Family stories fascinate me, especially ones from people who belong to large sibling groups. My friend Adrian is the youngest of eight children. Which is, to me, like winning a sort of low-stakes family anecdote jackpot. I try not to be weird as I slyly prod him to greater revelations about his kin—so you were a surprise baby? Christmases must be crazy! You shared one bathroom?!—but on one particular winter Los Angeles evening, Adrian dropped a tidbit of reality that took my breath away. He said, “I know that all of my siblings will never again be in the same place at the same time.” His tone was casual. He sat in his armchair like he had simply delivered a weather report. The truth was so evident it didn’t raise his pulse.
I am the second oldest of seven siblings. My brother, five sisters, and I share the same biological mother and father. We are stair-steps, the seven of us born over a span of nine years. My brother Jacob and I lived with our birthparents until I was seven years old and he was nine. We saw our younger sisters in the hospital on the days they were born and placed in adoptive families. I remember their pink blanket-swaddled bodies in clear acrylic cribs. I remember walking away and leaving them. I grew up tacking their names to the end of my bedtime prayers. God bless Becca, and Lisa, and Rebekah, and Meghan, and Lesley. I grew up waiting for my sisters to find me. Even after I was adopted myself, and the path that would have led them to me became more twisted, I never doubted that we would one day be together.
Between the years of 2001 and 2008, I met them all. In New Jersey diners, in our birthmother’s living room, in moments stolen from our adoptive families during the off-peak hours of Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations. Jacob and Becca and I met Lisa in 2001. Jacob, Lisa, and I met Rebekah in 2005. Jacob, Becca, Lisa, Rebekah and I met Meghan in 2006. But when Jacob, Becca, Lisa, and Rebekah met our youngest sister Lesley in 2008, I was not there. And when I met Lesley at Jacob’s wedding in 2011, Becca, Rebekah, and Meghan were also there, but Lisa was missing. In those reunions, we stayed up all night, sharing the stories of how we grew up, and weaving a new fabric of shared vocabulary and inside jokes. Everything else in the world fell away when were together. We were our own universe.
The fact that we always failed to get the seven of us in the same place at the same time became a punchline. If we are ever in the same place at the same time, it would open a wormhole to 1979 and our meddling would keep our parents from ever meeting, Saturn’s rings would become self-aware and destroy the galaxy, and Angry Cat would become the 45th President of the United States.
My siblings and I are currently spread across the country, from southern New Jersey to Hawaii, with representatives in Minnesota and Texas for good measure. Every year we talk about picking a date in the middle of the year, away from the major holidays to have a sibling meet up. Just us, we say. Finally, we say. But every year life intervenes with the complications of lay-offs, medical bills, marriages, or pregnancies that thin our number. Someone is always missing.
My friend Adrian is not much older than I am. My friend Adrian is the youngest of eight siblings. My friend Adrian travels constantly. When he said that he knew he would never again be in the same place at the same time with all of his siblings, my heart was paralyzed for three beats. I realized in that moment that it would take something larger than us—a miracle, an act of god, a force of nature—to bring my far-flung siblings and I together.
I hate asking for help. Asking implies lack. Asking gives someone the chance to say no, to confirm that my lack does not deserve reward. The only thing that would lead me to overcome this dread is the love I have for my siblings. Last week we decided to set up a fundraising campaign. We put our faces on a website, described our fractured family tree. We asked everyone we know to help bring us together. I braced myself for our dreams to be dashed, like a kid waiting for someone to confirm that Santa Claus is real.
But then the gifts began to pour in.
My best from friend from college and my best friend from grade school were the first. A humbling $150 each.
On the first day, we reached almost 20% of our goal.
Friends of my sisters gave. A distant uncle contributed.
As I saw the number begin to crawl upward, it felt like my heart was growing too big for my chest.
We’re still in the thick of the fundraising. Some days are more productive than others. But I feel a lightness spreading from the center of my ribcage, a tender thing that I want to protect until it grows stronger. It is a sensation as alien to me as the lunar landscape, but I know that it is hope.
- Mary Anna King
For more information on Mary Anna King’s GoFundMe campaign, please visit: http://www.gofundme.com/bananas7