“Happy families. What’s that all about, eh? A bloody busted flush is what it is. You surround yourself with other people so the night doesn’t seem quite so dark. Shout down the sound of the wind with arguments about whose turn it is to wash the dishes. Best not to kid yourself. Best not to give any hostages to fortune. You’re on your own in the end. Always. Where the hell else would you want to be?”
— John Constantine
Family. I can seriously do without family. All family has done is bring me pain, confusion or dysfunction, or even a grab bag of the three, so I have actively avoided most of my surviving family members and that has suited me just fine.
Two Friday nights ago I returned home from another shift at the barbecue joint, slightly tipsy and surly (as usual), and when I sat down to peruse the day’s email I expected nothing out of the ordinary. The usual attempts at identity theft (thank you oh so much, Craig’s List), scheduling announcements for the Japan Society, eBay “watched item” alerts, and miscellaneous stuff from assorted friends were all there, but my attention was riveted by a message entitled “Greetings from a Bunche.” “What the fuck is this,” I asked myself, and then I saw who it was from. One Meredith Bunche, my little sister who I have not laid eyes on in twenty years.
Yes, you read that right: my little sister, Meredith.
Now some of you may be saying, “Hold up! Bunche has a sister?!!?” Yes, dear readers, I am not a unique mythical beastie, and therein lies a backstory.
I am the second of my father’s four children, and as we all share a parent, I consider them siblings, none of that “half” nonsense; the eldest is Janice, who has to be about fifty and whom I have not seen since about 1975, then there’s me, the only spawn from my folks’ sixteen-year sentence — not a story that will be told here — and after dad remarried came Kenneth, now twenty-seven, and Meredith, now twenty-five.
I never got to know Janice for reasons that remain obscure, but I think it may have had something to do with my dad’s emotional distance and desire to keep much of his history very much in the past, and as for Kenneth and Meredith, they were the new kids, and by the time they came along I was in high school while they were little and needed constant attention. Dad and I tried to foster some sort of relationship between us — with much prodding by my mother — and, to be honest, by then it was too little too late.
I had met little Kenneth a couple of times, but I never felt like a part of his family, then after Meredith was born I tried to connect again, and that was the one time I ever saw them both, him being five, she being three.
The discomfort between my dad and I was put aside for the day as I attempted to bond with those two little people who, amazingly, shared my lineage and existed in flesh and blood, rather than just being recounted memories of distant relations or soon-to-be-deceased coffin-dodgers. Seeing these wee Bunches in their formative state was the first time I can recall truly feeling old despite being only twenty-one, so I can only imagine how my dad must have felt.
Kenneth acted exactly like I’d expect a slightly-older brother to, running about rambunctious as hell, while I was utterly enchanted with the huge-eyed girl child who looked quite a bit like what a café au lait version of her mom would have at the same age. She and I were on the floor, surrounded by an explosion of well used crayons, drawing pictures of bunnies and such, and my heart melted as I turned into a total moosh, helplessly wrapped round this sweet tyke’s little finger and enjoying every second of it. I thought she was adorable as hell, and I knew without a doubt that she was of my blood when Kenneth would not stop bugging her while we were drawing, and after Meredith had repeatedly yelled at him to leave her alone, she bashed him upside the skull with a cute little toy chainsaw (does Fisher-Price still make those?). As he howled in pain she returned her attention to me, and we went back to drawing pictures with crayons. Need I mention that he didn’t fuck with her again that day?
And that was the last I saw of her and Kenneth.
As the years passed and the age of the affordable home computer dawned, I fervently searched the internet for any clue as to the whereabouts of my younger sibs — I did not have Janice’s married name, so that was not an option — with not luck whatsoever regarding Kenneth, but Meredith’s name popped up several times in reference to her collegiate track career. The two photos I found of her showed a lovely, athletic young woman whose features betrayed more of my dad’s line than in her toddlerhood, complete with the half-closed eyes and tentative smile displayed since time immemorial in snapshots of my old man where he was clearly annoyed at being photographed, and that familiar expression showing up on another face really bugged me out.
Anyway, I attempted to contact her through the links provided and never heard anything, so I gave up on a regular search, only checking the internet periodically and yielding no results. Then, out of the blue, I received the following:
So, I am fully aware that this email is a complete blast from the past, but this is Meredith Bunche...long time no see or speak! I did some digging on the Internet to find your email address--and you might be wondering why I would do such a thing out of the blue. Well, the world is a small place and has a strange way of bringing people together. The first encounter I had with your name came about two years ago. I was working for The WB television network, and saw your name in the company directory (at that time AOL Time Warner since you were working for DC) but then found out that you left the company and I kind of let it go. A few years later, you have entered my life once more! I recently started working for this company called Spacedog and we have partnerships/relationships with both Top Cow comics and Tokyopop, which I am sure being the comic guru that you are, have heard of. To bring myself up to speed on the comic book/graphic novel genre, I picked up a few books to read through and when I was nearly done with Y: THE LAST MAN, I saw your name as editor! My first reaction was "Holy shit, how awesome!" and then I was like "Wow, I have this really strong urge to email him." So, never being one to fight my instincts...I'm emailing you! You just seem like a really interesting person, and since we share the unique Bunche last name, I hope that you are open to communication...I don't think I've seen you in almost twenty years!! Life is crazy I know.
