(I wrote this way back in 2014, before I met more siblings and biological relatives. The whole story is here.)
What if one day you got an email out of the blue from someone claiming to be your sister? What would you do?
I was 50 when I met my brother. It was a month or so after I met my mother. Wait, let me back up a little.
Growing up, my biological mother was the sole star of my adoptee’s curiosity. I knew out there somewhere was an inhibitionless, loves-conditionless woman with an unruly curly mane who would mend the hole in my heart and maybe had a hole of her own that I could mend. Well, wrong.
After a lifetime of being number one on my bucket list, meeting my biological mom, Doris, proved to be startlingly underwhelming. She was a sweet little old lady, never married, never had any children (other than me). She was polite and unguarded, but she had little to say, and no interest in, or anything in common with, yours truly. All my years of wondering and pining may have begun with a clichéd one-night bang, but it ended with a whimper. Despite my lifelong focus on the mystery of the missing mythical mama, it turned out the most interesting and valuable thing about finally finding her was when she coughed up the name of the man chance had made my dad. It was poor Doris’s bad luck to get knocked up by her boss the second time she had sex (at 37!), but it was my incredible luck to not only get all born and everything, but to get some really awesome relatives out of it.
I hadn’t given a lot of thought to my biological father, save for a vague fantasy where Perry Mason or some other smart, even-keeled grown-up swooped in to rescue me. I certainly never gave any siblings much thought. That makes sense – after all, why would I want to share a brand-spanking new loved one with a bunch of interlopers armed with their meddlesome better-than-me-ness? I think my needy heart and its gaping hungry mouth just nudged any fledgling brothers or sisters out the fantasy nest.
So, laughing and hugging and being inappropriate with my birth mother never came to pass, but I got the unexpected gift of a lifetime when I met my brother – and sister, and uncle, aunt, and cousins on my father’s side.
When I called my Dad (the one who raised me) to tell him I’d found out who my biological parents were, I mentioned my birthfather was a big Kennedy administration mucky-muck, with my uncle being an even bigger mucky-muck there, Ted Sorensen. “Too bad he wasn’t your father,” said my Dad, and that was the end of the matter. Well, much as I hated to disappoint my father with, well, my father, I am personally overjoyed to have had the birth father that I did, because now I have 4 brothers and a wonderful sister.
In this last year and a half I’ve been treated to an assortment of sweet cousins, aunts and uncles. I also met Adam Sorensen., the best brother anyone could hope for (seriously, look in the dictionary under “World’s Best Brother” and you’ll see his handsome kisser), his wonderful wife and a darling niece born this year that I’m already obsessing over how to spoil. I also met Ann, a wonderful big sister who’s already bestowed upon me the most incredibly loving blend of affection, interest and well-meaning badgering. (Hi Ann!) She sent me lots of photos, and even our father’s wristwatch. She came all the way to New York City to meet me, tell me stories, gossip, tease me, support me, and give me advice. In other words, she’s a real sister. I’ve also met an aunt and uncle and cousins and I love them all to pieces.
And this Thanksgiving weekend I’ll meet my third biological sibling, an older brother and his wife and family. While it’s a little nerve-racking, I am getting better at it.
But I was really scared the first time I tried contacting a new relative. My birthmother never told a single living soul about me, and to honor her secret I couldn’t very well go looking for any leaves on her side of my family tree. So I went about finding family on my father’s side. Since my birthfather’s family were pretty hot hot-shots, it wasn’t hard to track down family members’ names. I knew one of my biological brothers was named Adam. (Coincidentally, I grew up with a brother named Adam with my adopted family; he was their biological son.) When I Googled the name, I saw that an Adam Sorensen wrote for TIME Magazine, just the sort of place someone like he, and me, would work. I wrote poor Adam the most awkward email I’d ever written. (And that’s saying something.) Basically, it was along the lines of “Excuse me, are you son of ——- , nephew of ———? If so, well, uh, I’m your illegitimate sister. Um…Hello!” I hit “Send” and then prepared to wait awhile but then, pretty quickly, I got a response. Basically, a “Yes, that’s me. Wow. So, what can I do for you?” We agreed to meet near his office (he worked about 3 blocks from my apartment!). I don’t recall too much about our meeting, except how kind and smart and good-looking he was. I was so nervous and overwhelmed I thought I might pass out.
But I do remember that when he asked what I wanted, I slowly, gingerly reached out with my index finger and touched his forearm. You see, for you to be near someone who shares your genes, or ancestors or DNA, isn’t a big deal. You’ve been surrounded by them your whole life. But for me, Adam S. was only the second person I’d ever met to whom I was related. I’d gone half a century without ever knowing anyone related to me by blood, and it was, well, exciting isn’t really the word. I don’t know what the word is. But the word that leaps to mind is, oddly enough, relaxing. I felt like a part of me could, at last, exhale.
This whole wonderful story with a very happy ending is due completely to the insanely loving welcome the Sorensen clan has given me. It is well beyond what I ever would have expected or dared hope. I mean, remember my question: What would you do if some woman just popped up one day and you had a surprise sister? I can imagine it would be unsettling, maybe disturbing, unnerving and bring up things about your dad (brother, uncle, etc.) you might not be interested in knowing. But my brother, sister, uncle, aunt, cousins -– they’ve all been so kind to me, so accepting. The only thing that keeps me from being clumsily stymied and speechless by their sweetness is their earth-shaking smarts. They’re all really, really smart. The two qualities I most admire in anyone are kindness and intelligence, and this family has both in spades. (But frankly, they had me well before I said, “Hello”; I was smitten the moment I touched my brother’s forearm.)
A special lucky surprise was the fact that my big mucky-muck uncle, the writer, wrote a memoir detailing the family’s history with a cast of fascinating and impressively civic-minded, socially conscious, progressive intellectuals. To have photos of grandparents and great-grandparents is such a wonderful gift, and a remarkable backstory like this is more than I’d ever dreamed and so much grander than any childhood delusions of adequacy I might have harbored.
And now in a few days I’ll be privileged to meet more kind, intelligent relatives. I’m looking forward to meeting another brother, Alan, and his wife and children. This Thanksgiving, I’m looking forward to feeling at home.