An Open Letter to the Sister I Don't Know
November is almost here which means it’s coming up on your birthday. You’ll be fifty this year which I’m sure you can’t believe. Your son, C, has graduated high school and your daughter, G R is full on into her teenage years. I know that you’re still in the state we grew up in. I’m sure you’re still as beautiful as you ever were. But that is the extent of my knowledge about you, my sister – the only one I have and never really knew.
Over the weekend I received notification that I had two new followers on my professional Twitter page. One was a jewelry industry company as most of my followers are, the other… was you. Or at least, I think it was you. It was your first name, spelled correctly, and your married last name. It showed that you had 0 followers but that you were following 1, (which I brilliantly deduced was me). It also showed that you had a couple of tweets that I couldn’t see because you had a private account which I was not privy to and so I did what I had done a few times before… I gulped, loudly. I put my shaky fingers on the keyboard, and I tried, as I had in the past, to make contact with you, ignoring the feeling in my stomach that told me I should do otherwise. I sent you a private message that stated the following:
Hi... it's been a long time and it surprised me to see you follow me. I miss you and think about you, J and the kids all the time.
That was days ago, and still I’ve received no response, but that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying – this blog post proves that I will continue to reach out no matter how many times the door doesn’t get answered – and it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel for you exactly what I felt for you growing up, or when I first met you at age eighteen, or when I last saw you sometime around my twenty-first birthday, or what I will feel for you forever. Until the day comes that you yourself tell me to move on, I will do what I know in my heart is right.
I always knew I had you, meaning, I always knew I had a sister. From the time I could remember, in that little apartment on 63rd street in West Philly, I knew that my father had an ex-wife, and that with her he had a daughter. Your picture stood framed on my father’s dresser. I don’t ever remember asking him “Daddy, who’s that?” I just always remember knowing that it was you – my sister. I remember looking through his art books and sketch pads as I often did and finding the picture he drew of you as a baby. You had beautiful full cheeks and lips and wispy hair across your brow. I would often ask him to draw a picture of me and he would say “I will, one day.” That day never came/never will come, but yours still exists, somewhere, in their house. I remember the note you scribbled on a napkin that you left on his car when you were a bit older. It had two words written in pencil: “Hi Dad” with no signature. He knew it was you, and he wrapped that napkin in plastic and kept it in his jewelry box with some of his most prized possessions.
Unfortunately, our father had many prized possessions and over time he failed to prove that any of those were either of us. I wrote this post on Father’s Day about how I quit him years ago, and about how my life has been so much brighter and more fulfilled without him in it, or anywhere near it. It’s sad, really, and was excruciating for years, but I remember something that you told me when I first met you officially back in 1992: when I asked about whether you were going to allow him into your life now that we found one another, you said, “You don’t understand… I never had a father, never needed one and never wanted one. My mother was enough. My grandparents – grandfather particularly, was enough. I just don’t know if I want him now.”
I didn’t understand it then, at almost nineteen years old. And maybe, I didn’t understand our relationship fully because I was still so young – the youngest of three with two older brothers. And probably because you were so old at thirty – the oldest of three with two younger brothers. In my naïve mind, you were here. I found you. You found me. I talked to that random lady on the Spirit of Philadelphia months before who was a hairstylist and who apparently knew you when I mentioned I had a sister I never met. What were the odds of that after nearly two decades of my life always wondering where you were, what you looked like and if you ever even knew I existed? You called my work. You said to the person who answered the phone, “Tell her this is Cheryl. Tell her… it’s her sister.” And I remember hanging up and walking to the bathroom and crying hysterically that the day had finally come. You were real. You had a voice and a phone and a laugh that I still remember. You were real, and you were going to be mine, at last. I was finally going to have you, not all to myself, but some to myself. I was still so young but I knew passion even then. I knew that the piece of my heart that had always been missing had grown instantly back in a six-minute phone call. My entire life I had wanted a sister, and I was about to have my wish granted.
For what it’s worth, the few years that we knew each other were really wonderful for me. I’m sure that it’s super tough to be thirty-years old and realize you have this extra person in your life that you’re supposed to love because you share their blood and only because you share their blood. We didn’t have memories together. No childhood fights we could rehash and laugh about. I had no one to talk to boys about, or go to and cry when I lost my virginity. You had no one to mentor and guide through experience. We had our brothers, of course, but no matter what, they weren’t women. And now here we were trying to build ourselves a relationship with nothing more than newness to start, and it was hard, for us both, and unfortunately over time, faded away.
So, without further hesitation I will say now what I should have said years ago:
I am sorry that I let you go. I am sorry for my part in not keeping the relationship going. I have no excuse other than I felt immense pressure from our father to question you about why you didn’t want him in your life, and I wrongly “sided” (for lack of a better term) with his feelings of hurt and anguish because I mostly knew his side of what I’m sure was a bullshit story. I am sorry that at nineteen and twenty and twenty-one years old I didn’t know what I knew at thirty, and thirty-five, and know now at nearly forty. I am sorry that I didn’t push harder to keep you in my life because I should have, no matter how you felt about me or what you thought of our relationship. I should have forced myself in until you told me to stop, but I was a coward, and that makes me wrong.
Until the day I die, Cheryl, I will care about you and think about you and think about your children that I will likely never know, and I will love you as much as I love my brothers no matter what you feel about me and no matter if you want me in your life or not. I can only hope that the person with your name who is following me on Twitter right now actually is you, and that if it is, you deep down in your heart love me just as much, too. You are my blood and while blood doesn’t necessarily make family, my family, and my heart, will always be incomplete without you.
I know it’s really early, but happy birthday.