My mom was only 19 when she married my father, a well-mannered naval commander ten years her senior. Barely an adult herself, she became the mother to his young daughter, Lynn. She was five years old, thin and blonde and quiet.
A few years later, babies -- us. My brother and sister and I were raised with Lynn as true siblings, "half" was never mentioned. Lynn was my sister. My mother loved that girl, took her to church and mother-daughter events and brushed her hair and included her accolades in our Christmas cards. Lynn helped with the kids, had friends over for sleep overs.
Lynn is sort of mysterious shadow in the first chapters of my biography. She was that teenager blurred in the corner of a photograph from my third birthday at McDonalds. She was in the background of a lot of pictures. I remember clearly, however, that she loved us. She was kind, she had a beautiful smile. She was well-dressed and popular.
When I dip into the furthest recesses of my mind, Lynn is a player in my very first childhood memory. My brother and I knocked on her bedroom door, and when she opened, we begged to come in. We were toddlers and she was a teenager. She could have told me to scram, but she let me in to play with her tea set. She made me feel so important.
You could look her life two ways: Lynn had a handful of opportunities or the poor little girl never stood a fighting chance. Lynn didn't know her real mother, and that deeply affected her. She was out of place in a family that was only sort of her own. Eventually, she gave up. At 16, she ran away from home and never came back. I think she must've been looking for somewhere to belong when really, we were right there.
I missed her. I remembered her birthday, January 17. Through the years, I only heard bits and pieces but it all amounted to a rough life. She had her first baby boy at 17, her second at 20. The news was usually disappointing, she made bad friends and got into trouble. I heard whispers she was in prison. Still, I wondered about the big sister I looked up to. I knew she had a good heart. I heard she married, but he wasn't a nice guy and they probably weren't married anymore. She wrote to my mom once -- she asked if I was a good girl and did I turn out to be a cheerleader. I fantasized about the day we'd reunite, but even as an investigative reporter I couldn't track her down.
Boo called me tonight. "I have some news," she said. "Lynn is found."
She told me our brother had been quietly looking for her for years, found an address and sent letters that were repeatedly returned to sender. He hunted online and her name popped up in the 2006 archives of a Missoula newspaper: her obituary.
I hung up and bawled into my pillow. "I should have done more," I sobbed to my husband. "I could have done more." I should have tried harder to find her, maybe we could have been friends.
I can't sleep. I keep crying. The mystery is over, Lynn is found. She remarried, had another son. As it turns out, she died a hero. A day at the lake, her son's friend couldn't stay afloat. She jumped in to save him, and suffered a sort of heart seizure. I hope deep down, she died knowing that little girl from 25 years ago really loved her.
So there. The pieces all fit together now. So why do I feel like a little something inside of me is missing?