Friday, February 3, 2017

SFAM (Sister From Another Mister)

"Hey Laura."
Yay! I needed a call from my Daddy!
"How are you feeling?"
"Pregnant," I paused as I shoved the remainder of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth.  "My belly feels like it's been stretched to the limit, Daddy.  And I've had this dull headache for about two weeks..."
"Are you drinking enough water?"
"Probably not," I laughed.  "You know I hate water."
"Hate water?!" he laughed.  "Laura, you can't hate water."
I laughed with him, "okay, Daddy.  I'll try and drink more."
Suddenly his tone became confidential. "Hey, listen, Laura.  I need to tell you about something."
"It's about a girl."
Another girlfriend?
"Yeah Dad? "You mean Barbara?"
Is that that her name?
He cleared his throat, "No, not a girlfriend.   A girl.  A young girl."
A young girl? What was he talking about?
"A girl that might be your sister."
 I opened my mouth to let more air in.  I felt my face getting warm. Miles shifted in my abdomen, his elbow poking underneath my ribcage.
"She's only about 11-year's old," he continued quickly.  "I've only just met her myself."
You're telling me that I have an 11-year old sister that you've just met?
"Might be my sister!?" my tone was incredulous.
"Yeah," there was a laugh at the edge of his throat. I heard him swallow it with a gulp.
"Wow, Daddy.  I don't know what to say."
"Would you like to call her?"
Call her? Call her?! I have no interest in calling her.  
"I don't think so," I said stiffly.
"Well, would it be okay if she called you?  She knows all about you.  She's really excited about you."
He's been talking to her about me?
My voice sounded like an autobot.  I was still processing the fact that I was no longer his only daughter. I felt self-righteous, self pity infusing itself into my blood stream.
"She doesn't even know me.  What's she excited about me for?"
He met my resistance with silence.  I felt my stomach lurch.
Don't be like that.  This must be hard for him to tell me. 
"Sure, I guess it would be okay for to her call me. I'll have a conversation with her."
I guarantee you she won't be excited about me for long....

"Hey Sis!" her voice rang out over the din of children talking and yelling.  I heard what sounded like a car door slamming shut.
Where is she, at school?  The mall? Why is she calling me again so soon? I don't have anything new to say to her.
I looked at the phone in my hand.  It was early in LA, but I knew it was mid-morning for her.
"Hey...?" I hoped that my tone conveyed both annoyance and disinterest.
"What's up sis?"
I hated the way she always called me "Sis."  I was annoyed that this child felt like she was entitled to my time simply because she thought we shared the same father.
"What's going on?" my tone was crisp.
"Nothing much, what's going on with you?" Her voice was light and full of curiosity.  I could tell that she wanted to "phone-visit".
Something for you to note, little "Sis."  I have a real adult life.  I do NOT have time to phone visit.
"Umm, listen, it's early here...."
I don't remember the rest of the conversation.  In fact, I really can't recall the details of any of our conversations.

The truth was I should have said "no," when he asked if it were okay if she called me.
Because very quickly it became less and less okay.  It was barely tolerable when I entered my ninth month and it was decidedly NOT okay after Miles was born.
I remember catching the phone on the first ring for fear it would wake the house.
"Hey Sis!"
"Hey, the baby is asleep."
Miles rarely fell in to a deep sleep until it was near morning.  We all tip-toed around the house because as soon as he woke up, he screamed bloody murder until I nursed him.  I was a bleary-eyed, sleep deprived newlywed.
But Verhonda seemed undaunted.
And the truth was that I was not okay with her.  I couldn't comprehend her over-the-top, youthful, enthusiasm about finding me.  I did not (at all) share in her "instant sibling" joy.  I was not amused by her early morning and late night calls for advice from her "big sis."

In fact, mostly what I remember about those calls is that I couldn't wait to get off the phone.  Eventually, I answered less often, staring at the phone while it rang until the display changed to:
"Missed call."
When will she get the hint?
And then one night, I crossed a line.  I really don't remember what I said, but the pit in my stomach told me that I'd hurt her.  I think I knew she'd never call me again.

Some 20 year's later, When my brother Jordan contacted me (see my Blog post "It's a Family Affair") it took a long time for me to work through my initial resistance to meeting him (and his brother, Jay - correction, our brother, Jay) but I took suggestion and direction and he and I ended up seeing each other not once but three times that year.  It was really quite epic.

