Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Long Haul

I was raised an only child in my adoptive family. I always knew I probably had siblings out there, but I didn't know how many or who they were.

Nine and a half years ago, I finally found out who my mother was, and in discovering that, I found that she had a son who she had kept and raised. He is almost exactly five years younger than I am. I was thrilled for a number of reasons, mostly because he seemed to be so much like me.

He has two doctorates. He is incredibly intelligent and driven. At first I was very nervous, thinking I couldn't live up to what he had accomplished, but I realized that what I do is different. My doctorate is something else, in a different field, but we match each other in many ways.

As we got to know each other--and it was difficult, given the crossfire and doubt of a mother who didn't want us to have a relationship at all--it became clear that not only were we similar intellectually, we have the same emotional structure. We are people pleasers. We doubt ourselves. We bend over backwards to make everyone else happy at our own expense: all this, and we weren't raised in the same family. We are anxious and nervous. We are perfectionists. We are harsh on ourselves. We love reading. He lives to research and publish. I--well--I have published, although I give up on myself more easily. I would say that we are both passionate about our fields.

From the start, he was committed to knowing me, and I felt welcomed and loved. But even given his commitment, it wasn't easy.

Then came the fall; it was hard and precipitous. It came because our mother demanded it, and he was raised to please her. For anyone who knows adoption, it was the same old story, the same puppeteer pulling the strings.

I don't excuse the way my brother treated me. It was terrible. Awful. I don't want to catalogue the ways in which I felt abandoned; it happened more than once over a number of years. Friends of mine saw me plummet to the bottom of a dark abyss, almost to extinguish myself. They asked me again and again, "Why do you love him? Why do you keep trying?"

I really didn't have a good answer. At one point, I had to shut the door on any relationship. I chose myself because I was worth more than I was receiving. I refused to speak to my brother for almost three years because I didn't want to be an afterthought. I wanted to be his sister.

I probably wouldn't have opened the door to my brother again if I hadn't been contacted by a surprise sister. Yes, our mother had another baby that neither my brother nor I knew about because...why would our mother tell the truth about anything?

When our sister contacted me, I was shocked and had the breath knocked out of me. What? How could it be that our mother lied about having another secret child? Oh, wait: it's our mother. It seemed unfathomable that she could have gone through two hidden pregnancies in college and done this twice, but, yeah.

I contacted my brother after these three years of silence and told him about our sister. He said immediately, "I don't even care right now that we have another sister. I am so happy that we are speaking again. Also, now you know how it feels." It's crazy to be blindsided by someone else's secrets and lies. It really is.

After this explosive event, my brother and I have worked to reconnect. Over the years, I was explicit about what I wanted and needed, and he has taken it to heart. He responds to me in real time. He is available to me. He listens. He opens up. He wants to be present, and he is. For all my saying people don't change, it's not true. It's that people don't change unless they commit to changing. They have to want to meet you halfway.

I know people who have siblings (like my husband) who aren't close to them at all. I understand that blood doesn't mean people are similar or share interests. My brother and I aren't alike in what we do or care about, although we both work in the medical arena, but we listen to each other and understand being sensitive and have a good sense of humor about what we both lack.

From the first time I met him, nearly nine years ago in December of 2009, I knew that we were on the same page. I knew that building a lasting relationship would be difficult. I trusted him, and he let me down. More than once. Now, though, I think we are in it for the long haul. I am at least willing to try.