There’s a faded picture of us, with our backs to the camera, sitting on the banks of the river facing out. Both of us legs crossed, I’m looking slightly up toward her. My second-to-oldest sister has dark hair like mine. And, come to find out, she has a similar sense of humor. Sometimes, when I look at a current picture of her, it catches me off guard. I think it’s me for a moment (an older version of myself, mind you, but still…)
My memories with her and our oldest sister are mostly in photographs. I struggle to grasp at a couple of fleeting moments. When I was crying in the trailer. I couldn’t have been older than three. And she carried me, telling me it was going to be okay. And I believed her.
I wish we would have taken a thousand more pictures. They were my story and it has such a vast and gaping hole. Where our memories should have been.
Although our older brother came to live with us when I was six or seven, we were ostracized from our older sisters for years. There will be more on the story we were told as to why at a later time. The truth is, it doesn’t matter why.
We didn’t see our sisters for seventeen years.
A lot happens in that time. They both had three children. Marriages, divorces. Birthdays. Bad days. Exciting news. Movie nights. Road trips. New friends, old friends. It’s hard not to think of all we missed out on.
A few years ago I was helping my mom sort through paperwork that had been sitting in boxes in her house for ages. And I came across a letter that changed everything. I realized that the story we had been told was a lie.
I found letters and cards they had sent over the years. I was crushed. And furious.
And I wanted my sisters back.
My oldest sister had found me on Facebook, but I had been too nervous to actually meet with her in person. I was still too raw, too fragile. Now I was seeking them out.
Those first messages were so hard to write, but we wrote them. And finally, we set a date. The two of them, Tony and I, would meet for dinner.
My heart pounded as Tony and I drove up together. I checked my makeup a hundred times in the little visor mirror. I should have considered it would all be running down my cheeks within minutes anyway. We walked into the restaurant and finally met.
When I first saw them, all I could think was: they’re so beautiful! In my eyes, they just sparkle. We hugged and small talked and made our way to a table.
Pro tip: do not meet your siblings for the first time in a quaint, intimate Victorian restaurant. We were the loudest table by far. Crying and laughing. Swapping stories. More wine, please! There may or may not have been a breathalyzer involved.
We all did our best to navigate some truly uncharted waters that night and in the days to follow.
I was shocked at their memories of us. The stories they told. What I would come to realize later was that seeing them and hearing them doused out any flames of denial that I had fanned about the seriousness of the trauma we experienced. Some part of me always thought or hoped that I over exaggerated, that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Having their perspective of my early reality made it irrefutable. Undeniable. It was that bad. And I was born into it. A world where violence and instability were the norm.
I didn’t want to leave them that night. Or ever. I wanted to hold on to them for dear life. But eventually we realized we were in a quaint crowded restaurant with onlookers who must have wondered why four grown adults were bear hugging, crying, laughing, and then doing it all over again right there at the dinner table.
We left in separate cars that night. And since then, it’s been quite an experience to get to know each other. To spend some holidays together. To figure out how to be in relationship with each other in this way. It’s simply not the same. It’s not what it would have been if we grew up together. And I try to let go of my resentments for that over and over again.
One thing that I know I have out of it is another level of gratitude for them. At our first family gathering after we reunited – a birthday party for my niece – I remember a moment of unrestrained laughter with my oldest sister. I soaked up that moment with every cell of my being. There was a chance that I could have gone my whole life without hearing her laugh. And here I was, enjoying it, experiencing it, and cherishing it. Knowing just how sacred it was.
People always say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. We have the privilege of knowing what it’s like to get it back! And, although we have much to grieve and heal from, we are so lucky to have found each other once again.
Monica set up a dinner date with our two older sisters a few years back which filled me with mixed emotions. I hadn’t seen them for many years. Our dad had two daughters and a son from his previous marriage before he met our mom. I remember being quite young when one of them would babysit Monica and I. We would hop in her car, a Trans-am with the screaming chicken on the hood and run errands around town. Or was it a Phoenix? We would be at the laundromat or wherever, content in the care of someone who truly loved us at her young age. I have some faded memories of them visiting us when we lived in our trailer on the left side of nowhere in the country. In fact, I wonder where the hell they slept. That silver bullet of a trailer barely fit four of us, let alone seven if my brother was there as well.
I didn’t see much of my oldest sister after that because she was x’ed from our family for reasons I wouldn’t know or understand until I was much older. My dad would get drunk at times and mention that she was ‘just like her mother’ which he would say in a derogatory manner. For all I knew, she was the root of all of my dad’s problems. His own daughter. I learned later, that was not the case.
I do remember a couple of visits from our second oldest sister when she had her first baby in her teens. We had Christmas with her one time with the family, minus the oldest sibling, and had a fun time on an Indian reservation. I recall watching her husband run around outside in the snow with his toddler, my nephew, on his shoulders as they laughed and played. I wasn’t used to such interaction between a father and a son. My head tilted at the site of them, similar to a dog that hears a strange sound. That would be the last time that I would see that sister as well for many years. It wasn’t a choice if we even wanted to see them at all. She was put on the accusatory list by our dad and another person to blame for reasons why he had to deal with his issues and the law, which made things quite confusing for me.
As I grew older, I could never really jump on the train of having two evil sisters. I would wonder at times what they were like and if I’d ever see them again. We would rarely talk about them at home. Of course, we never really discussed anything of importance. Deafening silence could only be broken when the booze started flowing. Spewing words of hate and resentments.
After our dad passed on in 2006, things changed dramatically. It wasn’t long until Monica started getting in touch with them which opened up unbelievable doors of possibilities to start new relationships with long lost siblings. Our oldest had actually been living right around the corner from me for years! We wouldn’t even have to sail the ocean blue or travel great distances and get lost with an Uber driver that moved to Califonia for ‘medical’ reasons. We could’ve walked over to her place for crying out loud! But, that’s not how the stars would align for the four of us. Time would have to work its magic.
With much anticipation, anxiety, and many mixed emotions, we finally met at a restaurant as full grown adults acting like full grown kids. What a great event filled with a roller coaster of feelings, tears shed, and lots of laughs that were both nervous and genuine. One sister couldn’t stop hugging and squeezing my two hundred and thirty pound frame as if I was still the same little kid from when we parted decades before.
Since that night, we have been introduced to nieces, nephews, and loved ones that had open arms and welcomed us into their life. We are enjoying holidays, birthdays, and events together. For myself, it takes time to warm up to this kind of thing, but I am absolutely grateful for getting to know the family that was growing up without us.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!!!
We are living proof of that statement. Things happen in our lives when they are supposed to. I’m not sure how things would’ve worked out if our dad was still around when his kids reconnected. It could’ve created more harm to an already broken family, or it may have changed the trajectory of cars that drive themselves while geeks play video games on their iPads in the driver’s seat. Who knows! I hope that it has impacted their heart as much as it has mine and I pray for others to not give up hope.
Good job Monica for getting us together and for healing some wounded branches on our family tree.