We were at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, just like usual when I visited home. But that was the only thing that was usual.
Dad’s chair was empty. His slightly dirty napkin from 48 hours before was still at his spot. He always liked to reuse napkins – an unlikely recycler.
I numbly clutched my mug, unsure what to do with myself. The house was still. My eyes settled on a note my mom had left for my dad on his placemat. “Cat is outside, don’t forget to bring her in” – a reminder he never got to follow up on.
I scanned the room. His shoes by the door. His reading glasses on the counter. Everything was where he left it. My eyesight blurred and my face started to crumble.
My mom saw me falling apart and suddenly broke the silence.
“I have to tell you something about your father,” she said in a voice I hadn’t heard before. It was thick and laden with meaning. It was the voice of a mother who had unwillingly carried a secret for years and couldn’t contain it any longer.
I stared at her. Her words hung heavy in the air. The first thought that popped into my head: He’s not my dad. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did.
But that wasn’t it.
She watched my face, evaluating whether or not I was open to hearing what she had to say. I must have looked like I was – or she couldn’t stop herself – so her mouth opened and the words spilled out.
“Your father has another daughter. You’re not his only child.”
I sat there, dumbstruck. Unable to breathe. All my life I had wanted a sister. And I had one? How, why, when? But I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think.
My mom took my silence as permission to continue. It all happened long ago when my dad was at MIT. He was 19 years old. His girlfriend got pregnant. All my mom knew was that my dad told his parents when it happened, his parents paid for the girlfriend’s care, the girlfriend had a baby girl, and the baby was put up for adoption.
And then silence.
I stared at my mom incredulously for a few moments. Then the questions tumbled out. What’s the girlfriend’s name? What’s my half-sister’s name? Was my dad in touch with either of them? Where did my half-sister live?
And the answer to all my questions: “I don’t know.”
That’s all my mom knew.
My mom never asked my dad anything about it after he told her. My dad never offered more information. The only time it ever came up again was when I went to college in Boston and my mom told my dad she thought I should know. And he said no. End of story.
That morning I sat there at the kitchen table for a good twenty minutes, unable to move. I was stunned. Confused. Angry.
And then I had to shelve all those emotions and move on for a while. Because I had a eulogy to write.