As told to the author by Christi R.
I’m standing in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Arkansas, staring at the entry’s sliding glass doors. A woman is about to walk in and change my life.
Flashback six years to my 21st birthday. Mama’s over at my house to have dinner with me, my husband and son. It’ll be a quiet night in. But something isn’t right.
Mama acts like she’s nervous, almost stuttering when she speaks, almost trembling when she sits. Small talk is difficult. She’s almost crying when she hands over my birthday card.
I’m sitting on the couch when I open it. On the front, a picture of a snow-covered cabin with smoke rising from its chimney. Inside, a generic Hallmark message and, in Mama’s handwriting, the name “Kena” with a telephone number. No “Happy Birthday,” no “I love you,” nothing else.
“What’s this, Mama?”
She answers hesitantly, delicately, regretfully:
“That’s your sister’s name, Christi.”
My heart drops.
I don’t have a sister.
Mama starts crying.
My head rushes. I’m dizzy.
I have a sister?
I never wanted anything more when I was a little girl than to have a sister. I didn’t have many friends in school. The popular kids called me fat. I’d been made fun of my whole life, destined to remain a social outcast. Things would’ve been easier with a sister. A sister would’ve meant a lifelong friend, someone to vent to, to grow up with, with whom to learn the world.
There’s a flurry of emotion when Mama tells me about Kena, one that I can’t describe.
It’s like that feeling you get when something incredibly tragic happens, when you realize your life is going to change. Only it isn’t tragic. It’s wonderful. I have a sister.
Mama tells me only that Kena was born to my father and another woman two years before I was born. The telephone number in my birthday card is Kena’s last known. It’s out-of-date when I find the courage to call it.
Now, six years later, after six years of looking, I’m standing in the lobby of an Arkansas hotel. Mama found Kena on the Internet and we’ve driven from Mississippi to meet her.
This is it.
My palms are sweating. I hold my breath to slow it down. My heart beats so fast it hurts. How will I know it’s her? How will she know it’s me? We’ve seen each other’s pictures, but you can never be sure. And what will she think of me? Will we get along? Will our personalities mesh? What’s her family like? Will I fit in? Will they like me? And I can’t stop asking questions and—
And she walks in.
She’s wearing blue jean capris and has dyed red hair. She stops in the lobby and looks around.
Is it really her?
Our eyes meet and the world around her fades away. I lose my breath.
It is her. It’s really her.
We’re in each others’ arms before I can think. I’m crying so hard my cheeks hurt. I smell her hair and I feel her skin. I hold her so tight I don’t think I’ll ever let her go.
The next two days are the best of my life. We catch up on more than 20 years of memories. She meets Mama, I meet her family. We show off pictures of our kids, cook dinner together, and laugh at the silliest things. We have the same sense of humor, look alike, and even dress the same. We’re like little girls. Sisterhood is just as wonderful as I thought it’d be.
Our two days together go by too quickly and Mama and I have to go home. Before I leave, Kena and I promise to keep regular phone dates and to plan a trip for her to meet my son.
The world is bright. I have a sister. I HAVE A SISTER!
But Kena never got to meet my son. My trip to Arkansas was the last time I saw her.
Kena died two years later from a heart attack during a surgery. I’ve never been more devastated. I cried for days, weeks, months. She’d left me as suddenly and as mysteriously as she came.
You know that feeling you get when you’re so nervous your stomach aches?
I’m still standing in that Arkansas hotel lobby, albeit only in my dreams, waiting for her to walk through those sliding glass doors. But the lobby is quiet and the hotel is closed. There are no families checking in or maids polishing floors. The front desk is empty and the lights are low. It’s just me here now, waiting, hoping that one day I’ll see her again.
Christi R. lives in Mississippi.