Today is my sister’s birthday.
I was 19 when my mother told me that I had an older sister.
Mommy was sitting in this exact kitchen, looking like she looks in this photo, only I thought she was much older. (She was 40!)
She was 19 when Susan was born, only she wasn’t my mother then, and my father wasn’t her boyfriend.
She spent those months without family or friends at the Home for Unwed Mothers in Trenton.
“Don’t make 2 mistakes,” she used to say. “If you get pregnant, you don’t have to get married.”
A year after Susan was born, now pregnant with me, my mother married my father.
Though I searched for my older sister for years—in the faces of strangers, who looked familiar, and were also named, Susan–I only met her once, 17 years later, at my mother’s burial.
It was 17 years after that, just before my 54th birthday last autumn that I received the call,
Afterward, I looked through the photos posted online, and I was surprised and delighted and pained.
She looked so much like the rest of us in surprising ways. Another sister’s eyes. My niece’s cheeks. A familiar smile.
She lived so much life, without us, and was gone, 6 months before I knew she died.
To lose a sister without knowing seems criminal.
Shouldn’t I have felt something inside?
My mother only lived in that kitchen for a few years–in between the separation and the divorce.
She was on her dying bed when she met her daughter for the second time.
I’d found Susan, at the last minute, with the help of a woman at Catholic Charities.
In the years since I’ve fantasized about the conversations we’d have once we were reunited. I would finally have an older sister like I had been to so many.
Today is her first birthday from the other side. She would have been 56.
I’ve loved her all along just for being there, older than me, leading the way.
Now it’s as if a bead has fallen off the string of siblings my mother handed me.