We share the same blood. We also share the same coarse afro hair, almond shaped eyes and brown skin. We share the same father.
You are at once intimately familiar to me and yet completely Other. You exist as a genetic paradox; a being with half of my biological make-up who manages to be so totally alien that for 23 years I barely acknowledged your existence.
It was only when I opened an old photo book and saw images of you that I realised how little I know you. While I was back home over Christmas, curiosity got the better of me and I took the liberty of poring over a large leather-bound album, which is usually confined to the farthest corner of our father’s bookshelf. Photos of him in another life loomed large in their total omnipotence. A life I knew he had but one that was never really spoken of in our household. You weren’t exactly a secret – I knew your name, knew that you lived in New York, knew that you worked at a hotel, knew that my father left you and your mother sometime before I was born. It was also common knowledge that you and our father no longer spoke. But that was where it stopped. I didn’t even know your age until I began writing this letter.
When you open your family photo album you accept that feelings of nostalgia and detachment are likely to surface. This is the reason why some people turn to such archives when they want a good cry. It’s up there with putting on that record that reminds you of lost youth. But when those feelings are mixed with the residues of anger (how come no one ever told me more about you?), the dregs of frustration (why don’t I know any of the stories behind these images?) and a lacing of melancholia (how much time have we wasted not knowing each other?) you end up with a great reeking, congealing mass of unresolved leftovers.
I couldn’t stop myself gorging upon faded pictures of you smiling on family holidays or posing in front of unfamiliar locations. Even quotidian photos of you eating breakfast cereal in your school uniform were fascinating to my inquisitive eye. In so many images – particularly baby photos – it is near impossible to tell us apart. I think the benchmark is probably that your skin is a slightly lighter shade of brown. The realisation that we must have shared so many of the same emotions and experiences reverberated within me.
Everyone’s watched those documentaries where long lost family members are finally reunited after lifetimes of living apart. The reunion narrative usually follows this kind of rhetoric: the prodigal family member discloses that all along they knew they’d still fit into the family, they knew that so-and-so would have the same sense of humour as them or that they had already predicted they would bond over their mutual love of Italian cuisine. Next, they resort to some old adage that echoes the “blood is thicker than water” motif.
It scares me that I feel none of these. I question how similar we can really be. We’ve had completely different upbringings after all. On the most fundamental level, you were left in a single-parent, low income family whereas I had the luxury of growing up in a heteronormative family unit. You have had to deal with the undeniable fact that our father created a new family, while I have been sheltered, discouraged even, from learning more about you. In my childhood naivety (or stupidity depending on how you look at it), I never thought to ask more about you. Did you ever want to know more about me? For all I know, you could want nothing to do with me.
The gulf between us now is vast and dense. Perhaps it would make more sense to imagine it as a thicket with many complex roots and routes threading in and out. We belong to different generations. We are separated by the great sprawling expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. And most significant; we are divided by the actions of our father. All the intimacies that come with having a sister are left hanging in the abyss between us. I wonder if there will ever be a time when you tell me about your first kiss, or when I tell you about my first acid trip or when we sit and laugh together about our father’s commitment to 70’s flares.
In this hyperconnected world it’s a rarity not to be able to find someone’s online profile. Yet you have no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no LinkedIn. A Google search of your name turns up nothing. It seems the odds are stacked against me finding you.
I can only hope that in all these years, my silence was never taken as an offence. There’s still a huge part of me that believes one day we’ll meet.
Your littlest sister Alice