I remember it like it was yesterday. My mom and I were in the living room and I had shyly asked her about kissing boys. I needed clarification on something. One of my friends had told me that “french” kissing was when a boy put his tongue into your mouth when he kissed you. I thought for sure she was lying, but I didn’t want to be laughed at if it was true and I “wasn’t in the know”. The whole idea to me was gross, but at the same time I was fascinated…I mean, what would be the purpose of putting your tongue in someone else’s mouth…aside from the grossness factor…what about the germs? ick!! So I had decided, because my mother always told me I could ask her ANYTHING, to do just that. I was so nervous because she made a huge deal out of EVERYTHING.
This was no exception. She immediately wanted to know who I was kissing. I said no one, and told her what my friend had said. She just sat there staring at me, cigarette in her hand, willing me to say more, but I had nothing. It was just a simple question. It was difficult to get a straight answer out of my mother when it had to do with anything regarding adolescence. She would never answer a question about adolescence directly, the answer would be found somewhere between the inquisition and the lecture.
I was ten years old, and my life was about to change forever. We got into a disagreement about what I should know at my age, and what I shouldn’t. I didn’t think that “knowing” about kissing was inappropriate, as long as I wasn’t doing it. My mom started in on the “leading to other things” lecture. I braced myself, and immediately regretted asking my question based on her continued assurances that I could ask her anything.
My mom was good at answering some questions. She could go on and on about first periods, and the story of how it was hush hush in her family, and her mother quietly took her to the closet where she “hid” the maxi pads, she showed her the belt to attach it (yes in those days there was no self adhesive ladies!) and handed her a book. That was sex ed 101 in her house. I thought that’s where this conversation was going, so I leaned back in the overstuffed chair I was in and contemplated getting a snack. Then I discovered that she was making pea soup for dinner, and held off. I loved my mothers pea soup with ham. To this day…the smell brings me back to this moment in my life.
I’ve always been a challenge for my mother. Our personalities are opposite, and where she pushes I pull. She pushed on why I needed to know this information about kissing, what boy was I kissing? Has any boy “touched” me? Did I have a boyfriend? Honestly, I just wanted the answer to my question. I fired back by pulling at the “Why are you so suspicious of me?” “Why are you accusing me of doing all these things? Why do you think I have a boyfriend? Why do you tell me I can come to you about ANYTHING and I get the third degree?” Her eyes went all bulgy-like and she started screaming at me…. really screaming at me. I began to feel scared. When my mom got this way, it was a guess to how long it would last. Alot of factors figured into the length of said tirade. How much she had had to drink, whether she was dieting again, time of day….the list goes on.
I was on high alert. As a child of abuse, I was wound up tight like a coiled spring, waiting to jump out of the chair if she started to get slap happy. I was quick at dodging angry hands. I was so confused though…what had I done to make her go ballistic like this? It was clear there was going to be no break in the screaming where I could say anything so I yelled over her. I remember over and over saying “kissing isn’t going to lead to anything, I’m not kissing anyone!” and her screaming “It will lead to sex!”
I was stunned into silence, and embarrassed. She said the “S” word and that deflated me pretty quick. I was right. This was no ordinary conversation. I began to feel a sense of dread, like something awful was about to happen. She started to cry, and that scared me even more. What had I done? Had I gone too far? All I could do was sit and wait. After what was a long uncomfortable silence, she told me she didn’t want me to go out and have sex. I assured her that I wasn’t going to have sex until I was married like she told me to, but she was far away. She was staring at me, but she wasn’t seeing me, it was a weird moment seared in my mind forever, her talking to me with those vacant eyes.
I reminded her, all I asked about was kissing. She started to go on about “leading to other things.” I didn’t care about the kissing anymore. I just wanted to get the hell out of this weird, scary conversation.
My mom was a mess, crying and yelling and her words weren’t making sense. I was rooted where I sat, scared, not knowing what to do. I had never seen her like this before. Then she said the words that opened the floodgates. “I don’t want you to be like me!” (talk about foreshadowing…) I asked her if she had sex before she was married. She screamed “yes!! and you have a sister!”
All the heat dropped out of my body, to be replaced with a cold tingling. I felt like I was on the outside watching myself take all this in. A sister? I have an older sister? I was in deep shock. I remember my hands were clammy, and my heart was racing. Somewhere in me, things started making sense. I think I had always known I wasn’t the oldest.
