I’m watching (sort of) The Parent Trap on TV. How many years and times have I seen this movie? Between the original, which I adore, and the remake I want to say dozens. I just saw the scene (from the remake) where the first twin is flying to London to meet her mother and she whispers a prayer that her mother will like her. It makes me think about my sister, Michelle and the first time she came to visit us. I was 16 and she was 18, I believe. What must it have been like to meet a totally new family? I was ridiculously excited. From the time I was small, my mother told me I asked for a big sister. Not a little sister, though I think I’d have dug that as well, but I requested, very specifically, an older sister. I remember, clearly, the longing for this person I knew belonged in my life. So when Dad told Mike and me about Michelle when I was eight, I was thrilled, though I did advise him not to tell Mom because it would hurt her feelings if she knew. Dad smiled and assured me that Mom was well aware, which was all it took for me to be on board with getting to know this sibling I really knew I already knew (know what I mean?), but I had to wait.
Dad had agreed to let Michelle’s step-father adopt her when she was small and we were not allowed access to her. Ever. Which my Grama Reenie told me was bullshit. Okay, I added shit, but she was right. It was. And it didn’t matter what Grama and I thought. We were out. Until Michelle was 18. Which is when I sent the first letter to her, introducing myself and the fam.
When she decided to come and visit us I was excited to a degree that pretty much defies description. I wanted to go to the airport to meet her but Dad reserved that for just him. I understood to the extent possible for me as a teenager. Really, though, all I wanted to do was bring this girl for whom I’d been waiting all my life home so we could get on with the business of being sisters.
And we were sisters! And we did get on with the business thereof! Oh my God, we were – and are – so much alike. Our voices, our personalities, our likes and dislikes, mannerisms, resting bitch faces – SO much alike. Our faces don’t look the same, but we share expressions and features from our father that leave no one in doubt of the blood connection. That first visit we talked and talked every, single day and night until we were exhausted, trying to catch each other up on our lives because we both knew we should have been living those lives together. Each ensuing visit brought on the same kind of glee. We reveled in being together and our joy was palpable.
We were sisters for 38 years until I had to let go of her.
She didn’t die.
She just didn’t mean it when she said she wanted to be my sister. Or something.
Sad story, really. God I miss her. Every day I miss her and I still long for my big sister the way I did when I was small and longed for the person I didn’t even know existed. Michelle just never needed or wanted me in the same way.
I don’t know, honestly, why she couldn’t commit to a relationship with me. She’s worse than most guys I dated. There were full years I would go with no communication from her. I wrote, called, and with the advent of the internet and cell phones, emailed, texted, tagged on Facebook and private messaged. And Michelle responded. Sometimes. A little. But that thing. That thing that sisters do where they just talk – just pick up the phone and call for no reason, or a reason that means something only to them, that thing that means you have an inexplicable connection that means the world and more to you and you protect it and nurture it because having the other in your life is extremely important? Yeah, that was apparently just me.
It’s not as if she was unfriendly. She just – treated me like the second cousin you hear from every now and then and are happy to hear from but could do without. I stood it for, literally, decades, hoping she’d come around. I begged, cried, pleaded, yelled and begged some more for her to tell me what was wrong, what I’d done. Dad said something? What could we do to make it better? Her answer was always, always the same.
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
I just don’t understand, I’d tell her. When we’re together there is nothing we can’t say to each other. It’s almost like we can read each other’s minds. I love you for so many reasons but one of them is because you instinctively know me in ways nobody else ever has! I know you the same way! You know this. Why, why do you shut me out when we’re not physically together?
“I don’t know,” she’d answer. “Don’t be hurt. I don’t mean anything by it.”
Is it too much? I will understand if it is. Am I asking too much?
“No, you’re not. I’ll do better.”
You don’t owe me anything! If we are to go forward with our relationship, let’s just actually have a relationship. You don’t have to “do better.” Just tell me what, if anything, you want.
“I just want us to be sisters.”
