Being born into a family of low income, uncertainty, and a few too many skeletons in the closet has always been difficult for me to get past; though I have tried not to let them, these things have defined my entire being in one way or another.
However, nothing has or will ever define me as much as my need to belong does.
Until December 2016, I was only fully, 100% blood related to three people; my parents and my maternal Nan. I have a half brother and sister (who share 18 months between each other, but over a decade with me) from a previous marriage of my Mother’s, and although I was always raised not to believe in blood – that your family is whoever you choose it to be, and they are my siblings through and through regardless, only fully belonging to those three people has haunted me for my entire existence.
As a child I would write a lot of stories, with dreams of becoming a famous Author or Journalist one day, and looking back at them solidifies that the demons that haunted me at age 7, are still the demons that haunt me now.
I need to be clear in the fact that I love my family.
But if I had the choice to choose, I can’t say that I wouldn’t turn down the offer.
We found Sheila in November 2016.
My Father had already found her in the 80’s, before he’d set eyes on my Mother and what his future might bring him.
She was blonde and beautiful, with two grown up daughters of her own now – my Dad’s new half siblings.
I like to imagine that she was remorseful for giving him up, that she missed him every day until they met again, though on the two occasions that we have now met she hasn’t said anything of the such, and I have this feeling I’d regret it if I brought it up.
You see, the 60’s were different.
Sheila was in the RAF, based in Gibraltar when Dad was conceived. Unmarried and barely the age I am now, she was given no choice but to give him up. I can’t imagine that decision would be easy for anyone to make, but I do wonder how she truly felt about it at the time.
Fast forward 20 years, Sheila and Dad had contact on and off for 12 months or so, he even spent weekends with her and his new family. But as life progresses, you lose touch with people don’t you? They’re also both socially awkward introverts – thanks so much for passing that trait down in the gene pool(!) – so getting back into contact proved difficult.
The year’s 1996, and I get torn from my Mother’s body via c-section. My birth was announced over the sound system at the University Academy where my parents both worked. Everyone cheered & drank to me that night, and a few days later I arrived at my new home in West London.
At some point within the following weeks, a card arrived, as cards’ often do when a child is born.
Congratulations on your baby girl!
Another 20 years later, and I’m pulling up outside Sheila’s house, the one she shares with her sister (possibly the only person other than Sheila still alive to know first hand the situation her sibling was faced with all those years ago). My Dad’s in the passenger seat next to me, and we both step out of the car with more nerves than you can count.
She’s stepped outside and is waiting on her patio for us.
We embrace and say our hello’s.
And finally, I think I must belong here.
The afternoon is long and quiet.
We make polite conversation; as conversational as three socially awkward introverts in one room can be with one another, but I can’t help but feeling there’s an elephant in the room the whole time.
A fucking massive elephant sat in front of the fireplace trumping away like nobodies business.
Are we not going to talk about it? Shall we just sit here, strangers forced into a foreign situation and not address what brings us here together?
No, apparently we will not.
It’s getting late and we have a long drive back, so we swap Christmas presents too many years too late, and say our goodbyes and promise we’ll all keep in touch this time.
I step back in the car, the passenger seat this time, and I sigh with a sense of relief.
I’m out and I’ve done it and I’ll live to tell the tale.
But I’d built this afternoon up in my head for longer than I’ve even known of Sheila. I’ve ached and pained for this Grandmother that’s always been there but that I could never hug.
This human that’s 100% blood related to me.
I feel let down. I feel my expectations for the future drop down my face in silent tears as we get back on the motorway because I don’t want to worry my Dad.
I wonder if she’s tearful now too.
I ask Dad to stop at the next services. I need to drive and concentrate on the road, not the thoughts of all other outcomes today could’ve finished with. This stretch of the motorway isn’t lit, and fog is starting to settle, so for a while I think of nothing but getting us home. But my mind can’t help but wander…
I think about how much Sheila resembles my Dad, or more my Dad resembles Sheila.
I think of how I can see myself in her face, in her hands, her long fingers like mine.
Suddenly, she becomes that human that’s 100% blood related to me.
This is my biological Grandmother, and I can’t change the situation we are all faced with, but I am content knowing that we are all facing it. This unfamiliar circumstance. Her emotions are probably as wild as mine, as Dad’s, and although we might not say it, we are all feeling something.
On March 8th 2017, I turned 21; the same age Sheila was when she gave birth to my Dad.
I received my second ever card from her.
Wishing you a very
and peace, joy & contentment
with much love
* delete as appropriate!
We’re all riding this wave together, but we’re not alone in it anymore.
I’ve got my Sheila Gran to thank for that.