THE CASTAWAYS (NOTES FOR A NOVEL IN PROGRESS)
When I was a child I envied the sisters who lived at the other end of my street. They had been given up for adoption by their birth mother when one was an infant and the other was a toddler. They were black and their parents were white. I was Chinese and my parents were Taiwanese, and if I didn’t tell you you wouldn’t immediately guess that I was adopted. My whole life I have been grateful for this. Still, I envied the two sisters. They had each other, and they would always have each other.
I have always known, even before I could understand what this meant, that I was the youngest of five girls. Both I and the next youngest sister were given up for adoption some time in 1980, the year I was born, or perhaps 1981. She would be a year older than me, maybe two. I have never asked my parents if they tried to take both of us, or if they had even considered it. For more than thirty years I have been an only child, except for in my mind when I turn out the light before I go to sleep. With my eyes shut I try to imagine her face in the dark. Would we know each other if we came face to face on the street?
Sometimes when walking down the street I catch the reflection of my own face in a shop window. Against the gleam of plate-glass my face is reduced to pale curves and soft shadows, a rounded cheekbone, dark eyes, dark hair. My eyebrows are thick and black but my hair is definitely brown, glowing red when the sun hits it, light and fine as it escapes my ponytail. I wonder if my sister shares this same curiously un-Chinese hair, the same nose, those stubby-lashed eyes. What could I ask her if we ever met? How could I imagine any life other than the one I was given?
I look at friends who have sisters, whose sisterhood is stamped firmly in the lines of their faces, in the shorthanded language they have between themselves, in the fierce protectiveness the elder feels towards the younger. A shiver of longing runs up my neck when my friend tells me of how her older sister would carry her down the hall to their parents’ room when she had nightmares and couldn’t sleep. As an only child our family was a solid, balanced triangle; I never imagined it could be any other way. Except for those brief moments, watching my friends and their sisters, the same eyes in different faces, the same features in different shades. I wonder sometimes, what it would have been like, if we’d been castaways upon the same shore.