I reconnected with my “step-sister” aka the daughter of the dude who my mom married. This is a ride, so buckle in.

To start off, the fact that I was able to reconnect with her is seemingly a miracle. I was at the dentist, basically the only tie I have to my hometown and possibly to my mother. However, many years ago, Mom and my stepmom happened to be at the dentist at the same time and had an incident so I wasn’t even sure Mom was still going there. Then, my sister had oral surgery there and he super fucked it up so everyone switched dentists. Except me. 30% is I like my hygienist (and I don’t have teeth issues so I’m there for like, 15 minutes every 6 months) and 70% was sheer laziness.

So. I find myself at the dentist in the afternoon. I go to sign in and see my mother’s name at the top of the sheet; she’d been there that morning. My stomach turned. I kept thinking how badly I need to switch dentists and the usual guilt of going to this damn dentist was compounded by anxiety. Then, before my cleaning begins, a woman I recognize as working there enters the cubicle. “ANYA?” she asks, rather loudly. I confirm and she asks me if I’m related to my step sister, who I will refer to as Emma. I tell her that I sort of am, in the way that my mother married her father. I feel my face get hot as I anticipate her bringing up my mother. I throw in a quick, “but I don’t talk to my mom, so…is this about her? I saw she was here earlier today.” The woman tells me that Emma doesn’t talk to my mom either and that she lives with a whole different family now. Her daughter is good friends with Emma and they actually had her over for Christmas when my mother and her father left her alone over the holidays. She asks for my number and gives me Emma’s.

I text Emma and connect her with my little sister, who has talked to her more. For the first time in my life (so far), I feel…old. Emma is 18 and she had to have been like, 11 or 12 last time I saw her. I’m 30 years old. I feel like I’m pretty hip and shit but I’m sure I’m old to her and it’s not like we grew up together. I’ve seen this girl half a dozen times in my life. Maybe. But my sister works out a dinner date for the three of us and our significant others.

We’re in the midst of a pandemic but my state is still shamefully open. We get together at a fairly large restaurant with a large open air dining in hopes that we’ll be seated there but unfortunately were not. However, the table was distanced from the others adequately. I kept my mask on except when eating and I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the whole damn establishment that did (aside from employees, my husband, and my sister). Anyway, it felt a little irresponsible and I guess that’s why I felt I needed to justify it but it was important to reconnect in person.

First of all, we weren’t trying to rehash childhood traumas over dinner. So I only got so many details. Most of our conversation was like an episode of VH1’s “Where are They Now?” with summaries of what we do and where we are in life. Bits and pieces came to light. Without revealing too much of Emma’s story, she got the brunt of her father’s abuse since her brothers are older and didn’t live there any longer. My mother combined with her father formed a single super-villain of power and control; stealing her paychecks out of her bank account, oversight of all channels of her life, gaslighting and manipulation, isolation, and even locking her in the storm shelter.

Emma told us that my mother maintains that she still has great, active relationships with me and my sister. Such a wonderful relationship that, in fact, we apparently all took a big family vacation together last year?? I left dinner feeling relieved that Emma is alive and seemingly well adjusted. But I’m angry. and sad. and confused. The well-groomed codependent that I am instinctually wants to discredit Emma, to defend my mother, to deny that this is reality. That my mother could really allow someone to treat a young girl like that is mind boggling. But then I remind myself how she treated my sister and me. That she could live in such a delusional state to lie to everyone in her life about her involvement in our lives, just to save face. How selfish and how completely detached she must be. How mentally ill. How sick. How sad.

I don’t know that Emma is going to care to be involved in our lives to any extent and I don’t blame her if she isn’t. She’s created a new life for herself with a new family and her own support system, just like my sister and I have. At the end of the day, I just hope she feels validated in her experiences and maybe a little less alone. Maybe a little more supported.

I do know that this reconnection has solidified my feelings. I already believed that I would not be allowing my mother any involvement in my daughter’s life. Now I know that I will stand firm in that. How a person could have so little spine, so little self awareness, to continue being this awful person, on purpose, for her own gratification as the martyr. Painting a picture of her poor, pitiful self enslaved in a world that she commissioned.

Today, I am relieved to be where I am and who I am. Here’s to the future and to my baby girl, who will hopefully only know family who loves and cares for her beyond all else. Who will never be subjected to the emotional abuse my mother inflicted. I swear it, as long as I live.