Filling in the Holes: The Half-Sister I've Never MetCarolyn Castiglia
I just found out I have a half-sister.
It wasn’t a huge surprise really, because I have assumed my whole life that I had a half-sister. Half-siblings. I think I thought I had at least two, maybe more. I don’t know if I assumed that because it was logical given that I don’t know my biological father and it makes sense that he would have gone on to father more children or if I assumed so because it was safer for me to silently prepare for what might have been a shock if I weren’t braced for the possibility. But either way, what I long suspected/assumed/maybe even secretly hoped is true: I have a sister. Who I have never met.
I think the thing I find the most amusing about the whole affair is that – thanks to Facebook – it took me 30 minutes to learn what even 10 years ago would have required a private investigator, lots of money and plenty of time. I know practically everything about this girl: her name, how old she is, where she went to school, where she grew up and where she lives now, that she’s married and has three kids. I’ve seen 200 pictures of her. I know her mother’s name, her stepmother’s name, her children’s names. And we’ve never met. We’ve never even spoken. But we just exchanged a few careful, kind messages, each of us seemingly curious to know the other but neither sure where to begin.
When you’re adopted by one or both parents, when you don’t fully know your biology, you can’t help but spend your childhood wondering in the back of your mind who you are. Who you *really* are. Where you come from. What type of people created you. What they look like. Why they left you. Some children are plagued by this longing for answers more than others, depending on how happy they are in their adoptive families and the way their adoptive families deal with the kinds of questions they’re asked. I’ve long felt unresolved feelings about my biological father because my mother almost summarily refused to talk about him. She told me his name, a bit about the circumstances surrounding their separation (so as to validate her refusal to talk about him) and she told me, in no uncertain terms, time and time again, that wanting to know any more than the measly bits she provided meant that I was ungrateful, rude, and betraying the man who did raise me, my adoptive dad Mike.
I loved my adoptive dad in ways I can’t express, and I still well up even at the thought of him. He was my hero; he rescued me and made me his and I will always, always, always love him, honor him and think of him as my father. But no amount of love can erase biology, and though I still don’t really have a desire to meet my actual dad, there is something about this girl – my sister – that is begging me to run to her, to open the treasure chest and learn all the secrets I never knew. To understand myself through her and to have her understand herself through me. After all, we are each half of one person, and maybe together we can become more whole.
I went to my therapist this morning (she’s like the mother I never had!), and as we were talking, she asked me how I felt about the news. I told her I didn’t know how I felt, that I was more concerned about this girl than I was myself. “I don’t know if that’s just me placing my needs last again or what, but I just don’t want to overwhelm her or be something she has to ‘deal with,'” I said. My sister – it feels so weird to say or type or think but also totally, totally right – she’s nine years younger than me, and even though she’s clearly an adult woman with a family, I don’t know – I already feel protective of her, I guess. I feel like I knew she was there the whole time. Out there somewhere, looking for me, or wondering. And from what she’s said so far – she was.
That idea of course breaks my heart. That she, as my friend Sara put it, “wanted to find her older sister.” Knowing there was someone out there she didn’t know that she should know, that maybe she could know, that she thought she had a right to know. She told me that she tried to find me years ago, but that she could never get enough information. And then there was Facebook. And with one brief inquiry to a mutual connection, here we are now.
I could go on for days about all the feelings and concerns this news brings up in me: I’m concerned about my older sister – who has been my sister as long as my dad has been my dad. Will she be hurt if I explore this relationship? Will she worry that she’s going to be replaced? What will my daughter think about this wild familial adventure she and I are on? I’ve already rearranged the map of her nuclear family, now she may accumulate an aunt, uncle and some cousins. And of course I think about my daughter and her dad, about how my daughter knows her dad, about what a great job I’ve done supporting my daughter’s relationship with her dad in spite of how ugly our divorce was, about how unlike my own mother I’ve never tried to punish my daughter for sharing DNA with a man who burned me. About how I will always tell my daughter anything she wants to know and never make her feel bad about being a product of two people. I will never ask her to take sides or ignore half of who she is in order to make me comfortable. I am comfortable. I can handle it. And my daughter can flourish in my care.
I was talking to a friend recently about how my mother never takes responsibility for her actions, never apologizes, how she’s struck dumb when confronted about hurtful things she’s said or done, making excuses about why those things happen or telling me why the behavior should be overlooked, not taken personally, not taken seriously, not reacted to with appropriate emotion. My friend and I were talking about how until very recently, I have been able to cope with my mother’s personality and the way she raised me by making her a larger-than-life character I could act out, tell jokes about, make fun of. But the truth is, behind the comedy – as is always true – there is an immense amount of pain. I have spent the last year or so in therapy, unraveling all of the oppressed memories, facing all of the physical and emotional abuse, the deflection, the constant punishment, the withholding of love, the cold, mean, angry, distant, rage-filled, terrifying borderline existence I grew up in, and the one overwhelming sense I have right now is that I am free. My mother can no longer stop me from knowing who I am, because I am my own mother. I am my own person. And I have a feeling my sister is her own person, too. I look forward to finding out.
I mean – don’t get me wrong – it’s scary as shit, the thought of opening a can of worms like this. But I think I’m ready, and more importantly, I think it’s about damn time. Wish me luck.
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