But I digress, the part I left out of that post was that when I met Jay and Jordan for the first time at The Fountainblue Hotel, after hugging, pictures and swimming, someone mentioned casually mentioned Verhonda.
"Oh really?" I tried to keep my voice light.  It had sounded as though they said she was on her way.
"Yeah," said Kofi, wrapping a towel around his narrow waist.  "She'll be here in a little while."
Suddenly, despite the 100 percent humidity, my mouth and throat were so dry I had to cough to clear a path for my voice.
"Oh? I didn't know she was coming."
Jay looked up at me, he was sitting on the pool ledge, wearing his swim suit and had his towel wrapped around his long "locks" like a turban.  He squinted one eye shut, blocking the sun with an outstretched hand.
"Yup.  Her and her kids.  Her husband too, I think. They just got married."

I had seen a Facebook post of hers the year before (on Kofi's page), "calling on" my brother Kofi and Jay and Jordan to join her in the Bahamas for an event.  It was hard to really tell what she looked like.  She and I weren't friends (Facebook friends that is). Although, Facebook seemed to be befuddled by this, as she regularly appeared at the top of my "People You May Know."  It actually had started to feel a little hostile.  Like maybe Facebook was mocking me:

"You MAY know your sister, Vee, Laura.  She's listed as family on your dad and your brother's pages.

Most of the pictures she posted seemed to be of other people.  I wish that I'd paid more attention to her posts when they appeared on Kofi's Facebook page.

That "event" in the Bahamas must have been her wedding.
She has kids?
How old could she be? 29?30?
They're ALL coming here?

I was a bundle of nerves when Kofi answered his phone and bounded down to the lobby to get her.  I went in to the bedroom of our suite to fold laundry and compose myself. When I spied three, young women walking in with a man a few minutes later I was confused.  Jay and Jordan got up and hugged the brown-skinned one in the long, beige and cream striped dress. I came out of the bedroom with what I hoped was a welcoming look on my face.
Jesus! Is that her? She's just a baby!  The other ones must be her daughters!
Honestly, they all could have been the same age, no exaggeration.  I did a quick calculation in my head,
What am I? 20-year's older than her? I'm old enough be here mother!
My dad broke into a smile when he saw them.  She hugged him and then came over to me.  She had some sort of book tucked under her arm, which she handed to Kofi with a deep smile, while she kept walking.
"My wedding album," she said with a wink, then she turned her attention to me.
"Hello Sis," she held her arms out for a hug, but the look on her face was unreadable.  Her smile wasn't as full as it had been for the others.
Or am I imagining that?
I bent down to embrace her.  She was short, maybe coming up to my collar bone.  She felt soft and warm in my arms.
"Hey Vee," I said using her Facebook name.
She introduced Miles, Justin and I to her daughters.  We all sat around the living room of our suite while we talked and passed the photo album around.  I was keenly aware of where she was in the room at all times.  All at once, I was terribly grateful for the large group in our hotel room.  All of my brothers seemed to be entirely at ease.  Miles and Justin were curious and asked a lot of questions. Close to 11:00 pm, she and her family went home, leaving my boys and I to pack for our 6:30am flight home.

After that trip, I decided to have my "new" brothers, Jay and Jordan, join my Dad, Kofi and my step-brother, Chris, for their annual trip to see us in Los Angeles.  As you can imagine, the trip requires quite a bit of advance-planning, use of mileage and the procurement of quite a few "blow-up beds."  I started planning the trip in September and come February 2016, the five of them were all set to visit me and my boys for 3-days.

I don't remember if Verhonda texted or called me to tell me "the good news" that she could come and that she had purchased her ticket with mileage.

