(excerpt from my memoir that I started writing, for some reason, in 2012)
Today is my sister’s birthday. I can forgive a lot of things knowing she is in the world.
When I started investigating the legal constraints on my sister’s adoption, it was very discouraging. The agency still existed, although they had moved, and they were not permitted to release any information to anyone on any closed adoption. The laws had changed in the meantime, but an early 1960s adoption would be covered by early 1960s law.
I was acquainted with some private detectives from my job, but their services would be expensive and might require some law-breaking.
The idea of succeeding in finding her was problematic too. What if she didn’t know about her origins? What if she didn’t want to know me or even know about me? Would it be fair to her to barge in on whatever her life was and expect a welcome?
I had years to imagine her. What I knew was her birthday, that she was twenty-one months older than I was, that she had brown eyes and that was all I had to work with. There was no reason that she couldn’t be that pretty, athletic girl that rode my bus to school, or one of the dozens of girls I had spotted over the years on trains or at skating rinks.
None of these girls seemed possible enough to ask their birth date, so the imagining and speculating went on and on. It was a hobby I didn’t talk about, like a birdwatcher who didn’t brag.
My approach was finally made, very simply, by writing a letter to the adoption agency. I explained in my very best business language who I was, what I knew and that my parents and I would be open to a meeting if it ever became possible.
The letter I received in an unexpected reply was the sort of amazingly kind communication one could receive from people who are paid to be thoughtful and gentle. They would put my letter “securely in her file” in the event that she was able to see her records in the future. They explained that the law, as it was, prevented them from contacting her or confirming anything further for me, but I knew that.
A few eventful years went by, my boyfriend and I got married, we moved a couple of times in the same rental house and finally got pregnant with our first baby before I heard anything more from the adoption agency.
Because my job required me to collect the office mail from a post office box every day at lunch time, I had long before rented my own little mail box at the same post office. Usually I peeked into the box to find nothing for me, unless I had a bank statement or something equally routine.
When I pulled from the mail box a letter from the adoption agency, I felt my knees buckle.
The letter informed me that my sister had contacted them for her file, and they had mailed her a redacted copy of my letter along with profile forms, which had been provided by our parents at the time of her adoption. No names or identifying information was included.
They told me that she was in Florida and that she had no idea I existed until she saw the papers.
Included with their letter to me was a sketchy little brochure for a support group for families involved in either side of adoption. There was also a search network, and they were proud to announce the development of a list that very tech-savvy persons could access on that World Wide Web thing. The idea was that you provided the basic information of place and time of birth and they would contact you with any matches for other seekers.
A couple of adopted friends that I told about this were furiously negative. They had long ago written off the people who abandoned them, as they saw it, and would no more welcome meeting them than they would Godzilla.
I registered anyway, right away.
The waiting went on for weeks. I read what little I could find about reunions and I visited the support group.
The support group met in a cramped church basement far out of my usual orbit, but I went to one meeting. For a shy person, I was oddly comfortable sharing with strangers. It was not a good meeting, however.
Half-way through introductions, I had sketched my situation out for them and so had several adoptees and a few sane parents. It became evident that there were some Godzillas in the room.
These women had placed their children and then proceeded to stalk the new families in any way possible. Some of them had no means of stalking except the sort of mental fixation that feeds a constant stream of drama for those in their reach. They had kept this sick vigil up for years and they were finding imaginary encouragement from the group to keep on with it.
I left as soon as I could and got outside into the fresh air. Several people followed me, however. They were fascinated by the little bit of our story and insisted that this was terribly unusual to have full siblings in a search. It was awful to have that kind of excitement directed at me so I never went back.
During this time, the adoption agency began acting as a go-between for us. Their communications reminded me of the story my grandfather used to tell about getting letters that were censored during the war. I received a letter from my sister that had sections blacked out, any geographical references were removed, any names were gone. She was telling me all her basic history, but there was no way to trace her from what was left in the letter. The censors did well: the mission was not compromised.
I replied with a shorter letter and typed up an outline of my life, inserting digits in place of words to provide my phone number in the letter. “I have 2 cats that I have had for 7 years…”
She didn’t catch the code before we were matched in the budding database. We both received phone calls from volunteers who coordinated our first phone call. We talked for hours.
I was struck by how deeply funny she was. Somehow, in all the ways I imagined her, I never imagined her voice. I never conjured up a slight drawl or a narrating aside or an explosive cackle.
Our husbands were very patient with our infatuation phase, we talked to each other constantly about everything we were doing and had ever done. We planned on meeting as soon as we could make the plans…
We did and it was beautiful.
Don’t ever lose your sister.
4 Replies to “Finding My Secret Sister (a throw-back story)”
I can relate to your experience and the intense emotions reunions evoke; powerful feelings that are difficult for others to understand. I am very happy for you both. I grew up as an only child and I was enchanted by the unforgettable experience of meeting my sister for the first time. I was astonished by our similarities in body language, habits, mannerisms, ways of thinking, and speaking. Even our voices were alike. We laughed, giggled, and bonded easily. There was something familiar about her. She was exotic, but intuitively familiar. Our actions and facial expressions were the same, but opposite, like two mimes facing a mirror. My reward for pursuing her acquaintance was a lovely sister. I was thrilled.
That’s so beautiful, Judith!! I am grinning ear to ear!!
We have that familiarity you describe so vividly. Even after all this time, we find deep similarities in the way we react to the world. I’m so happy you got to have that experience too.
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Sorry I didn’t see this sooner, Ms Mom! (Or had I seen it and just forgot…). I would have “liked” it, but old person syndrome has made that too difficult.
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No rush!! These things are all patient about being “liked” 🙂