For my 40th birthday (ten years ago), my sister and husband threw me a party at our house. Forty was a big one, so everyone was invited. One of my dear friends I’ve know since 8th grade, Tammy, came in and struck up a conversation with my brother.
“How do you know Viv?” she asked.
“I’m her brother,” Jeffrey answered.
“No, you’re not,” she insisted.
“Um…yeah, I am.”
“I’ve know Viv since we were 13 and she doesn’t have a brother. She has two sisters.”
I actually do have a brother, which I eventually confirmed for my baffled (and embarrassed) friend. I was racked with guilt in that moment. It took me years to forgive myself, maybe I never really have. You see, I do have a brother, but he’s not related to my two sisters. Before he was married, he thought it was funny to joke that he could actually marry one of my sisters. (I didn’t think it was funny.) He also likes to tell people, “Oh, that’s my sister’s sister.” (That one is a little funny.)
So how did my friend who had known me for close to 27 years not know that I had a brother? My brother is my half-brother and my sisters are my half-sisters and they don’t share parents. That’s the short version of my family tree. Of course people would ask me to tell them more and then get confused when I tried to explain who all our parents were. In middle school, when I met Tammy, I was the new kid at school and I didn’t fit in for so many other reasons. I didn’t want to also be the one with the complicated family tree. Instead I found it easier to explain the ones I was living with at the time, easier to avoid the question I had no answer to, “Where is your mom?” My brother was living with my mom and stepdad somewhere in the world. No one would ever interact with him. And that’s how it was for years.
At the time my brother and I were separated from each other, he was only 7 years old and I was 13. I wouldn’t see him again until we were 14 and 20 or maybe 15 and 21. It wouldn’t be another year or two until I saw my mom and stepdad again. This was way before the time of emails, Facebook or even My Space. (I’m aging myself aren’t I.) I had no physical address for him or our parents so we were completely out of touch for all those years. As a teenager filled with insecurity and repressed feelings of abandonment, I tucked that part of my life away. If I never had to explain it, then I would never have to confront the reality of it.
How I reclaimed my brother will have to wait until the next post while I sit with my feelings for a little bit.