HER NAME WAS APRIL. She was a beautiful little girl, my playmate, and my almost sister. One year younger than I, she was 2 when she came to live with us. I don’t know the circumstances that brought her to be fostered in our house, but whatever the reason, she was there.
When I was 1½, I had been permanently adopted into my foster family. There is just one picture of me before that time. With so many children in our house, my parents didn’t invest in photos of a baby who was fostered — photos were reserved for those who were permanent, or would be. Once I got adopted, the pictures followed. A Sears Portrait Studio photo was the ultimate proof of permanent residency, and I passed. The glossy 8-by-10 image of a chubby me in a pink dress against a blue-sky backdrop was displayed on my mother’s dresser until I was in my teens.
For some reason, though, despite April’s foster status, there are many photos of her; even one from Sears. There are photos of us together, looking mischievous. We made quite the pair — I’m the one with the messy, curly hair; she’s practically bald, except for some blond fuzz. In my favorite photo of her, she’s 2 years old and laughing, holding up her little fists like a boxer.
She was supposed to be my baby sister. These pictures are proof.
My father adored her. He wasn’t much of a talker, but some years before he died he told me about the day April left. Nearly 40 years had passed, but his eyes still welled up and his voice caught when he remembered the loss of his almost daughter.
Two social workers were at our house. This was not unusual. With several foster kids living there, there was often a social worker stopping by for an unannounced visit. One of them told my parents that April had to go, that she’d received a permanent placement. The social workers wouldn’t say whether April was going back to her birth family or to be adopted by someone else. But April had lived with us for over a year and never visited other families — who would adopt a child sight unseen? My father could only guess that April was going back to her birth mother or biological family — he found some comfort in that explanation. The social workers put April in their car. No bags, no clothes. They just took her. That’s how my father described it, “like she was stolen from us.” He hurried outside with April’s favorite stuffed toy, but they drove off without it.
I don’t remember much about that day, except that one of the social workers was holding April. I stood on my tiptoes to see out the window in the front door. A dark-colored car was in the street.
April would be in her 40s now, and perhaps she is doing what I did: examining her life, fitting together whatever pieces she has, and finding contentment in what is made from them. After all, a puzzle with some of the pieces missing is still something — it still takes shape and you can see what it is supposed to be, even though there are holes. So you fill the holes with things you find along the way and you build a life — not conventionally perfect, but sublimely perfect in its makeshift-ness.
If ever I were to see her again, I’d give April the photos and give her some of her childhood back. I’d say: “Hello, sister. Remember me? Here are photos of you — this is what you looked like. You were loved.” The photos are proof.
Lisa Greggo lives in Somerville and is working on a collection of stories about identity. Send comments to email@example.com.
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