| One evening, when I was about 15 years old, my sister and I were rummaging through our family photo cabinet. We would occasionally do this when we got bored and had nothing better to do. We’d sit and make fun of our now grey haired, balding father about his crazy wavy locks that were longer than mine, or we’d ask my mom what she was thinking when she picked out her prom dress. Going through the pictures was always a random and funny event that would normally put smiles on every ones faces. This time, it was different. We dug to the back of the cabinet and came across a group of old pictures that didn’t look like they had been touched in awhile. I got excited, thinking we would find another reason to laugh at old pictures from the past. The photos were of my dad, from when he lived in Texas. As I was looking through them, I noticed something unusual. There was a young girl in the picture who I didn’t recognize. At first I thought it was me but after looking at it for a couple more seconds I realized it wasn’t. She was about 3 years old with dark brown, curly hair and brown eyes. I hadn’t remembered seeing her in any other pictures so I decided to ask my dad who she was. As soon as he got a glimpse of the pictures he grabbed them out of my hand, claimed the child was one of his cousin’s daughters, and said to my mother he thought that she had locked all of those pictures away years ago.
At that moment, I didn’t think too much of it. I thought maybe it was one of his cousin’s daughters, like he said it was, and maybe she had died or something else tragic and he just didn’t want to bring it up. He probably assumed my sister, who was two years younger than me, and I were too young to know the truth. Even though I was young, I was at least smart enough to know he was clearly lying. But I wasn’t quite ready to understand what those pictures actually meant.
The confusion of this whole incident soon faded, but I always had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that someone was keeping something from my sister and me, and I didn’t like it.
Years passed and the thought of knowing there was this secret in my family occasionally came to mind. I didn’t know what to think. I knew it had something to do with those pictures I had found a couple of years back, but other than that, there was nothing. I was never able to shake it from memory - maybe because I knew it had some significant meaning. I never brought it up to my parents because I knew they would freak out and just make up some other lie that would make me trust them less than I already did. I let the feelings of distrust pass and pretended nothing was wrong.
Eight months ago my sister came to me and said, “Dad has a secret!”
I stared at her blankly, “No shit Sherlock, you think?” I rolled my eyes and continued on with what I was doing.
“What do you think it is?” she continued. I had no idea, so I waved her off thinking that she was just making things up to cause drama, a common occurrence in our household. I didn’t want to think about what he had been hiding; I didn’t want to know this secret that could be one of two things: something extremely stupid that my dad thought was a big deal or something that could potentially tear apart the family. Either way I didn’t want to know. My sister, on the other hand, wouldn’t shut up about it. She would randomly bring it up at family dinners trying to coax it out of my dad; she would keep asking my mom about what he was hiding; and she would talk to me about what this secret could be. She came up with the craziest ideas. None of which were close to the idea that I had in my head, the same idea I had in my head since the day I saw the pictures of my dad with a young girl, who coincidentally resembled him.
I was sitting in my room playing on the computer about a month after my sister originally came to me contemplating what the secret could be. My mom opened my door followed shyly by my dad who had a grim look on his face.
“Close your laptop, Briana. We need to have a family discussion.” She had a serious look to her that I only saw when something important was going on that my sister and I were about to be let in on. I knew what was coming. I had known for a while but I never thought I’d ever hear the truth.
“Your dad has something to tell you guys,” my mom said pushing him to the middle of my room. My sister sat up straight on my bed, eagerly waiting to hear what he had to say. She looked like a little kid at Christmas waiting to open the biggest box under the tree. I couldn’t have been more disinterested, but I sat there all the same preparing my surprised face.
“This is really hard for me to tell you guys,” my father began, “but I think that you are both old enough to know the truth.” He choked back his feelings and started his story.
“When I was about 25 years-old I met this woman. Her name was Tommie.” My sister interrupted with a laugh.
“You dated a girl named Tommie?” she giggled. It was only funny because my father’s name happened to be Thomas, but everyone called him Tommy.
“Yes.” My dad answered with a slight smile. He continued, “She was quite a bit older than I was. She was probably in her late 30s at the time.”
“Quite the cougar,” I added sarcastically.
“She and I had been dating for awhile and she ended up getting pregnant. The baby was mine,” he stopped here. I’m not sure if he was pausing for dramatic effect or just waiting to see our reactions. My sister smiled. I don’t think she realized what this actually meant. I think she was just excited she was finding out this secret that had been kept from us so long.
