posting previously taken photos in California to his Instagram account.
"I really didn't have any clue that he was going to come home," Jocelyn Quiambao said.
'Gee, what a blessing!'
And when, at last, the door opened and she saw her son standing there, for a moment she didn't know quite how to react.
"Actually, I was really afraid to hug him. I didn't know if I should go near him because what if I catch it or what if I have it and he catches it," she said.
When he told her it was OK, that he had been tested, then came the hugs. And the tears.
"I am just thankful that he is OK," Jocelyn Quiambao said.
Even more icing on the proverbial birthday cake is that her son will be able to work from home and stay longer than he usually can.
"To have him for 2-1/2 months – gee, what a blessing!" she said.
'Something I wanted to share'
Mom and son sat side by side on the lanai at their home in Dededo on Wednesday, using the same words to describe one another – "responsible," "loving" – with tears welling again (hers) as they shared the unique homecoming story.
It's a story PJ Quiambao also captured in a video posted on TikTok, which has already drawn an impressive number of views.
"It's the uplifting news you kind of need in these crazy times right now," he said. "It's something I wanted to share with the world."
"We are very close," his mom added.
And they are, now, in both senses of the word.