When I first found Sylvia, my oldest sister, living in Virginia, was in the middle of breaking up with her fiance. It was a difficult time for her, and she wasn’t ready to add meeting me on top of it. She let me know through my sister Jennifer that she would let me know when she was ready.
I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed. I was. I had already learned a lot about Vicki – that she had been a professional wrestler (!) and was currently in welding school, that she was “eccentric” and a divorced mother of one. I had pictures of her. But I wanted to know her, talk to her. I wanted to “feel” that big-sister presence in my life. I will admit that I was ambivalent about her reluctance to meet me at once. I felt coldly rejected without having been given a chance.
A year went by before Vicki let me know, again through Jennifer, that it was okay to call her. Because I was still feeling snotty about having been ignored for so long, I waited a while before picking up the phone. More than a month, actually, but once we made that first contact, it was as if we’d never been apart from each other. Somehow, Vicki and I connected immediately on a very deep level. Soon we were making plans for Vicki to fly west for our Grandmother’s birthday the end of May.
We had agreed to allow the reunion to be filmed for The Learning Channel’s “Reunions” show, which added an element of anxiety for both of us. We need not have worried – from the moment our eyes met at the airport, no one else existed.
The drive from Seattle to Portland to meet her was entirely different from the drive to meet Sylvia. I wasn't driving to meet a stranger or someone that scared me - I was going to meet my soulmate, my other half. I couldn't wait to get there, and the bad weather and the awful traffic the entire way only made my anticipation that much greater.
The rain and traffic delay made me miss Vicki's flight by almost an hour. I felt horrible that I wasn't there to meet her when she got off the plane. When I finally got to the airport and parked my truck, I practically ran to the baggage claim area. No Vicki. After a few tense minutes of thinking she had chickened out on me, the film crew checked at the gate, and located her there. I met her halfway between the gate and the baggage claim, right by the security gate. I saw her from 50 feet away - and my heart started pounding like crazy. I kept thinking to myself, "don't cry," because Vicki and I had agreed together that we would not cry like fools in the middle of a public place like the airport. Yeah, right! We bawled like babies. This was totally different from the numbness I had felt when meeting Sylvia. I knew from the minute Vicki's arms went around me that I would never be rejected again. Here was someone I could count on always, could trust completely. I was HOME. There was no other way to describe it.
Vicki and Jennifer and I, three sisters, all together in one place for the first time ever. Jennifer and I had developed a wonderful bond in the year that it was just us two – Vicki sealed the deal. For a glorious three-day weekend we ignored the cameras and had a wonderful time talking, flying kites on the beach and celebrating Grandmother’s birthday. The only bad part of the weekend was Sylvia. A couple of days before Vicki was to arrive, she and her husband decided they weren’t coming because Jennifer wasn’t bringing her children and they thought she was being “selfish.” We talked them into coming, but her presence was almost a hindrance rather than a benefit. I was learning more and more from my sisters about their childhood, and what I was learning about Sylvia was disturbing. Her addictions and horribly poor choices of relationships made their growing up years a living hell. They were in and out of foster care, and Vicki as the oldest had essentially been a mother to her brothers and little sister until, at the age of 14, she left the family home and lived on her own. For Vicki, it was a matter of survival. Between her mother and stepfather’s abuse, there was no way for her to stay.
Despite all of the family problems, my time with my sisters and particularly with Vicki was momentous. I had never met another person who is as close to me in personality as Vicki is. We are like two halves of the same whole. Apart, we’re great – together, we’re amazing. The reunion changed my life in ways I had never anticipated. For the first time, I realized that I was not just someone I had made up, that all the aspects of my personality I had thought were faulty were simply me. I was very unlike my adoptive family in many ways, and although I know I was loved unconditionally, I thought that I needed to conform to my environment. I was unable to accept certain aspects of myself – the rebellious person who loved weird things and weird people better than anything; the person who always had to say what she thought, no matter who she was talking to. Vicki is all of this. She is smart, funny, aggressive, intense. We have many of the same likes and dislikes, many of the same physical gestures, the same lack of concern for physical safety. We both say that if we had been raised in the same household, no neighborhood would have been safe!
Sisters, all of us, together at last. No one or no two of us more important than the whole. Jennifer and Vicki also were able to reform a relationship with each other. They had been apart since Jennifer was small, and had not had many opportunities through the years to have much contact. This reunion did and continues to change all of our lives in so many ways. We spent three glorious days at the beach, laughing, talking, holding each other close, sharing secrets, listening to music. Film crew? What film crew? It will always be one of the best weekends of my entire life.
I sobbed the entire three-hour drive home.
NEXT: Part 5: Losing Sylvia