Chapter 1: Meeting my Half-Sister

Rudy Owens’ memoir on the American adoption experience

© 2017 Rudy Owens.  All rights reserved.

Once again I found myself in San Diego on a perfect, warm day. A quarter of a century earlier, it felt like it did that sunny morning. During both trips to this sprawling, coastal city, I was hoping to meet someone I never really knew.

At best I expected to leave a note on her door while she was away at work. Maybe she might meet me for coffee after the workday, during my four-day trip. She likely would ignore the letter, and our lives would go on as they always had. I had planned almost entirely for this outcome.

But the events unfolded differently.

Less than two hours after landing, I had parked in front at her modest adobe style house, located a mile from Balboa Park. She was home on a weekday. Her car sat in the driveway.

Clearly things were not going as expected. I had no choice now. I sucked in a gulp of air and then knocked. With the door still closed, she asked for my name, and I told her it was Rudy Owens. Instead of turning me away, she invited me into her living room.

And there I sat on her couch, across from a woman two years younger than me. She had dark, shoulder-length brown hair and a chin and lips that very much resembled my own.

“You don’t know how lucky you are,” she said, with a sigh of resignation. I did not expect this outcome. Her comment caught me off guard, almost speechless.

I planned the trip on a whim 48 hours before, from my new home in Portland. I had previously found that improbable journeys with little possibility for success had always opened doorways to the unexpected. This was most true when it came to this lifelong quest that brought me to Southern California with the early morning flight on September 29, 2014.

The stranger sitting across from me shared half of my DNA. She was both my half-sister and a mystery. She looked tired that morning and every one of her 47 years. Dark bags hung under her eyes. She was buxom and appeared healthy for her age.

That early fall day she wore a black tank top and black yoga pants. She had dressed expecting to be home alone. She was not expecting to be in the company of a visitor who was also her half-brother. Yet, there I was, the 49-year-old man now facing her with her Chihuahua on his lap.

Up until that day I only existed in her wider family’s narrative as a liar, bogeyman, criminal, possible blackmailer, and family disruptor. I embodied every fearful stereotype societies have assigned to bastards and illegitimate children for centuries. They told themselves and others I was not related to them and was an imposter, not of the same blood. None of her family really knew who I was. I always thought that she and her family knew I was the bastard son of her deceased father, which only exacerbated their uncertainty.

In the end, I only existed in her imagination. Years of suspicion and likely fear and anger from the people closest to her created an imaginary threat.

If she harbored those feelings that morning, I could not see them. She had opened her house and treated me as a guest.

By coincidence that Monday morning, she was taking a day off work. She worked as an attorney for a local government. “I’m not surprised to see you,” she said. “It’s as if you were meant to come.” I could not agree more.

Read more: Chapter 2: The Most Suitable Plan