I was quiet. As his friends continued to drink, laugh, and dance, I stood still – really and truly not wanting to be bothered. My mood was low and I was sleepy from being jet-lagged. The Cuban jazz band played all of the classics. I felt myself effortlessly swaying like Californian palm trees as the rhythm of the Congo drums vibrated through my body. I think part of me was feeling a slight separation anxiety from Havana. Santa Monica Pier’s sunset was nice to look at on this summer night but the frequent cool breezes that blew my afro’s natural curls from tight squiggles to puffy waves made me cold. I really wanted nothing more than to crawl into the guest bed that was waiting for me and fall asleep. They all ordered another round of drinks, again offering me one, and still not understanding how I could be my brother’s sister because of the fact that unlike him, I don’t drink.
“So, you’re from LA right? What high school did you go to?” One of his friends, who hadn’t really made much of an attempt to talk to me all night, began asking me questions just to make conversation.
“No. I’m from New York.”
“But… Al is from LA. How are you from New York?” I wasn’t given the chance to answer him before he began answering himself. “Ohhh… You have different parents or something?”
“Yes. Different dads.” Both my brother and I said, almost simultaneously.
About a moment went by. No one else asked me anything. I guess they were thinking about the new information that they just learned about us. Maybe wondering what kind of scandals my family was hiding. Or maybe they didn’t care at all. I thought I was finished socializing. I was ready to get back into silently reminiscing about my jazzy nights along the Malecon, while listening to this live band, until I looked up and noticed the tall, blonde friend of my brother, wanting to tell me something else. This time he bent down and spoke directly into my ear.
“I have a half-sister too. She lives in . . .”
I stood still. The volume of the upbeat atmosphere seemed to be muted and it felt like no one else in the room was moving. I couldn’t hear anything else he said because the word “half” echoed through my head like the gongs of the Big Buddha temple in Phuket.
H a l f . . .
H a l f. . .
Half? I have never considered my brother and sister a half. Sure we don’t share the same fathers but still yet, they are my brother and sister. There is nothing divided, incomplete, or partial about them in my eyes. To add ‘half’ as a prefix of their titles felt derogatory and demeaning. The connotation of him whispering our newfound commonality into my ear only added to the indication that this phrase is disparaging and too ignominious to share it with the rest of the world.
How was I to respond to him without sounding angry or rude or annoyed? Was there a way to open the dialogue while avoiding the possibility of overwhelming this stranger of a man with my inner emotions regarding the relationship between my brother and I? Was I going to be able to convince him not to use that pejorative term to describe someone who shared the same blood as him again?
His eyes waited for my lips to separate but I said nothing. His face reminded me of an Aaron Douglas painting as the shades of his shame blended perfectly with his boneless red cheeks, daunting me for a rebuttal… but my energy was fading and my patience was fleeting…. So, I just looked at him and said nothing.