Recently, I found my sister. I was two when we were separated. She was eight. My mother gave her up for adoption. I never understood why. As a child I pondered on why I was kept instead of her, what could she have done that would make my mother do that? Would she do that to me too? She used to threaten me with it. My mother wasn’t a nice woman. She had a hard life and did the best she could, but her hard life made her calloused. It would be easy to pin having a child at the early age of sixteen on the reason for her giving my sister up, but I know how my mother was, and I know it can’t be that simple.
My mother was a violent, narcissistic, pathological liar. Those were her defenses. She was violent to be strong, arrogant because she was beautiful, and lied to protect herself. Other people were her enemies. They were always out to get her. She would double lock all the doors and windows, draw all the blinds, screen all her calls, change her phone number every three months, and move houses when that wasn’t enough. She couldn’t drive in a car without thinking all the people in the other cars were following her. We would take back alleys and drive around a block four times to “loose them”.
She taught me to protect myself too. She taught me martial arts. I learned to always be aware of my surroundings, to check over my shoulder, and I was to carry mace to school. I had it in my backpack, just in case, and then on a key chain so it was out of a bag and more accessible. I had to carry it in my hand in the walk home from school. I didn’t think this was strange. There were rapists and murderers out to get me.
She had a strange relationship with men. I was taught that men were the enemy and were only there to use. She was constantly searching for a rich man to marry, as if money would solve our problems. She dated a plethora of men. Arabic, Japanese, Jewish, white, I learned to be multicultural. She dated a prince once. I got to drive with him in his Mazzerati. He told me I was cute and gave me fifty dollars. He had a room just for his pet rabbits and his backyard was a horse pasture where horses would walk up the rolling hills to his patio and he would feed them apples. Another man owned a rug store and his friends and he would smoke hookahs in the back room. There were rugs rolled up leaning on the walls and the floors were covered in elaborate Arabic carpets. The patterns were beautiful. My mother and I would visit this shop and I would sit with the men while they smoked their hookahs and she would disappear. I didn’t say a word to them and they were keen to ignore my presence. I traced the patterns in the rugs with my eyes and watched the wisps of smoke flip through the darkened room.
These men would buy her presents; cars and furniture, pay her rent and her bills. Then something would happen; maybe they would fall for her and get too close. At this point they became the enemy and she would tell me she had another stalker. We would change the phone number and move, even if it was to a hotel. We were good at disappearing.
I did have a father. I saw him every other weekend and in the summer. He was kind and had an angry streak, but was pretty much always in good spirits. He told jokes and sang sailor songs. He worked for the Navy and worked hard. He was a good man and my mother used him too. When they were married she maxed out all the credit cards in his name. She got a restraining order against him when they divorced and used the system to get custody, alimony and child support. My mother worked as a legal secretary and a paralegal and knew the law. She used this knowledge to her advantage. She never said anything nice about my father. She said he was violent, arrogant and selfish. She said he didn’t want to pay child support and that he was a dead beat Dad. I never listened to her. I knew he was a good man. I knew that when they fought she instigated it and he defended himself. She chased him with a hammer. She broke a door down. She broke a bamboo stick over his head and he saw red. He snapped and hit her head against our piano splitting her ear. This is how my Mother got custody. The court ignored her violence, and when he was gone she became violent with me.
I remember the first time she hit me. I think I may have said something smart. I was about ten. She slapped me in the face. I don’t really remember why. I just remember slow motion my head whipping to the side and then slowly turning it back at her. I was scared. That was the first and not the last time I was afraid of her. Her violence grew progressively with my age. The older I got the more she would rage. Silly reasons caused her to explode. I couldn’t fight back because she was a black belt in three types of karate. I knew better. I saw her drop full-grown men in competitions. She was not to be trifled with.
She wasn’t just physically violent. She was verbally abusive too. She would call me names and do terrible things to make me feel bad. She would yell at me and then grab something I loved and destroy it. She’d send it down the trash chute in our apartment complex, break it into pieces, or rip it to shreds. I grew silent with cold eyes. I wouldn’t talk unless she demanded it. I learned how to black out completely when she went on verbal rages. I could turn my mind off like a switch and turn it back on when she asked a question. The black outs grew as I did. I got better at it. There are still parts of my youth I will not or cannot remember. I know that I never want to recall what has been lost. The truth of it would be too hollow.
My father and I went to the adoption agency to find my sister when I was eleven. After their divorce he had no reason to keep my sister a secret any longer. We were told my sister’s adoption was private. I was too young to try on my own to find her and didn’t know how. I would daydream about her instead. I would draw pictures of what she might look like. I wondered how she might wear her hair or what kind of clothes she might like. I remember everything about the time I spent with my Dad. My home life with him wasn’t perfect and in total he was married five times: twice to my mother, once before, and once after. There was a terrifying woman after my mother and the next marriage is still going strong.
