I spent twenty years of my life half-heartedly craving a sibling and miraculously, as though the universe heard my plea, Gabriel fell into my arms on the kind of November day that blankets the world in color. Leaves drifted around our car as I rolled the window down during my first pleasant trip to a hospital waiting room – the first journey of two I made that morning. The second was overcoming a battle with neglect and blood ties that threatened my world.
My mother became pregnant at the age of twenty by a man I still refer to as a stranger. He ran off to pursue his art career when my mother needed his support most. She was an artist herself, an immensely talented modern dancer, who put her career on hold for the little girl she had dreamt about bringing into the world. My “dad” did not give me the same importance. He would disappear, only returning to see me when it was convenient for him to do so. I recall wanting more than anything to stay with my mom as he waited, towering over me at the door.
Our relationship stayed this way, distant and unimportant. Though it pained me to accept that a stranger was my biological father, I was lucky enough to discard the rejection and confusion within the loving embrace of a true father figure who came into my life when I was only four. My mother married the man I have called my “Papa” in 1998, and the three of us traveled from the Azores to America on a mission to build a beautiful life together as a family. Papa, who is technically my step-father, always felt like my blood father. The three of us built a foundation that kept me protected by their love. I was given a father who wanted me, cared for me, and labored to keep me alive. I was the luckiest girl in the world.
Growing up, I had a difficult time accepting that Papa and I were not blood related. His family, my cousins, my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, my everything, were not biologically mine. That haunted me. I wanted more than anything to look into my father’s eyes and see myself within them. Craving this connection as much I did, I developed a jealousy for a sibling that did not exist. I would picture my parents having the child I wished I could be. How was it fair that the two people I loved most could bring someone into the world and that it would never be me? Why did I still remain the product of a man who didn’t even exist to me?
My mindset stayed this way until the moment I held my baby brother in my hands on November 13th, 2014. Not too long before my grandfather passed away, he gifted me a reason to want a sibling even as I stubbornly attempted to avoid the subject. I will never forget what he said to me.
“You know, a sibling would be the blood link between you and your Papa. A part of you, a part of him, and a part of your Mama would live inside him”.
Until then, I had never thought about it this way. I held onto his words and kept them stored away, hoping that maybe one day I would experience first-hand what he meant. Nothing could have prepared me emotionally for the day my parents sat me down to deliver the news that Gabriel was on his way. Though to be fair, Papa barely had to utter the words before I interrupted him gasping at Mama and repeating over and over again “You’re pregnant!” I remember us all breaking down laughing at how I had guessed the news and then letting the tears fill our eyes, knowing that life would never be the same. We hugged each other in silence, awaiting the homecoming of our newest member.
My grandfather’s death in 2011 killed something in all of us, my grandmother and my father especially. Papa lost the light in his eyes and would wake up in the middle of the night often sobbing and lost, wanting the comfort from someone who had been taken from him. My grandmother lost the love of her life and her spirit along with him. Her passion for life was deteriorating with each passing day without my grandfather by her side. Flash forward three years later, and tiny Gabriel, the smiling, pudgy, potato of a baby that I can’t help but kiss all over, brought back the life in my grandmother’s smile and the motivation my father needed to carry on. I watched as his warmth set off a light in them all, even before he could comprehend his own existence.
The day I held him in the hospital I thought of my grandfather’s words and was overwhelmed to find that when I looked into his almond eyes, I could see myself in them just as he said I would. Surprisingly, holding the real blood tie in my hands for the first time, I didn’t feel as if I valued him being related to me more than I valued the love I had for him simply because he was one of us. Had he been blood-related to me or not I still would have felt he was mine. I looked up at my father and realized that he was mine too. Surely I had known that all along. Gabriel wrapped his entire walnut sized hand around my index finger and held on, staring up at me unblinking, as I repeated the words softly, “I’m your sister”.