WASHINGTON – Usually, siblings meet each other on a birthday.
A baby is born and a big sister or brother is there to greet her. Some photos are taken, and while the new siblings may not be old enough to remember the specific event, it doesn’t matter. Because by the time they’re old enough, they can’t remember a time without each other anyway.
But that’s not always how it goes.
Sometimes, they meet at baggage claim at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Context would probably be helpful.
I grew up an only child to a single mother — she never had any other children and that was fine by me. Though young, I vividly remember conversations about potential siblings with my mother. Mostly due to my fear of sharing.
“Mom, if you have another baby, will you love it more than me?” I’d ask.
“No, I’ll love you the same,” she replied.
When I asked that loaded question the answer I expected was “I will love you more.”
She got it wrong. But, luckily, she didn’t push her child-bearing luck and my fear of sharing was never realized.
But what I didn’t know then was that I was actually the youngest of four — and in a few years I’d be the second youngest of five.
As I grew up, I naturally asked questions about my father. Through my mother’s vague, protective answers I knew he might have other spawn and easily accepted it. My mother did a masterful job of making the whole situation seem uninteresting.
But nobody anticipated one of those half-sibling spawns would come looking for me.
Fast forward to age 21. Without a (profound) care in the world, my life got shaken up when I received a message on Myspace (it was still cool then, give me a break).
“…I am your sister and would love to talk and get to know you (if you want). Please let me know if it is not you though so that I can keep looking for my sister. Thanks!”
Up until that point, and few times since, I’d only been rendered speechless once – and that was when Scar killed Mufasa.
Growing up without a father or siblings means your reality simply doesn’t include them. It isn’t traumatic. But this sudden message from a stranger challenged both realities. It meant it was time to face where I came from and who I was.
Strangely, it also meant facing who I might have been.
Cassi is her name. Two years older than me she and her then husband moved from Nebraska to Arizona for warmer weather. They built an adobe-looking house in Maricopa and were working on finding their way.
The shock didn’t end there. While I always had a hazy understanding there was a brother and sister out there, I didn’t know I actually had three sisters and a brother.
The youngest was named *Jade — which had almost been my name.
Figuring out where our relationship was going didn’t take long. After a few exchanges she surprised me: She wanted to fly me out to Arizona.
Maybe it was weird to accept the offer from a relative stranger (no pun intended), but I didn’t hesitate. So, about a year after that first message, I found myself in a Phoenix airport, searching for the girl in a picture.
And there she was. Unlike me, she had a cute little nose and flat eyelids. We both had dark hair, but our looks didn’t share much else. Her husband was with her, but I couldn’t help but look her over and hang on her every word, this girl who had blood like mine.
“I thought your hair would be curly,” she said, remembering the pictures she’d seen of me.
“I straightened it,” I replied, wondering if I’d already disappointed her but grateful for an easy conversation when we both knew words weren’t possibly enough.
The three day visit was a blur. She wasn’t feeling well when I came, but she didn’t let it stop us. There was dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, drinking and the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Lots of questions were asked though there weren’t as many answers. I found out I had my brother’s chin (though I’d have preferred hers) and she’d named her childhood doll “Baby Lacey.” She told me how excited and interested her mother was that we were finally meeting.
She shared her dream of someday having all of us siblings in a picture altogether — a dream that has yet to come true. Heck, she’s still the only one I’ve met, and there are three more.
On the last day we decided to do something a little crazy: Get tattoos. Her husband paid. This was her first and only.
Her wrist now carries a lock and mine a key. And while I’ve been asked “Is that the key to your heart?” one too many times — it’s worth it.
Cassi and I don’t see each other as often as we’d like, now that we live a continent’s width away. But we’ll always have our wrists (I hope) and even writing this reminded me to reach out.
She’s also prepared me for what’s to come.
This month I’ll meet my father for the first time. And as scared as I am now, there’s no way I could do it if I hadn’t met Cassi.