For two days my Facebook feed has been awash with friends posting pictures of their siblings, coupled with loving shout-outs to the brothers and sisters who irritated, annoyed, helped with, and shared their youth and parents. It’s sweet. And normal, because I guess it’s more the norm than being like me, an Only Child. And an Orphan, youngish.
Except, not really. It’s technically not true I have no siblings. And I think it’s not true I have no living parents, but I don’t know for sure. All of which has made the previously unknown (to me) National Sibling Day kind of bittersweet and weird.
I actually have three older half-siblings I didn’t find out about until I was 18.
Somewhere, there is a tall old man from whom I inherited blond hair, blue eyes, and a nose with a propensity to go arrow-like when smiling.
It was a thing for me, once, finding my older siblings. Making stabs at it a long time ago, maybe I thought having some sisters and a brother would make me feel less alone in the world. They were the product of my mother’s first marriage, which she denied existed until denial was no longer an option. Then she simply stonewalled, steadfastly refusing to answer questions until her death three years later.
She was married at barely 18, probably marrying away from her own abusive father as her older sisters had before her, and her younger ones after. She popped out three babies in the late 1950’s, then was divorced and lost custody of the children to her ex-husband in 1960. Nineteen-sixty. Custody awarded to a father – kind of unheard of unless a mother was proven “unfit”. Having experienced my mother’s unstable temperament and later having it confirmed she had some sort of a breakdown around the time of the divorce, I eventually realized how hard all of that must have been for my unknown, elder siblings. Picturing myself showing up on one of their doorsteps saying, “Hey, it’s me, your little sister! You know, the one she kept,” seemed like pouring salt in a wound and I understood at last why “discretion is the better part of valor”. Better they stay as they are. I also knew that sharing DNA was no guarantee of having one damn thing in common and it would be a shame to revisit pain on strangers, then sit in awkward silence, to satisfy my idle curiosity.
But seeing in my friend’s photos the similar smiles, the matching eyebrow patterns or hair colors, it would be a big lie if I didn’t say I’ve always wondered what they look like. Do they share an ability to cock one eyebrow? A love of reading? Biting sarcasm? Do they tear up at Hallmark commercials (especially the old one where the little girl gives her great-great-grandma a birthday card for her 100th birthday)? Would it help them if I explained my mother remained unstable and difficult all her short, unhappy life? Probably not. But it’s my prayer they long ago made peace with her absence. Maybe they had a lovely step-mother, just as I eventually won the step-dad lottery with my mother’s third marriage.
I’ll never know the answer to those or any other questions and I’m at peace with that; it’s part of adulting to let go of that which is not helpful. But seeing all the pictures with their wry, touching, humorous, and teasing comments I can’t help wondering what it might be like to have a person with whom I shared early history, had the wonderful sort of shorthand siblings have, the inside jokes and common gestures. Maybe that is just narcissism, and better put to rest.
I wish you all a happy National Siblings Day, and encourage you to hold them, your last links to your parents and early history, close.