And then we’d go six months or a year and I wouldn’t hear from her. I’d back off, thinking if I did she’d eventually call or write, but no. Nothing.
A couple of years ago I hit a wall. Not a mad wall. I wasn’t bitter. I was just done and I let her go. I wrote her an email saying as much and telling her I loved her and that I’d always be here with an open heart if she wanted to be in touch. She got really pissed and started saying mean stuff.
Ironic. I beg her for decades to talk to me. She refuses. I try, over the same decades, to form a relationship. She refuses. I walk. She tells me what an asshole I am.
I’ve always suspected that the truth of the matter was that she never got over my father “giving her up.” Then, when they met again, I have a feeling their relationship never lived up to what she wanted it to be. That first day, when Dad picked Michelle up at the airport, it might have put closure on the sadness that still lingered for him.
Pretty sure it didn’t for Michelle.
Her adoptive father, Tom, never stopped reminding her, as she was growing up, that she was not really his daughter. That shit has a tendency to sting, then linger like a scorpion bite. It’s all a long and complicated story, though I do believe Michelle and Tom made some peace before he died. I don’t know for sure as I had already taken myself out of the picture. Not that I’d have been privy to their business. Michelle was pretty much ignoring my existence the last couple of years we were in any sort of contact, hence my somewhat belated exit. I’m only guessing from the pictures I still have access to through my mom’s Facebook account because she and my sister are still “friends,” which affords me the ability to stalk – I mean check on her.
Maybe, if Dad had been able to make a deeper connection with his oldest daughter, things would have been different. I don’t blame him. Not for giving Michelle up for adoption or for the inability to reconnect. He allowed Tom to adopt her to give her a better chance at a stable life with two parents who were around all the time.
As for reconnecting, Dad hated people.
But not her.
Not Michelle. He loved her as much as he could and he did his best for her. I would bet a lot that it wasn’t enough. And that’s not a negative toward her. It’s simply a wound that never healed. I suppose it was hard for her to feel like she was really my “sister,” if Dad wasn’t really her “Dad,” and that hurt. All of us.
It was easier to relegate me to distant cousin status.
I still love her. I still, every now and then, imagine what it would have been like for us to connect on that level I more than likely idealize. I see my sisters-in-law, though, and they adore each other even when one wants to kick the other’s ass. My daughters share sister codes and secrets I will never get to understand. My friends on Facebook post photos of outings and trips with their sisters and I tear up, wondering why that couldn’t have been Michelle and me.
Do I still hold out hope? Maybe. No. Not really. My sister is a very stubborn woman and I pissed her off pretty good.
My intention was never – and I mean never – to hurt her. I only wanted to stop my own bleeding. I loved this woman on a soul level and for whatever reason, she couldn’t return that love and indeed, at times seemed to go out of her way to, if not wound me, then damage any potential we had as family.
And I just couldn’t watch her life unfold from the sidelines any longer. It wasn’t that I finally realized I deserved to be treated better. I’d been saying that for years. My epiphany came in the form of knowing I had a choice in the matter. I could say, enough.
I am sure Michelle has her side to this story, but here’s the thing. I asked her, for 38 years to share that side. It wasn’t until I stood up for love of myself that she started to tell me and then it was in the form of insults and accusations.
Brilliant in a way. It was the last play of her game. She pushed me away for almost four decades – trying to fuck up our relationship to the point where I’d have to walk away. Like Dad did in her little girl mind. The differences are obvious if one can reconcile the child with the adult and to my knowledge, Michelle never has. It took me 40 years from the outside looking in. Would that I could see my own shit so clearly.
I miss her.
I miss her laugh and her sharp as hell wit – oh the sarcasm! I’m sure we were twins in another life. I miss the reflection of myself in her and being her mirror back. I miss the discovery of how we differed as well. We have different mothers, after all.
Enough of that, I guess.
It’s more letting go.
As I write about Michelle, I feel again the connection we had – will always have – and the pain of separation is fresh.
The little sister.