Before the subsequent marriages and after my parents divorce the time I spent with my Dad may have saved my sanity. We would go on road trips through the desert to visit my Aunt and Uncle. They lived in Barstow, a tumbleweed littered town in between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. There were scorpions and tarantulas; a quiet hot wind blew most of the time. The sky went on forever and the nights cooled the searing heat of day exposing the starry heavens. I would leave the house to lie on the cement driveway and stare at the stars for hours. My Dad must have noticed because he got me a telescope for Christmas and then I would spend hours looking even closer. My Aunt and Uncle bought me a star chart and I would find planets and investigate constellations. The desert purified me. I would go to it empty and full of pain and leave whole with a renewed sense of wonder. I can still hear the sand blowing against pavement and the skittering of beetle’s shells scraping the coarse earth. I can see the vast purple, orange and yellow sunsets burning in the sky. Even the memory fills me with wonder.
I spent my childhood keeping my sister a secret from my mother. My mother spent my childhood keeping my sister a secret from me. We have never spoken of it and currently we don’t speak, of her choosing. I suffered from PTSD for years after I left home. I assumed I only had my Dad and his family and that was sad but OK for me. I spent a lot of time working on my anxiety and fears and found love, moved on and forgave my past.
My mother’s family, it turns out had wanted to know me. I was elated when I discovered this. This thanksgiving was my grandfather’s ninetieth birthday (on my dad’s side). I went out to California, where I grew up and they all still live, and decided while I was there I would get to know my mother’s family. Being close to thirty I thought it was about time. The night before I left, I was packing my things and noticed an email on the computer. It was from my Aunt Peggy. I got half way through the email and started crying, uncontrollably. My boyfriend was in the room, and obviously this seemed a bit out of the ordinary. He had to finish the email for me. My Aunt Peggy had found my sister. I had a flood of emotion that came pouring out of me. Eighteen years of searching for my long lost sister was over, and thanks to, of all things, facebook. It’s ironic. It turns out my Mom’s family had been searching for Jennifer, my sister, for twenty-nine years. I had no idea. They were looking for me too. I had moved to New England to nurse my bitter heart with cold weather, and that made it difficult for them to find me too. Shortly after my email I called my cousin Sherry. We were both crying. She read an email to me from my sister confirming that it was her.
From my Aunt Peggy:
Hello, I’m looking for a woman that was adopted. Her name before adoption was Jennifer *****. Her adoptive parents name was ********. Do I have the right person? I would be her Aunt.
You have found the right woman! I’m shocked! After all this time I didn’t think I’d hear from Christine’s family. I’ve looked a few times but there are a lot of Lorenzo’s out there and I didn’t have a lot of information to go on. I found James ****, my father, years ago but he didn’t have too much information about the Lorenzo’s.
I’m not sure what else to say right now.
Hope to hear from you again soon,
Oh My Gosh Jennifer, did I really find you? We all have been looking for so long. I don’t know where to start. After reading your reply, I couldn’t respond right away. I couldn’t type, I was shaking so bad.
I’m so excited! I hope I can get across how much this means to me and the Lorenzo family to know you’re alive, safe and you look so happy…We have checked the white pages through the United States. . .Then…I went into Face book just to see. So many Jennifer ******. I had to ask you. I was so shocked! It was YOU! I am so happy.
Jennifer you have been in our thoughts and prayers all these years.
If you have questions, I am here.
Love Aunt Peggy
There is more to the correspondence, but this is the short of it.
Thank you for continuing to look for me it means a lot,
I wanted to share this story, because for a long time I was hurt. When the holidays came I felt miserable. I suffered from stress, anxiety and rejection. I wanted to share this because I want people to know that when life seems dark and you feel alone, the world can change in such a dramatic and uplifting way. It is so important to stay positive and not let the sadness of life eat your heart. Things can turn around. Life is a cycle and hard times aren’t permanent. If you open your heart to the world there is love out there waiting to fill it up. Ten years ago I would have laughed. If you’re in a dark place try to look up and remember to breath. Things can turn around. I wish I had someone to tell me that when I needed it.
I got to meet my Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins when I went to California. We met at a restaurant. There were six tables full of people to reunite our family. We are all flying out in February to meet my sister for the first time since I was two. I am also an Aunt. I have a niece and nephew and they both play music just like me. Life is pretty exciting sometimes. This has been the best Christmas present I could ever hope for.