A letter to... my little sister who has been missing for a year
Christmas is coming again and we don’t know where you are. You haven’t contacted me since January and your mobile is dead. I know you’ve been back to prison because some of your paperwork was sent here. I suppose it’s a good thing you know my address off by heart, but you haven’t used it since.
January was the first time I refused to give you money. I didn’t realise it would lead to not hearing from you for almost a year. I tortured myself for days for not sending the cash when it was below freezing outside, but I’d already sent so much and my husband was sceptical about what it was really for. I suppose I just got tired of being taken for a mug and resented being spun stories about why you needed a relatively small amount of cash in a hurry. Particularly as you barely included a cursory “how are you?” in your text. I suppose I realised how one-sided it all was. I’d travelled miles to visit you in prison, but you hadn’t remembered my birthday in over a decade.
I’m not sure you got the message that I was expecting another baby. Your niece was born in July. I’d like you to meet her, but I worry it would make you think of your own babies, who you lost. I’m still in touch with them, you know. They’re doing well, so big now. I wish you would write to them, but you said you wouldn’t know where to start and how to explain. You said it gets harder as each year passes, but it gets harder for them too.
Did you feel like an outsider from the start or did we make you feel like that gradually, day by day?
Your daughter called in tears last week asking for your phone number. For the first time I had to say I don’t have any way of contacting you. No address and no phone number. You’ve never used the email I set up for you and you’re not on Facebook. That stung. I felt ashamed, as though I’d let you slip through my fingers, although everyone else let you slip away years ago. As a consolation I said I’d send her some photos. I don’t have anything recent, but I thought some photos of you as a child would be nice. You were so cute; I loved having a little sister. Those classic 80s pictures of us in our matching pyjamas and goofy fringes. We look happy. But I stare at them, wondering when it all went wrong. Did you feel like an outsider from the start or did we make you feel like that gradually, day by day, until you no longer fitted at all?
Dad won’t talk about you. He says he’s protecting Mum, but I think he’s closed himself off because he was hurting so much. It’s what men of that generation do. I’m still not sure it was right to “uninvite” you to my wedding but Dad got himself so worked up about seeing you that it seemed the easiest thing to do. Well, easier than having an EastEnders showdown on my wedding day. Selfish, I know.
Are you still clean? I hope so, but if not I can see why and I don’t blame you. I phoned one of your old hostels and they said they’d keep an eye out for you. They spoke almost fondly of you, and I wonder if you’ll ever know or believe deep down that you’re likable. I’m so sorry if anything I said or did contributed to your lack of self-esteem.
Now that I’m a mum myself I’m sorry I didn’t realise how much you were struggling. It’s so bloody hard, I can’t imagine doing it by myself, miles from home with no money coming in.
Christmas is a time for family, so I wonder if you dread it. You’ve lost more than your fair share of family members, it’s true, but, other than your birth mother who tragically passed away weeks before you were due to reunite, we’re all still alive. Bridges could be mended if you’d just pick up the phone.
I hope you won’t be alone on Christmas Day. I’ll be with my in-laws this year, but I’ll spend all day hoping for a text from an unknown number: “Happy Xmas, babe.”
This letter appeared in the Guardian weekend on 5th December 2015 and all submissions are usually kept anonymous. When I saw my letter had been published I was shaking. It gave me the boost to start this blog a few years later.