When Anna was 13 years old, her dad mentioned in passing that he and her mom had had another child and given it up for adoption. Then he made Anna promise not to look for her sister.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Anna and I am currently reigning as 2016 Venice Beach, California Mardi Gras Queen. I put my stuff in storage last year and am living on the road, in Mexico at the moment.
I just wrote a book about the summer I lived in an abandoned mansion on a tobacco farm with my cat, a gallon jug of home-made mescaline and two dudes ten years younger than me. I’m polishing that book up now. Because first drafts suck.
Can you give us a snapshot of your childhood and family life growing up?
I lived with my mother and father and little brother in until about the age of 8 in a small village in Central Illinois. After that, my brother and I really pin-balled around.
We’d live with my dad and step-mother for a year and then move in with our grandparents – dad’s parents. Then back with dad, in another new town. Then, from 6th grade through 9th grade, we lived with our grandparents – which was much more stable and definitely my preference. We spent a lot of time in my grandparents’ acres and acres of fresh vegetable gardens. They also loved to grow beautiful flowers. They supported my interests in theatre, books, puzzles, girl scouts – anything.
My grandmother, who was really my true mother figure, died when I was 14. After that, we lived with my dad and step-mother full-time. It’s difficult to answer what my dad and step-mother were like – not really supportive.
They didn’t read or have stimulating discussions. Forget about support of any extra-curricular activities. They were very poor, struggling to survive in a lot of ways. My mother was always a little slow, because she has an intellectual disability, but I didn’t know that when I was little. After the age of 8, my mother wasn’t really in my life. My step-mother is a bully and dad has always been just emotionally unavailable. I don’t have a lot of great memories of living with them.
You have a younger brother. Did you ever wish for a sister?
Well, I love my younger brother very much. But I always, always had these fantasies of having a twin sister.
I have a super vague memory of someone saying that my mom had a baby before I was born, but that it died. I think that’s where the fantasy came from. I even remember looking at my birth certificate once and hoping it would say ‘twin.’ It didn’t. That felt just so odd. I even asked for twin Cabbage Patch Dolls one Christmas.
When did you first find out that you had a sister?
So, one winter when I lived with my grandparents, around the age of 13, my dad would visit and he would take just me, not my brother too, on these long country drives. Or sometimes we’d just sit in the car in the parking lot of the pizza parlor down the street. And my dad would talk and talk . . . about his rocky relationship with my step-mother, about his extra-marital affairs and about his thoughts on life.
Since he had always been so closed, his sudden talkativeness was so strange for me and I mostly just listened. I felt like his therapist or something (except I didn’t know therapists even existed.) One of those times, he just suddenly said, “You know, you’ve got a sister. Your mom had a baby that her parents made her give up for adoption. And I’m fairly certain I’m the father.”
The only way to describe the shock of a statement like that was – my brain just sort of emptied out, I couldn’t even process the information for a minute. I think I even stopped breathing for a sec.
Your dad didn’t want you to try to find your sister. Why not?
While I was sitting in the cold car, not breathing, he said, “Promise you’ll never try to find her. Because she might not know about us, that she’s adopted. To mess with someone’s life like that is not ok.”
How did you find her?
So, when I was 20, my mother left a message on my answering machine, only saying, “Anna, call me.” This was really strange, because she so very rarely made contact. In fact, I thought maybe my grandmother had died. But when I started dialing her back, something in my brain clicked and I thought, “No, this is about my sister, I just know it.”
My mom said, “They found her, they found my baby!” She just kept saying that over and over. Since my mom is very slow, I thought, “Oh, god, this poor woman – my sister – is going to have a LOT of questions.”
“What’s her number, mom?”
Mom just kept saying, “No, she’s mine.” So I changed tactics.
“Ok, well, is she married?”
“Great! What’s her husband’s name?”
And she gave me my sister’s husband’s full name, even spelled it out when prompted. Lucky for me the last name was very unusual.
“Great, mom!” I said. “Where do they live?”
I immediately told mom I had to go. I didn’t even put the receiver in the cradle. I just dialed 4-1-1 and asked for ‘Orlando’ and my sister’s last name. There was only one listing. I dialed it. The woman who answered sounded so much like me! Guarded, because my family has so many freakin’ issues, I said matter-of-factly, “Hello, my name is Anna Metcalf, I’m Janice’s daughter. I bet you have a lot of questions.”
Tell us about the first time you met your sister in person!
Ironically, when I called my sister, I already had a trip planned to go to Orlando the next month. I’d already paid for it and everything. So the meeting was at her house in Orlando.
It wasn’t crazy emotional . . . I think we were just so curious, sorta sniffing one another out. I told her, “I want to be as close as you want us to be.” She was pregnant with her second baby at the time and seemed busy with all that. Everything was very congenial at first and as we warmed up to one another, a real love and admiration blossomed that weekend.
How similar are the two of you?
We have the same glasses prescription, body shape and we sound alike. But, I’d say we are very different in personality, however that does not mean incompatible. 😉
You and your sister have been in each other’s lives for almost 20 years now. How does that feel?
It feels great to have that hanging unknown reconciled. Also, we’ve had some great times. My brother and sister and I went on a road trip once. She was a bridesmaid in my first wedding. I helped her move a long distance. I’d say we’ve drifted apart somewhat in the last ten years. But I still love her very much.
What have you learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
Mostly that we are all connected . . . sometimes by genes, sometimes by personality, sometimes by life circumstance. And that it’s okay to connect. In fact, it’s essential. And also, that keeping big huge events like an adoption a big secret doesn’t really serve anyone.
Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story, Anna. Do you guys have any questions for her?