"What do I do?" I asked Beverly.
I had asked her to meet me at our favorite spot, Le Pain Quotiden. I opened my notebook on the table and ordered my usual, camomile, mint tea with an orange slice.
"This is happening whether I want it to or not.  How do I get my head right for this?"
"This woman is your sister," she stated.
I was thrown off.  It wasn't a question.
"Yes..." I said, trying not to sound frustrated.
She's my sister.  That's the only reason we're talking about her!
"What you know about her?"
"Not much," I admitted.  Jordan, my brother, told me that she's a lawyer.  She has two daughters that are almost the same ages as Miles and Justin. She lives in West Palm Beach, I think."  I shrugged and started to study the unused pen in my hand with focused curiosity. "I really don't know anything about her."
"So if you don't really know her or know anything about her, then what are the stories that you've told yourself that make you think that this will be a negative experience?"
My eyes flashed with indignation.  I closed my notebook and made a space on the table for my tea as the waiter set the pot down.  The smell of fresh mint wafted up and acted as a tranquilizer. I softened the tone of my voice.
"I'm not telling myself stories.  I've had actual experience with her. She wouldn't stop calling me.  She couldn't take a hint."
"When she was a child?"
"Yes..." I looked up slowly and met her gaze.  "She was a kid."
"Well, maybe use these three days to get to try and know this woman - your sister.
 Then, if you don't want to continue to explore that relationship, at least you'll have current information on which to base your decision."
I felt stubbornness solidifying in my gut, like water turning to ice.
"I could," I said through gritted teeth.
"You can always go back to your stories," she said cheerfully.
 I unlocked my jaw and tried it again.
"Okay, you're right.  Thank you for that. I'll try and stay open."

The visit was a whirlwind.  I didn't feel like I had much time for bonding with anyone (It's a lot of work hosting 6 people for three days!).
To be perfectly honest, I was just happy to have my house back when they left.  Instead of feeling filled up as I had with earlier visits,  this time I felt depleted.
I realized that once again, I was the victim of my own expectations, but I didn't care. I felt bitterness settling in for a long stay.
I did it.  I tried it.  And now as far as I'm concerned, it's a wrap.
There were a flurry of group texts from each of them as they landed in their respective cities later that day.
"On the ground!"
I'm driving home now..."
"I made it..."
"Just landed in ATL..."

When Verhonda landed she sent a text, just to me.

"I just want to thank you and Scottie for everything you did.  You may not know how much I really needed that trip, but I did.  I know how hard you worked to make it nice for all of us.  Thank you, Sis. Love you."

I was surprised by the rush of tears that stung the back of my eyes.  I texted her back right away.

"You're welcome.  Love you too... Sis."

And just like that, something unlocked in my heart. The ice in my chest began to melt.

*       *      *

"I've got to tell you something, Sis.  I found my father."
She and I were on the phone going over the first chapter of her memoir.  She had asked me to read it and tell her what I thought.
Honestly, I was completely blown away by her life.  She had both her daughters while she was still in high school, survived what can most kindly be described as an "unstable" childhood and managed to put herself through law school and become a working attorney.
I put my pear and arugula salad down and swiveled away from the computer in my editor's chair.
"You what?"
"Yeah, I found him.  He looks like me."
"Wow," I said.  "I didn't know you were looking for anyone."
Dad's not her father?!
"I've known in my heart for a while now.  But now I know for sure.  And I have a sister too.  She looks just like me!  We could be twins."
 She's not my sister.  
"That's amazing, Vee." I said trying not to sound overly enthusiastic. I wanted to see how she felt about it first.  That's really amazing."
"I can't believe it," she said.  "It's like having so many questions answered."
"Did you tell Dad?"
"He knows," she said.  "I think he's known from the beginning."
"How do you feel about it?"
"I'm glad to know," she said.  "I'm looking forward to getting to know him."

"Well, I guess that was it!" I laughed to Scottie later in bed after telling him the whole story.  "After all of that, 20-years of kicking and screaming and I don't have a sister anymore!"
"That's a crazy story!" He grinned as he rolled over to face me, placing his head on my pillow.
"I know," I said.  "But the craziest thing is I had just, finally "leaned in" to the fact that she is my sister."
"I know," he smiled. "So now what?"
I sat up to adjust the covers. The bedroom was bathed in blue light from the muted TV.
"I don't know, you've been helping her with her book.  She's always the first person to read and comment on your blog."
"I know!" I settled in the pillow facing him.  "She was the last one I'd thought I would really like and connect with, but she's the one I've ended up being the most connected to."
"So like I said.  Now what?"
"But she's found her real sister now," I went on as though I hadn't heard him.  "I saw a picture of them on Facebook.  They really do look like they could be twins."
"Okay, but your family has really kind of adopted her, right?  She's part of your family regardless, right?"
I looked at the TV across from our bed for a moment.  Hillary Clinton's face was plastered on the screen.
Now that she's not my actual sister do I want her in my life?
"You're right," I said reaching for his hand and intertwining our fingers.  "This doesn't have to change anything."

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