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First born, never first in line

February 10, 2015

Eight years since I had seen my father. Eight years since I had seen his family--my family.Here I was again with my “long, lost family” in their house

Two months earlier, I met my brother Max. He is only 7 years old  . He has no memory of me, and when we finally met in January of 2011,  he told me, “I didn't even know you were alive!” He laughed it off, not fully understanding how deeply his words pierced my flesh. “They were hiding the pictures of you,” he explained. His words stick with me like they’ve been branded on my face.He hands me a bracelet he had saved all his Chuck E Cheese tickets for. “I got this for you.” He’s shy and still unsure how to react to me. “It was like THREE HUNDRED tickets!” He wanted to make sure I understood how much that really meant. And to an eight year old that was a crap ton.

Max was the one to greet me at the door and make me like being here would be okay. Still, I was nervous to see my sister--our sister… It had eight years since I had seen his sister--my sister! She and I once had an inexplicable relationship. See, we’re the same age, just a few months apart. We have different moms but the sperm used to create us all generated from the same tool. People used to call us “Salt and Pepper.” See, she’s a blonde, and I’m a brunette. We used to share the same thoughts and at one point, we were so close that we didn’t need to speak in order to talk to eachother. We hated being apart and were convinced we were twins. That is, of course, before we knew exactly what twins were.

Finally, after all this time, I get to see her. My nerves are going crazy, and I can’t help but be scared that things won’t be the same.

“Hi!” I come off too eager and smile too big. It’s obvious I’m ecstatic to see her!

“Hey.” She responds calmly and smirks, looking away I sit back in my seat, confused and slightly butt hurt. I almost feel like I’ve done something wrong, but quickly remind myself that it’s been eight years, and it’ll probably take some time. Still, I don’t completely get it. She’s like someone that doesn’t speak my language.But, I guess I’ll have to give it time. My older brother, JR,  is the same as always. We’ve got things we can’t mention. I avoid him.

The next encounter was with Suzzy, my stepmother… Everyone blames her. “She’s the reason they moved to Temecula,” my uncles would tell me.

“She’s probably manipulating him,” my aunt told me. “Whatever she says goes. That's why they’re always with her family!”

“She always makes him do what she wants,” another aunt said. “She probably doesn’t want him seeing you.” Somehow, it always came down to this.

Yeah, I’d heard it all.  My stepmom is painted out to be this evil witch who has some sort of mystical power… I wish she’d let me in on her secret! Ha Ha. “That Bitch.” Yeahhhhhhhh, that’s her name, according to Alex’s side of the family.Alex ,I call my biological father only by his name.

Still,I don’t agree with them. I think she’s smart. She knows exactly what she’s doing. And she’s doing it well. She knew what she wanted and she got it.

I think my “father” is a weak man.

Another eight years of my life. Eight. That tops his record. I thought for sure he wouldn’t be back. I had lost hope. Countless birthdays spent waiting by the phone made me realize maybe it was better to imagine I never knew him at all.  He could have--at any moment--made contact. Reached out. ANYTHING. But instead, nothing. Not a letter. Not a text or an email. Not even a phone call on my birthday.

I sat there. Silent. I started thinking, How long’s it gonna last this time? Not long? Maybe. Just give the guy a shot.

So I do. I convince myself that there was something different about this year…..

I sit in on the family dinners. Play cards like a good sister. Sing for camera and smile big. Avoid JR. Smile at Suzzy and help her out around the house. Please and thank you. Be polite and stay kind. Just listen and observe. Plastic. We were all so plastic. Their attitudes all changed in front of people. They’d hush each other up as outsiders approached. In some odd way, I came to admire their sort of team effort mentality, something like a cult. The way they talked about people when they weren’t around made me sick. But, mostly curious... What were they saying about me when I wasn’t there? Was I ever topic of conversation, or did my memory disappear with my presence? They were something like a Broadway show, so intriguing and amazing when the show was in mo. When we were out, eating in public, it was amusing. I was constantly thinking, “Hurry, someone is coming! Take your places, everyone.”

I was an actress with the starring role. I played the quiet sister in the background, first born, but never first in line. And I had to smile and act like part of the pretty picture frame families. It was more challenging than you'd expect. My guidelines were simple, yet difficult. Never mention your name. Who you are and where you come from are topics to avoid--t all costs. Never explain why you’re here. Let your audience think and question.

And they did. But I couldn’t do it. The show couldn’t go on. On one day, I broke character…

I was sideswiped with plans to attend a small child’s birthday party, Max’s friend from football. Alex had met his dad, Chris at their schools parent night, Alex and Chris became close and so did their wives and of course, theyre kids did too. It was like they were family.

“Hi?” My dad’s friend Chris looked at me, confused. Understandably. I was an unfamiliar face in an unfamiliar place looking for his bathroom.

“Hi.” Naturally, I smile. “Do you know where the bathroom is?” My goodness, how absurd I must have looked. I didn’t know it was HIS house.

“Uhhh, yeahhhhhhhh…” Still confused as to my identity, he pointed me in the right direction. By the time I walked out, everyone had made their way outside for the usual “Happy Birthday” and oversweetened cake.  

“Hey.” It was the man of the house.

“Hi.” I smiled. “Need any help?” He was hilariously struggling with an obscene amount of blue-frosted cupcakes.

“Oh. Yeah. Sure. Thanks.” I could tell he was still confused, but I was hoping to avoid that dreadful question. “Um, who are you here with?” And there it was. The million dollar question. There it was. I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I was done. It was time for the curtain call. My cover was blown and I had no choice but to break character.

“Oh. Um. Actually I’m here with Alex and Suzzy. I felt a ball of uncomfortability grow in my tummy and that horrible feeling like i don't belong.

“OH! Okay. Okay. Ha. Cool. Are you Lilia’s friend?”

Her friend?! I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or totally understanding. I wished the question would disappear, but there weren’t enough candles on the cake to make my wish come true.

“Um. No. Actually, I’m her older sister….” The silence grew louder. It had been eight years since I said that out loud. Eight. It was like speaking another language, I wasn’t quite sure if I was saying it correctly.

“Oh.” As confused as ever. “Really?” He asked in such shock. He’d known Alex for six years. Their sons played on the same football team. Their wives got their nails done together, and I had never, not once existed in the million stories he told.

“Yeahhhhhh….” I smiled. But I didn’t want to. How horrible did I feel? Unexplainable. I wanted to vomit on his shaggy tan carpet so he’d be sure to remember me. I helped him outside and placed the cupcakes down. He thanked me and I nodded. Then I took my seat beside my “family.”I was in their world. Tainting their pretty blue water. I felt lost and alone and suddenly cold. I just smiled. I smiled. For everything. I smiled. And that was it.

The show was over.


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