Blood And Water
I sit across the from her as we make small talk in her Ikea outfitted living room. “Excuse the mess.” she says, looking around at the toys that line the room bordered by bookshelves filled with many of the same books I have at home. Conversation comes easily enough, which is surprising since both of us are introverts and small talk is not our forte. I try not to stare, but it’s hard. I see so much of myself in her and yet we are strikingly different. It’s small things, like the way she smiles and how she walks. I only met her a year ago, but it feels comfortable and familiar being with her.
Many years ago I had found her in a phone directory and called her, out of the blue, announcing that I was her sister. A bastard child abandoned by our father, looking for answers. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to get that call. I honestly don’t know what I would have done, if the shoe was on the other foot. It’s the kind of thing made for Jerry Springer, but neither one of us really fit that profile. She must have been stunned, but not surprised. Her connection with our father was better than mine, for sure, but nevertheless strained. In the very beginning, we exchanged emails. Hers were detailed but sterile while mine bordered on over-sharing. She gave me the low down, basic family history of our dad’s side of the family, and straightforward facts about her life. Truth is, she is a much more reserved than I am, but very generous with her information, considering the circumstances. I wanted a connection with her, but knew that it could not be forced, so I kind of let it go. She had given me many of the answers I had been looking for about our dad’s family and that seemed to be the end of it.
I had known about her my whole life. My mom had told me that she had been around a few times when my mom was dating our dad. When my mom found out she was pregnant with me, my dad wanted her to have an abortion. When she wouldn’t comply, the relationship ended and he exited the picture permanently. He never wanted anything to do with me, which for a very long time was a source of pain in my life, but as I grew older I began to understand that it had nothing to do with me. I don’t tell this part of the story as a way to crucify him or make him look like a bad guy. He made the best decision he could make at the time, given his own circumstances. I have to believe that is true. He went on to have other children, whom he raised, loved and cared for. When you know better, or so they say. I met him for the first and only time when I was 30. I had just turned 30, in fact. I had emailed him and never received a response. I had told my mom that I was doing it and she was hesitantly supportive. I found out later that she had reached out to him, without me knowing, to ask for the one and only thing she ever asked from him. She asked him to meet me. I don’t know the particulars of what she said, but he ended up reaching out to me via email and we did meet. It was an awkward meeting over lunch, during which he talked about his children and their lives. A whole lifetime condensed to one hour. We exchanged a few emails back and forth after that, but eventually he quit responding. I found him on Facebook years later, and sent him a friend request. I don’t know if he blocked me or deactivated his account, but after the request was sent I couldn’t find him on the site any longer. I didn’t want or need him to be my dad, but I did hope that he would be in my life, perhaps be a grandfather to my son and make up for what he missed out on with me. I don’t really know why he made the decision that he did, but in the end, I have to accept it.
My sister, on the other hand, accepted my friend request and we began following each other’s lives. It was in this way that I got to know her, little by little. We would message each other from time to time, but I really never thought we would have a real relationship. We had talked in generality about possibly meeting some day, if she ever made it to my area or I to hers, but nothing ever came to fruition. When she had her first child, I remember being so incredibly happy for her and all at the same time sad that I would not be part of my niece’s life. In retrospect, I should have done more to show my interest in being a part of their lives, but I was afraid of the same rejection I had felt when my father didn’t want to continue a relationship with me. I just didn’t want to be hurt like that, so I kept a healthy distance.
Last year I was asked to work an event that was being put on in Atlanta. I remember thinking that I should reach out to her, since she lives in Atlanta, and try to connect. I ultimately decided not to, out of fear that she might not want to meet me. By the time the trip came around, I had pretty much pushed it out of my mind and treated it like any other trip for work. I posted something on Facebook about how beautiful the area was that I was staying in and very quickly received a message from my sister asking if I was in the area and telling me that she wanted to meet me! I was taken aback and overwhelmed with emotion. She and her family came out the next day to where I was working and we spent about an hour together. Even though it was a short visit, it was incredibly healing. She was so warm and welcoming. I always thought that it was only me who wanted a relationship, so it truly came as a surprise that she was excited to meet me. I left that next day with my heart overflowing with happiness at this new found connection. We spent a lot of time messaging each other after that, getting to know each other better. These messages were very different from the ones prior. Having met face-to-face, I think we were better able to connect on a personal level and began to share the details of our lives with one another. We have many shared interests and experiences which led me to think a lot about the whole nature verses nurture aspect of things. Having been raised completely differently and under very different circumstances, you would think we wouldn’t have much in common, but we do.
This last visit was really special. I carved out time specifically to be with her and her family while I was in town. I stayed with them in their home and got to know a little about what their daily lives are like. I cherished getting to spend time with my nieces and loved seeing their budding personalities. One evening, the oldest girl, who is 3, brought me a gift bag. Inside it was a gift to me, from my sister. A door hanger with a saying on it that I truly would have picked for myself and a tiny silver charm that read “sisters”. I tried hard not to completely erupt in to tears, so moved as I was by this gift. It was more than the gift, it was the thought behind it, or rather the fact that she really does think of me! As open-hearted as I have been about my situation, I somehow still had my guard up, just in case she changed her mind, but now I know that she won’t. She let me in to her world and welcomed me with open arms.
On the plane ride home, I kept flashing back to a particular moment. We were at a park, letting the girls play. My sister and I were swinging, as I imagine we might have when we were younger, if things had been different. Back and forth, higher and higher, both of us happy and carefree, looking up at the sky like children. We don’t force anything, she and I. We don’t talk much about our dad or what might have been. We just naturally fall in place, content just to be together. To see us, you might even think we grew up knowing each other and I think at some soul level, we do.