“She ended up keeping the baby. It was a girl and Tommie named her Jennifer.” He stopped again and went to get a dusty frame that held a collage of photographs of him with this little girl that I had seen in the photo cabinet so many years ago. “There she is,” he pointed to one of the pictures of him holding her. She was about three at the time. He put the picture frame down and continued on, “I was there for her, through the entire ordeal. I never once thought about leaving until she decided that she didn’t want me in her life anymore. Tommie didn’t want me to have anything to do with her or the baby. Soon after she turned three, things got complicated. I got a job offer in Ohio that I didn’t think I could refuse. I was constantly gone, flying back and forth from Texas to Ohio and back again. It was really hard trying to keep a relationship with Jennifer during this time because Tommie was constantly trying to keep me away. I fought for Jennifer though. She was my daughter and I wanted to help support her. Tommie and I ended up in court multiple times and all we did was fight and argue; it wasn’t a good environment for Jennifer to be in, so Tommie presented me with an opportunity. She said that I could leave, take the job in Ohio and give custody of Jennifer over to her and she wouldn’t ever expect anything from me after that point. So I talked to my mom and brother who had been with me through this ordeal from the start and they told me to do whatever I thought would be in everyone’s best interest. So I left.” Tears streamed down his face as he turned in embarrassment. “It was the hardest thing I ever had to do.” I looked over and both my mom and sister were crying as well. I just sat there, not feeling any emotions at the time not really knowing what to do. I just found out that I have a half sister that I never knew about and I didn’t feel anything. I don’t know if I was in shock or if I really just didn’t care at that moment; I was just numb.
My sister calmed herself down enough to break the silence.
“Have you tried looking for her?” She looked at my dad with hopeful eyes. He shook his head.
“According to the court agreement I was legally not allowed to search for her or try contacting her until she was 18. I did try looking for her when she turned 18, but I couldn’t find anything. She is almost 26 now.”
“I’ll find her!” my sister said eagerly. She ran into her room to grab her laptop. She immediately went to Facebook and within minutes she found Jennifer. “You didn’t try very hard when you looked for her, did you?”
“I didn’t have all this available to me when she turned 18! It was nearly impossible to find her back then.” He and stared at her profile picture. “She looks a lot like Tommie did.”
“She has your eyes though,” my sister added. “Can we contact her?” she asked eagerly, already opening a message to send to Jennifer.
“Well I think that’s something we have to discuss as a family. We all have to agree on whatever we decide to do because this will affect the whole family.”
“Well I think we should,” my sister said. She looked at me for my response.
“I honestly don’t care. I mean what is contacting her going to do? We don’t ever visit Texas so we would never see her, so there really is no point.” I shrugged my shoulders not really knowing what else to say. My mom started nodding.
“Well the thing is we don’t know what this woman told Jennifer. For all we know Jennifer thinks her father is dead, left her, or is in jail somewhere. We don’t know and I think just contacting her out of the blue saying ‘Hi I’m your father’ would be a little shocking,” my mom added.
“This is true,” responded my dad, “we really don’t know what Jennifer thinks happened to me and I don’t think I should be the one to contact her. If we do I think one of you girls should do it.” My sister’s eyes lit up again when she heard this. “Again, it has to be a family decision.” He looked at both my sister and I. “Do you guys have any questions?” he asked us.
“Not really,” I responded. “It’s pretty straight forward and I had a feeling that this is what you were hiding from us for a long time.”
“We didn’t want to tell you until we knew that you were old enough to handle knowing the truth,” my mom said. “We wanted you guys to be mature.”
“I guess I can understand that but I still think you guys waited too long to tell us.” I said.
“I know you feel that way but it was also hard for me to tell you guys this. So I’m sure you can understand why I waited so long,” said my dad. “If you guys don’t have any questions I can leave you to your thoughts.” He walked out of the room followed by my mom. My sister lingered and talked to me about contacting Jennifer on her own or something of that nature, but I don’t quite remember. I was still numb. I still didn’t know what to think about this whole situation. It was overwhelming, but at the same time I didn’t feel any emotion toward this girl who I shared blood with. She was my half-sister that I just found out existed and I couldn’t find it in me to feel anything.
Months later everyone has calmed down from the initial telling of the story. I’m away from home so I don’t hear about it when my sister brings it up over dinner again asking if she can contact her beloved half sister that she is dying to know. Jennifer rarely comes to my mind though. I know she exists and I’ve had time to think things through, yet I still feel nothing. I don’t know this girl and she doesn’t know me. Why should I care for and love a person who probably doesn’t know that I exist; even if she is a part of me and a part of my father; or should I say OUR father.