Back then, I thought I knew what "family" meant; that peculiar little word was a stand-in for all kinds of ideas, including "comfort," "security," "permanence," and especially "love." Not surprisingly, that relationship went sour, and unlike "real" family, who generally remain family forever whether you like it or not, this person has evaporated into the ether, and it's unlikely we'll ever meet again.
At roughly the same time the relationship with my family-facsimile was reaching its conclusion, a strange new, actual family member materialized from virtually nowhere. Turns out that, in addition to having a real-life younger brother, I also have a real-life older sister.
Our father, who art in heaven (or wherever you go when you die)
My mother was 20 and my father was 50 when I was born. The man who supplied half of my DNA had been married once before to a much younger woman, and that marriage produced a first daughter. She grew up in Southern California, not far from where I spent a good chunk of my childhood. She is the same age as my own mother.
We met in a fated fashion literally days before my move to Paris. For the last 20 years, we'd been living within 10 miles of each other, she in Marin county, where she and her husband, both psychologists, cohabitate with an old dog in a beautifully manicured home, and I in San Francisco, in a well-worn but lovable old Western Addition apartment shared with a dog and human partner.
Separated by decades and oceans, but sisters just the same.
After a brief email exchange followed by a phone call, then a face-to-face meeting, we packed in as much socializing and getting-to-know-each-othering as possible in the span of a few days, which was all I had to spare before cramming everything into a giant "to-go" container and setting off on our overseas adventure. Our time together was spent poring over old photos and artwork (our father was a painter), comparing personal histories, staring at each other's faces searching for resemblances, and trying to define the idea of "family" within the context of our newly formed shared experience.
Portrait of an artist as a young man
My sister and her husband came to Paris last week. It had been 15 years since their last visit here, and my sense was that they wanted to fall under the City of Light's fabled romantic spell a deux. Their temporary home was a fifth-floor walk-up in the thick of the Marais. Over seven days we shared several meals together, in restaurants and at our home in the dingy northwest of Paris, where we attempted to fortify our long-distance connection over Indian and Ethiopian food, and seal it tightly for safekeeping.
Yes, I dragged everyone to Chettinadu for my beloved thali
This relationship, like so many others that have been formed and broken over the years, feels tentative. Will our freshly soldered bond remain intact simply because we share some DNA and a mutual love of art and travel? Is our connection not susceptible to the same sorts of fissures, fractures, and even deaths that the standard-issue friendships are prone to?
What does "family" mean to you, and who falls under that sheltered definition?