I am an only child. I mean, I was an only child. Well, sort of. It’s . . . complicated. I was raised as an only child, but then . . .
Out of the blue the December I was 27 years old I got a call from my Mother.
All in one breath she blurted out, “I have something to tell you, but I don’t know if I should tell you. I’m not sure if you’re going to be upset. But I should tell you. Do you want me to tell you?”
I laughed out loud and told her that with an introduction like that, I had no choice.
It caught me off guard, that intro, but in retrospect I see how it was reflective of our relationship. She threw the ball in my court because then it could all be my fault if it ended badly.
She proceeded to reveal the long-held family secret. She told me who my father was. I had long since stopped asking, hushed by shame. She gave me a name. She told me some details, many of which sounded more like a soap opera than aspects of my life. I had moved past all this and the need to know. I had worked through never knowing and being ok with that. And there it was now unexpectedly laid out for me to process all over again.
“Why are you telling me this now?” I asked. It was like being told the headlines of last year’s news. It might have mattered then. It almost didn’t now.
And then, like Paul Harvey, she told me the rest of the story.
Nine years before I was born, a baby boy was born. Since my mother and the father of this boy (and later my father) were having an affair, the child was adopted right after he was born. Nine years later, I was born, while my father continued to stay married and raise his other family. I was not put up for adoption but raised by my mother and maternal grandparents.
Of course, I had always known there was a father. I had never suspected there was a brother. Not to mention a slew of half-siblings.
It seems, a core piece of my identity, a thing a knew for sure about myself — that I was an only child — was not, in fact true. Well played, family. I never knew. You never let it slip. I was, as they say, blissfully ignorant . . . until I was not.
It’s a strange feeling when others know more about you than you know about yourself, but such is the stuff of family secrets.
Again I asked, why tell me this now?
Because she was afraid someone else would. She had found this son of hers and she was afraid someone in the family would write about it in their Christmas card to me.
“He wants to meet you,” she told me. “I’d like for you to meet him.”
I lived in Europe, so a face-to-face meeting was not imminent, and honestly, I really didn’t want to meet him. I wanted to get on with my life. I had moved past the father issues. I wanted to move past this as well. But over the course of the next few weeks I felt the pressure of their expectations — my brother’s, my mother’s, the world’s.
So, despite my doubts, I sent a Christmas card. I told him I didn’t know how to be a sister, but I would try.
The card came back to me ‘Return to Sender.’