My sister Abigail was 12 years old when I first learned of her existence. I was 22 at the time, beginning my final year of college. She is
10 years younger than me.
The day I found out about her, I had come home from college for a quick visit. When I opened the door to my childhood home, I heard my mother upstairs crying. Dad was in the kitchen with a bag over his shoulder, just about to leave.
"What's going on?" I asked him.
"Well," he began, setting his bag down and not meeting my eyes, "your mother has kicked me out."
"Why did mom kick you out?" I pressed.
Eyes to the floor, voice soft, my dad told me about the affair he had had on my mother many years ago, and revealed that, as a result of the affair, he had another daughter that I had never known about.
My mind spun for a few seconds at the revelation, processing what he had just told me.
I had a sister.
"What's her name?" I asked finally.
"Abigail," he answered reverently. I tried the name out in my head. Abigail.
"Do you see her?" I asked.
He nodded, "Every week for the past twelve years." And that's when the depth of the lie really hit me. Twelve years.
I lost it a little at that point, and I remember yelling at my dad. I remember asking whether we had ever really been a family, or whether everything had been a lie.
He said he liked to think we had been a family, but he understood if I never wanted to speak to him again.
I calmed down a bit at that and said of course I wanted to speak to him. He was my dad and it wasn't like I was going to just turn my back on him. But this was fucked up, and I was going to need some time to process.
He said he understood, and then he left. I went upstairs and found my mother and brother and the three of us cried together and embraced one another.
The revelation was very shocking to me, because I had always so admired my father for being an honest man. A man of integrity. I respected him and looked up to him. And what I was hearing from him when he told me the truth was from another reality that I had never imagined possible. It wasn't that he had cheated on my mother. It wasn't that he had fathered a child with another woman. It was that he had lied to all of us for so long. It was the deception.
It was taking the foundation out from under me, my sure footing, my version of reality, and fucking it completely up. I didn't know what was real any longer. Was our family ever really real? Was my childhood real? My teenage years -- were they real? Was I real? I had been formed in an environment that was a lie. How could I really be the person who I had thought I was?
That's the mental struggle that I would deal with for quite awhile after the revelation. I sought comfort and understanding from many sources -- my friends, my roommates, my journal, and ultimately my school counseling center. I even distracted myself by jumping quickly into a number of fast and dramatic romantic relationships. In a way that was me replacing one pain with others. It took a long time for me to work things out in my head and find my sure footing once more. Healing and forgiveness toward my father came, but they did so slowly over a matter of years.
I thought it would be interesting to share an excerpt from my journal from that time. I wrote the following abridged entry not long after the revelation. I had not been journaling prior to this entry, and took this experience as an opportunity to work on inner healing - or at least inner awareness - by writing. I ended up keeping the journal for about 4 years from 2004-2008, although entries became less frequent when I began blogging in 2006. Most of the substance revolves around the aforementioned dramatic relationships, but ever lurking between the lines is my struggle with the revelation and its aftermath.
Nov. 16, 2004
It is a very turbulent time in my life right now. ...
My family life has turned on its head. I was shocked to learn that my dad cheated on my mom 12 years ago and had another daughter from the affair. The disillusionment is indescribable. You think you know a person, but maybe you never really can. Our reality is perhaps nothing more than our perception. And my reality turned out to be illusion.
I can’t help but think back on the years of my young life and try to reframe my understanding of what was real.
I was 12. In sixth grade. Cable had been lost for awhile and maybe even Phoenix was there.* My dad had a 2-yr old.
It was 1991. I thought a lot about that year because it’s a palindrome. I was 9 or so. Grandpa Terry had died the previous year. I got baptized into the LDS church on my 9th birthday. My friends slept over that night and we ate Little Caesar’s pizza. I ate the cheese first and commented on how the pizza looked like a brain. My dad would have his bastard** child the next year. He had probably already been cheating for at least 3 years, since I was 6, a kindergartener. It blows my mind.
I think it was 1993 that my parents took a month-long trip with [family friends] to Hawaii. My brother and I stayed with Grandma & Grandpa, and Milky*** was there and Don tended us one night and we played a cat & mouse game. Dad had a 1-yr old.Perception and reality. How can you ever trust anyone? Sometimes you can’t even trust yourself. But you can’t live like that or you’ll go insane. You have to believe in people, but try to balance that faith with some amount of caution. Balance is the way, thank you, Buddha, but it’s incredibly hard to attain. Oh yeah, my parents are divorcing. So that’s my family situation.
Luckily, I live with 3 wonderful people ... My roommates, Pla, K-T, & LaNae ...
LaNae has been an indispensable source of support and comfort to me in this crazy time. She helped me put things in perspective and realize that I’m still me. I am who I am based on the false reality I grew up with, but that doesn’t make me any less real. I know who I am, and that’s a true comfort. ....
* Cable and Phoenix were two of my four childhood cats. I had very bad luck keeping my cats around for long before they went missing.
** I was deeply regretful when I saw my choice of word here. It was written from a place of hurt and anger meant for my father but misdirected at my sister, who had no fault in the situation. When I started transcribing my journal from this period after Abigail and I had connected, I almost quit the project because of this one word. But it was my goal to create an open and honest relationship with my sister from the beginning. Abigail was very gracious and understanding about my poor choice of words here.
*** Milky was my brother's childhood cat. He had much better luck with cats than I.
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