Together Again for the First Time
Copyright 2018 by Rosi Hollinbeck
For over sixty
years, my mother knew she had siblings who had been given up for
adoption. It wasn't until she was in her seventies that she was able to
meet her long-lost sister.
They moved around each other in a
tight circle, like two aged, heavy fighters looking for the first
punch. Then they went into a clinch. A groan came from Helen, the
shorter of the two elderly women. Stunned and nearly speechless, she
finally croaked out a few words. "I don't know where to begin. I have
so much to ask. So much I want to know. Where have you been? How have
you been? Who are we? How can we look so much alike and not have found
each other before now?"
Lois' face was pinched into a
pained expression, tears rode the lower lids of her bright hazel eyes.
"I just want to hold onto you. I'm so afraid you will disappear!”
Helen held Lois at arm’s length and stared
at her. "It's like looking in a mirror, but an old, slightly warped,
dusty mirror. We almost look exactly alike." And
indeed they did. The differences were few. Helen's short, straight hair
was still surprisingly dark at age 72, and it was obvious no dye was
involved. Lois also kept her curly greying hair cut short. Helen wore
glasses, but Lois, at 66 years, had never needed any. Lois was an inch
or two taller, but they were both fairly short and plump. It was in the
faces, though, that the resemblance was amazing. Both faces were quite
round with big hazel eyes, little button noses and wide, sweet mouths.
The skin of both women was soft and smooth, with few wrinkles. There
was silence for a few minutes as these two sisters stared in amazement
and awe into each other's familiar face.
Helen had known since she was about twelve
that somewhere in the world she had missing twin siblings, a boy and a
girl. Her mother, too poor to raise more than the five children she
already had, adopted out these unplanned twins.
Helen had been visited by her mother while
she and her brother, Bob, had stayed in an orphanage in Duluth for
"I remember Mom coming to visit, and we could just
talk to her through the fence. I didn't know why they wouldn't let her
come inside. It was in the winter, and she had on a big coat, but she
seemed fat to me. That's all. Just fat. I was too young to understand
she might be pregnant. I never thought about it. But that must have
been the time. Bob and I cried and clutched at her through the fence.
But she brushed our hands away and said she'd be back to get us in a
few weeks." Helen's voice became bitter. "A few weeks in that hell
hole. I don't know if she didn't know how bad it was or if she didn't
care or if she just had no other place for us. Those nuns used to
beat me when Bob wet his bed. He was just three and
was scared being away from Mom and our brothers. But those sisters
didn't care. They just didn't want to have to wash the sheets.”
The two women sat next to each other on the afghan
covered couch, holding hands tightly as if afraid that if they became
disconnected, one of them would float away. Their eyes searched each
other’s faces the whole time, looking for some kind of confirmation and
finding it with every look. When a subject became too painful, one
would lead the other to something easier.
Lois gave Helen a quick hug and and said, "That
must have been that creepy old place on Twelfth Street. I used to go by
there on my way to school. Tell me about our father now. My God, do we
even have the same father? Do you know? My adoption papers say M.
Morris was the father. That's your father. Do you think he really was
my father, too?" A short laugh bubbled up and escaped Lois' mouth. "I
can't believe that I've found you! Tell me everything. Tell me some of
the good things.”
"I'm pretty sure our father was the same. I don't
have any reason to think he wasn't. And you look so much like the rest
of us. You have that Morris nose and that's a pretty distinctive nose!"
Now Helen's laughter burst out, and she looked much younger when she
was laughing. "My sister. My own little sister. You don't know how much
I wanted a sister growing up in that house full of rough, tough country
boys. We tried to find you once about twenty years ago. Mike hired a
detective and got an answer back that your parents said you didn't want
to know anything about your real family. Did you want to know? Did our
brother want to know? How could he have died so young?”
Question rapidly followed question, answers only
able to slip in between every second or third question. I watched as my
mother began to relax with her "little sister”, and I could not
remember a time in her life she seemed so happy and at peace with
herself. The missing twins had been ghosts haunting our lives as long
as I could remember.
I thought back to that time twenty years ago when
my father called me in New York from their home in San Diego to tell me
Mom had had a nervous breakdown and was in the hospital. It was shortly
after the detective had given my uncle the news that there would be no
contact with the missing twins.
"She wanted to kill herself. But she was so
confused she couldn't figure out how to do it. The police said I should
commit her." His voice had been tight, tired, and hurt. "Can you come
out? I need someone here to help me. I don't know if I did the right
thing. I don't know what to do now." I went, of course, and it was such
a hard time for us all. I would spend each day at the hospital with
Mom, having to lie to her, saying that I had no matches in my purse,
because she wasn't allowed to have them. Admiring the little woven hot
pads she made in craft class, the kind I had made in Brownies when I
was seven or so. Telling her things over and over again because she
couldn't remember what I had said only moments before. Sitting all
evening in the dim silence of their mobile home with my Dad who
couldn't bring himself to talk about anything. I wondered if Lois would
ever know just how important it had been for my mother to know her,
that the not knowing had very nearly killed her.
"You know, you have a little twitch in your eye,
Helen. I have that when I'm very excited, too! Let me guess. You've had
your gall bladder out, thyroid trouble, moles on your neck and dry
skin!" Helen nodded to each pronouncement. They both threw their heads
back and laughed. Never had health problems sounded like a blessing,
but each was another proof statement for these long lost sisters. Would
Mom tell Lois about the rampant manic-depressive syndrome that had
gripped her, her mother, and two of her brothers? Did she want to know
if that was strongly genetic? I did. I worried about it often and hoped
she would ask Lois. But she didn't. And I understood why. There are
certain secrets she wasn't ready to share with this sister.
Get to know her. Hold her closely. Make sure she is real. The scary
stuff can wait.
They talked through the afternoon, occasionally
turning to my Dad or me for confirmation of incidents or of memories,
but we were the outsiders, the observers of this strange reunion. As
the afternoon wore away toward dusk, fingers relaxed their desperate
grip and shoulders slumped from tense to tranquil. Words flowed more
slowly and laughter came more often than tears. Finally Lois began the
separation process. "I have to go now. I don't want to drive after it
really gets dark. I have to go home and tell Nadine everything. I'll
call you tomorrow. We have to get together again tomorrow!"
They walked out to Lois' car, arms around each
other's waist and heads together, like pre-pubescent best girlfriends.
They stood at the car talking for nearly an hour, afraid to end this
first meeting. Finally Mom came back in, eyes shining and lips
stretched wide. She hugged me and went up to her room to be by herself,
but never again as alone as she had been until this day.
Rosi writes mostly for children, but
occasionally writes for adults. With a middle-grade novel, a young
adult novel, and several picture book manuscripts complete, all she
needs is to find a publisher. (Don’t we all?) Her work has appeared
inHighlights, High Five, and Humpty
Dumpty magazines. She writes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
Her story-poem “The Monster Hairy Brown” was published in
Thynks Publishing (London) anthology 50 Funny Poems for
Children. Several of her short pieces and poems have won contests. An
excerpt of her novel The Incredible Journey of Freddy
J. will appear in the Noyo River Review. She regularly writes
book reviews for San Francisco and Manhattan
Book Reviews and on her blog found
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher