I recently saw a meme on Facebook that asked, “If you could sit here and talk for an hour to any person living or dead, who would it be?”
Why, Mickey, of course! I didn’t have to think about it for a minute. Where is she? I don’t know.
When I was a little girl, my older siblings drifted off. Bonnie and Sandy got married and lived far away, and Rob was in college. As the baby of the family (by a long shot), I was virtually an only child. From a very young age, I felt desperately alone and wanted to fill that hole with a sibling.
My mother had been adopted, so both my parents had a tender heart for orphans. They supported Eliada Children’s Home, which at that time was an actual orphanage. Eliada sent out regular communications to its supporters including a prayer calendar every month with the names and photos of the orphans to be prayed for every day. I would spread the calendar out on the floor and lie flat on my stomach and browse through it as if it were a catalog, picking out the orphan I wanted to adopt. Month after month I would point to my choice and beg my parents to adopt a kid, and of course, they dismissed my suggestions.
Then, in 1962, when I was nine years old, my mother quite unexpectedly explained that we were being considered as a foster home to take care of a baby, and that the social worker would be interviewing me. Ecstatic is an understatement!
My parents and the social worker were careful to explain the process. We were fostering. We were not adopting. We were simply taking care of a baby until her permanent home could be found. The day would come when she would leave our tender care. Which, to my 9-year-old brain was a quite comprehensible concept, but total bullshit – she would be mine forever. My long-dreamed-of little sister was about to arrive!
Soon, we had an infant whose name was Michelle Jacobs on her birth certificate, and we simply called her Mickey. She had dark hair and a worried furrow on her brow that I wanted to soothe away. From the minute she arrived, I ceased my languid puddle-jumping worm-counting walks home from school and rushed home to hold her, bathe her, feed her. My life changed, I had a sibling, I was truly filled with purpose and joy. She started recognizing me and when I came home from school, her eyes would light up and her mouth curled into a goofy goo-goo smile.
And then, one day, nine months later, I came home, and she was gone. “They found a home for her,” my mom said. I was numb. I wanted to cry, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to. My mother seemed equally distraught, but with met the challenge with her typical equanimity: “It’s what we prayed for,” she said. “It’s why we did what we did,” she said. I remember gulping back tears and running upstairs to my bedroom.
“Where is she now?” I asked God. “Where is she now?” I asked over and over. But I didn’t dare ask it openly, because as my parents quietly reminded me: this is what we had signed up for. But it wasn’t what I had signed up for. None of their explanations eased the pain, my little sister was gone.
I know my parents grieved. But no one, no one, no one scooped me up and recognized my loss. No one saw that I had lost a little sister. My grief was overwhelming, but I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I pushed it deep inside. As a result, I have almost never spoken about it. Almost no one knows this part of my story. But, as Judy Howard Peterson has said, by telling our stories, “We could help others become brave enough to bear witness to the uncut version of their own stories.”
Where is she now? Naturally, I hope she is happy and had a good life. I assume that if she wanted to find her biological family, she would have by now. Perhaps she never had the urge. In either case, I assume she never knew the part about her foster family: the nine months of feeding, loving, holding, gazing, and adoring her are just a footnote to her story, not something noteworthy in any records.
I recently sorted through my dad’s old slides and carefully selected a few to be converted to digital. At the top of my list, maybe my sole purpose for diving through hundreds of slides, was to find photos of Mickey. Here she is in 1962. If I could sit for an hour and talk to anyone, dead or alive, I’d choose Mickey. (C)Sharon Cairns Mann