When I was in elementary school my father introduced me to an older girl who I was told was my new sister. I instantly began spending as much time as she would permit hanging out in her room, drinking in her older-girl-ness. I wanted jeans like hers, earth shoes like hers, button-down men’s shirts like hers and a puffy down jacket like hers. Her biological family was known to us in our small suburb and she had some form of arranged visitation. She had put herself in foster care, calling child protective services herself, the oldest of many siblings, asking to be removed from her chaotic and alcoholic home. She alone left the family – the younger ones all remained at her “old” home. I could feel the unspoken guilt, a terrible dilemma she carried in her chest and behind her eyes: had she abandoned her younger siblings in an attempt to save herself?
I had my own childhood fantasies and fears about this “other” family, that was – and was not – connected to our household. We regularly drove past her old house running errands, near our favorite pizza place. I would peer up the driveway, searching for something. Were they the dark, scary, shadow family to our real one? Or were we the flimsy, replacement family, the consolation prize, the fake ones? One Christmas season, I searched through her drawers and closets peeking in all of the unwrapped packages to see how the hidden butterfly necklace with my initials clearly penciled on the box compared to the