Today, I turn 25. (Well, when this is published, I’ll have been 25 for an entire day, but whatever).
Today, I also got a phone call from the man who is my father. Technically.
I say technically because he is the man who left his biological imprint on me, who is one half of the genetic donors that made me, however, he is not my father.
I was adopted at 2 days old, and from that point, my adoptive parents became, unquestionably, my parents. This is a strange concept for some people to grasp. As a kid, I would get the question “But who are your REAL parents?”. Being 7, it was hard for me to explain that no, my parents are my parents– those “other parents” just happened to be the ones who’d win a paternity test, but MY mom and dad have, and always will be, my mom and dad.
I tried “You’re not my REAL Mom” once, and only once in the heat of an argument over something stupid, probably having to do with my perpetually messy room, and the hurt on my mother’s face was enough to stop me from ever saying something so stupid ever again.
When my dad died, that…well, that was kind of it on the whole “dad” thing. There was never a part of me that thought “well, I’ve got this bonus dad on the back burner….”…I just…figured I got what I got and that was that. I got 20 some beautiful, fantastic, wonderful years with the man who was my father, and while every day I regret not having more time with him, not having him around to know Jake or see my shows or a million other small, trivial things…I had an amazing father. And I miss him, every single goddamn day. I miss having a dad. I miss having someone to look up to. Except for a very brief stint in an amazing play last year, I haven’t had that in a long time. And it’s very easy to forget what it feels like, looking up to someone.
But then, today, the man who is my father and not my father called.
And he told me that I have a sister.
Flash back three or so years–I am roughly 21, and my mom has facilitated contact with my biological mother, and SHE has a daughter. Since our first encounter, we have gotten to know each other, and I can fully and honestly say that my biological half sister on my mom’s side is the goddamn shizzlenit. She’s amazing. She is brilliant and funny and talented and beautiful and we even kind of look alike–and, bonus, we get along, and I’m going up to see her in a few weeks, and I could not be more excited.
So then here I am, today, (well, I suppose yesterday, at this point), and I’m sitting at work, taking a break, listening to a man I’ve spoken to twice in my life tell me that I have a 14 year old sister named Lillian and would it be okay if he told her about me?
….What do you say to that? Of course I said yes.
And then, thanks to the instant-gratification magic of the internet, I got a friend request on Facebook within an hour, and then, by the end of the night, we’d exchanged several messages back and forth.
My half-sister, who I’ve known about for less than 24 hours, is just as amazing as my other half sister. It is creepy how many similarities we share— except for one.
I’m ten, well, now, eleven years older than her.
And I see SO much of myself in the person that she is, right now.
And it’s weird.
Because suddenly, I’ve gotten a free telephone call to 14 year old me. I’ve got one free trip in the time machine to warn me about what lies ahead. That awkward, uncomfortable, speech-team/band geek teenager that was Catie of Christmas Past– she’s been messaging me on Facebook. And asking my opinions. And advice.
And it’s…..strange. I know that this new half-sister is not the same person I was, but at the same time, we are so very alike. Even in just the couple days that we’ve been talking, I know her. I remember her, because I WAS her. I remember 14-year old Catie, and I remember the struggle and the self doubt and the generalized awfulness that was high school—as much as I keep telling myself “we are not identical”, it is really, really difficult to accept that, because we are, for half sisters ten years apart who only “met” a day ago, we are….nearly the same person.
So now, I’m at this really weird juncture.
Part of me wants to flood her message box with the wisdom that I wish someone had told me. “You are wonderful. You are beautiful. You are amazing and talented and loved and brilliant and everything–absolutely everything–will work out okay in the end”…because I’ve got a shot. I can still save 14-year-old Catie from a thousand hurts and a thousand dangers— but I keep having to remind myself that a shared interest in percussion and speech team does not an identical personality make.
I don’t know her, really. Who am I to assume that she is not a fully confident, beautiful, assured young woman..just because I wasn’t? Who am I to determine that she needs my sage wisdom of “just keep being a jackass, it worked out for me in the end”…who am I to assume that she needs me at all?
And I feel bad. I know how I present myself, and I know how I come off. Cool, fun older girl with swords and a boyfriend and Shakespeare and blue hair and poetry and travel and performing and being awesome, all the time, but I don’t have the heart to tell her that I can’t afford my phone bill. I don’t want to disappoint her, because I feel like I’m letting her down…and I’m letting the Catie Of Christmas Past Down. It didn’t turn out all sunshine and roses. I still need a full time job, I’ve got a pain disorder that makes my life shit nearly every day and oh, by the way, sorry, 14 year old Catie, your size 0 phase lasts for about two months. Don’t get me wrong– some of it– most of it, really, turned out fucking amazing, it’s just the not-so-amazing parts that I’m hesitant to reveal. I don’t want this kid to know that I spend a lot of nights crying because I’m in so much pain. I don’t want her to know that I still puke (sometimes) just to prove to myself that I’m still “in control”.
I’m not broken, and I’m not a martyr. I accept who I am and my choices have made me who I am, a successful, awesome 25 year old, but sometimes…goddamn it….if I could warn me about me before it was too late….would I? Or am I am who I am today because of my royal fuck ups and failings?
How much about the real world do you share with someone who has two more years before they can drive?
I, well….I’ve always wanted to be a cool older sister…and now, suddenly, after 24 (well, 25) years of not knowing, I’ve suddenly been given the chance, and the potential for me fucking this up royally is pretty goddamn high.
I really….don’t have an ending for this. I don’t have a cute closer or a smarmy punch line. I’m scared. I’m scared because I like her, and I really, really don’t want to fuck this up. I like this kid a lot. But I don’t see myself as a role model or even, really, a responsible human being. I’m a writer with a passion for Shakespeare. I make shit money and I have a basket of swords, and I consider one of those an important life achievement. I love who I am and what I do, but I don’t know if I can, in good conscience, act like I know what I’m talking about…and here, suddenly, is someone who so very much reminds me of who I used to be, waiting to hear my insights.
It’s….it’s huge, for me, at least. Suddenly, I’m kind of an older sister. And, well, goddamn it, last night, after I had told her that sometimes I write things for money, she asked me to tell her a story. I could barely keep my shit together enough to tell her something coherent, let alone creative. I was literally weeping while I was writing some bullshit thing about dragons, because this….this is not something you get every day.
What would I say to 14 year old me?
What warnings would I give? What would I say to stop all of the hurt and doubt and mess that is high school? Or would I say anything at all? Would assuring her that I end up relatively good looking stop an eating disorder that nearly destroyed me? Would telling her that my writing winds up gaining me a modicum of fame push me harder to succeed?
Who would I be if I know the things that I do now?
What happens when the time streams collide?
Do I just tell her a story about dragons and long-lost sisters and nightmare kings with his army of Meanwhiles and Neverweres?
Or do I tell her to love herself, every goddamn minute of every goddamn day because she, by very virtue of her existence, is amazing?
…Goddamn it, I don’t want to fuck this up.