My Sister That Was
Back in 1973, my mother's third husband and his ex-lover had a smart, peculiar child, whom they raised in shifts. This ex-lover and her same-sex partner were surprisingly free-spirited Quakers; the third husband was an ex-hippie opthalmologist. The parental units gave their peculiar daughter a woo-woo name, a lot of independence, a detailed introduction to hallucinogens and very little by way of social skills. Woo-Woo, three years my junior, lived with us in my mother's house for a few years.
Initially, the three bio siblings called her "step-sister"; eventually, we learned that it was much more PC to call her "sister". When her father and my mother divorced, it seemed impolite to call her an "ex-sister", so we came up with "former step-sister from our mother's third marriage." At some point, I felt so awkward about the whole thing that I asked if she minded if I called her "sister" again, even though we only spoke occasionally and had almost nothing in common.
She embraced the word "sister", as, aside from us, she was an only child. We were happy to give her that, for what it was worth. As an adult, she would, on occasion, show up unannounced at our house in a state of inconsolable emotional turmoil--even though she lived some four hundred miles away--and stay for several days while we fed her and tried to cheer her up. But when the crisis was over, we would not hear from her again for, say, a year and a half. Not very sisterly, but, then again, perhaps very sisterly.
Last year, she made a concerted effort to get back in touch. She wanted to be part of Olivia's life, wanted to be an aunt, spent hours asking about infertility and the heartache of barrenness. I remember saying several times that one of the worst parts of it was feeling different, feeling like I had to be treated with kid gloves by anyone who knew about our struggles. She sympathized mightily, saying it was a lot like the people who tried not to upset her because they were afraid of sending her on one of her four-hundred-mile crying jags.
So, I heard through the spindly family grapevine that Woo-Woo is twenty weeks' pregnant. She didn't want to upset me so she didn't email me when she told my (other) sister. She and her boyfriend have been together for a few months. She is happy with him and plans to get married when the baby is old enough to travel with them to Vietnam or Antarctica or the Serengeti Plain for the honeymoon. She is getting no medical care, believes that ultrasounds will cause brain damage to her fetus and says that she "just knows" that everything is OK with the baby because, well, she just knows. She has an approximate idea--within a couple of weeks--of how far along she is.
I still find it hard to believe that people like this exist--people who can approach pregnancy with no fear whatsoever. I find it even harder to believe that my very own sorta-sister is people like this.