I asked my mom where my sister was. She wasn’t with us, and so now I was starting to tear up and feel overwhelmed because I just found out I had a sister only to find out she died or something. I was envisioning graveyards, and sadness.
My mom took a shaky breath and jumped up and said “The ham! the ham is burning!” and went running off into the kitchen, and I was left alone.
I don’t know how long my mother was gone. I couldn’t move, I just sat there stunned until suddenly she was sitting there on the couch again. I could feel the waves and waves of terror coming off her. I could almost hear her saying to herself, “I’ve said too much, I can’t go back.” The proverbial cat was out of the bag, forever.
When I was finally able to find my voice, I asked in a whisper “Where is my sister?” As soon as it was out, I wanted to take it back, because I didn’t want to know. I wanted to hang on to having a sister just a little longer before the other shoe dropped. I had always wanted an older sister. I never wanted to be the oldest. I was always in trouble for something I did or said, and my younger sister was living a trouble free life from behind the buffer my existence gave her. I wanted a buffer. I wanted to be softly cocooned in the middle of my sibling group. I wanted to have an older sister to do things with, and to talk to. I couldn’t believe my wish came true. The heaviness wouldn’t leave the room though, so I knew something wasn’t right. I fought the urge to bolt. I didn’t want to know anymore. I wanted to keep the knowledge of her safe in my heart where I could bring her out whenever I felt like it. I remember clear as day thinking to myself “I will love her forever, please don’t let her be dead.”
“I gave my baby girl up for adoption.” she said, through her tears. I knew what that meant. My grandmother was adopted. She grew up in another family because her mom died after giving birth to her. My mother was ALIVE. Why would my sister go live with strangers, when our mother was alive? She told me, it was because she was young and unable to take care of a child at that time. In “those days” that was what you did. If you were not married you gave your baby up for adoption and started a family after you were married. “Does she look more like you?, or dad?” She told me that my sister had a different father than my own. I hadn’t considered that. “Shes your half sister.” What does that mean? Half sister… Half of what exactly? and who got the other half? I vowed right then and there that I didn’t care about the half part. Shes my sister, I claimed her as my own. I pictured her out there in the world without her family. “Let’s go find her. We need to go find her”… my mom dropped the final bombshell. She explained that we couldn’t go and look for her, because she doesn’t know who we are. “She doesn’t know she has a sister? She doesn’t know she has a different mom?” It didn’t make sense. “Don’t tell your (younger) sister” and just like that, the conversation was ended.
I was electrified. I had a sister, a secret sister that was all mine. I had permission to not share her, and I felt special. I wanted to name her. I asked my mom if she had a name, and she told me that she had named her baby after herself, with the baby’s middle name being that of her best friend. She then explained that the baby’s name had been changed to whatever her new mom and dad want to call her. Well then, if they could give her a new name so could I. I named her Daphnee, after my grandmother. It was my grandmothers birth name, so I thought it was fitting. I wondered if everybody had a birth name.
I fantasized about Daphnee…I didn’t think she would look like me because I looked like my dad. So I dreamed of her looking like my mother. I gave her long dark hair, and brown eyes. Those were traits I shared with our mom, so I thought it would be nice. For some reason, I always pictured us being in an ice cream shop enjoying cones together. How proud I would feel having my big teenage sister to hang out with. I would be the envy of my entire class. I also started to look for my sister in crowds. I sensed I would just know when I found her. That she would stick out of the crowd and be exactly as I pictured her. This continued for years.
The piece about giving a baby to strangers still really confused me. It also confused me that my family would consider this the right thing to do. You see, my family knew what to do with a baby. My mother was in the middle of a large sibling group. She may have been considered by some to be “too young” but I would have thought that my grandmother would have helped her get on her feet. The whole piece about “a baby needs to grow up with parents that are married” didn’t make sense to me because, here I was, my family a product of divorce and my mom was a single mom. The very thing she said she couldn’t be. The biggest hurdle for me, was that my mother was ALIVE. Up until then, I knew that adoption could happen in cases where your mother died (like my grandmother), but for it to happen when BOTH your parents were alive, made me feel heartbroken inside. My sister was on earth SOMEWHERE and didn’t know I was out there. Why is this secret? Why was my sister a secret? I never voiced any of these questions or thoughts to my mother. My sister was a very touchy subject for her. For me, I counted down the years until I could find her.