I am also going to be making my first venture to Comic Con in February, which from what I read, you are quite the expert! So, how are you??!! I hope that I haven't taken you completely off guard (who am I kidding...I'm sure I have) and that you write back. Its just so interesting how I keep coming across your name/path. I hope that all is well with you and you are happy and healthy. In this weather, I know it is hard to be either of those things. Ugh, I hate the cold. If you feel like it, please write back. It would be great to hear from you and get to know you even a little bit. I'm all grown up now and really would like to know more about you. Take care and I hope to hear from you soon! Plus, if we get stalled on the personal stuff, at least we have professional stuff to talk about now too!
Needless to say, I was completely gobsmacked.
Shaken from my tequilaed-up surliness, I immediately wrote back, after which I called my friend in London, the only person I knew who might be awake, and bawled uncontrollably as I told her what had happened and how ecstatic I was. The next day, my sister wrote back, and after some giddy back-and-forth exchange of info we agreed to meet for dinner and “getting to know you” time. She also sent me a link to this recent photo of her.
The days crawled by — I would have seen her sooner, but I wanted to take Meredith out to dinner, and I needed to get paid — and the anticipation gave me major league agita, but soon enough, the day rolled around and I set off to the Lower East Side, not far from where she lives, for a hole-in-the-wall eatery called the Clinton Street Baking Company.
It was cold as a motherfucker when I stepped above ground at the F train’s 2nd Avenue station and Houston Street, the wind chill bringing things down to near zero degrees, but I was oblivious to the blast from a frost giant’s ass. I was as nervous as I have seldom been and my mind was a bedlam of raging insecurities; what if I fuck this up somehow? What if we have nothing to say to each other? What the hell kind of big brother can I possibly be to her at this stage of her life? All those worries and more rocketed about in my head, and as I headed east on Houston it seemed like some demented architect spirit was invisibly adding more blocks with each street I crossed, gaining cheap yucks by giving me yet more time to over think the situation.
I arrived at the restaurant slightly early to stake out a table toward the rear, a space that would hopefully provide a small measure of privacy for the family reunion of two, and I ended up sandwiched into a claustrophobic spot between two other tables. When I hung up my stuff and looked around, the place looked more upscale and chi-chi than anyplace I would normally frequent, but I was there, so I would make the best of it.
I went into the restroom and washed my face with cold water, successfully shocking my nervousness away and focusing my emotions to a semblance of stability. “Butch up, man!” became my mantra, and with one last look in the mirror I stepped back out into the restaurant and sat down. Usually, when waiting for someone I pull out a book and read, but the comfort of fiction would do nothing to make the time pass until the real life human drama began, so I sat for what seemed like hours while only three minutes elapsed.
Then my sister walked in.
I could see that she was just as nervous as I was, and after a few seconds we embraced. She was tall, my height, and very slim, so slim that I thought I might have crushed her when we hugged, and when we let each other go it sank in that I last saw this grown woman when she was just a tiny little girl. I actually started to shake, and then told her, ”This is just too weird!” She agreed, and when we sat down we engaged in a bit of small talk regarding my comics career and what I was doing now, then what she was up to, but in no time we began talking about our family.
As most of you know, I have very little difficulty discussing the details of my own life but considering that my sister is involved in the particulars of this story, I will not relate what we discussed, but I will say that we share some similar memories and that she came out just fine. In fact, I have to state that she’s apparently much better adjusted than I am — not much of a surprise there — and definitely destined for great things.
What I will share with you is that she lives on the Lower East Side with a boyfriend who sounds pretty cool, has a sly sense of humor, and seems to embrace the joy of living in healthy ways, both emotionally and physically, that I wish I had been capable of when I was her age. I learned all of this while noshing on the pricey but exceptional crab cakes — trust me, they’re the only good ones I’ve ever eaten in NYC — and homemade biscuits, and in no time we were at ease with each other. And that’s nothing short of amazing since for all intents and purposes we were total strangers, although strangers united by blood and an uncommon surname. I have often spoken disparagingly of my childhood situation, but when I spoke with Meredith I saw none of the negativity that I have carried for so many wasted years, and perhaps her act of reaching out and finding me will be the first stage in a psychological/emotional healing that has been too long skirted. I would also like to get to know my brother, Kenneth, and at last that may be possible.
Dinner ended too soon, and after about two and a half hours of highly emotional gushing — 98% of which was mine, since I’m very sensitive, as you may have noticed — we had to leave, she back to her boyfriend and work the next day, and I back to my chilly apartment and the tape of the evening’s new episode of HEROES (guess who made out better on that one?). But before we parted, we whipped out our digital cameras and snapped shots of us together as proof that we both exist.
Yeah, I know. She’s gorgeous, and I look like a bespectacled pineapple with an Afro and “hipster” facial hair, but I assure you that we are related. Mess with her and I will unleash some serious Kumanoken whupass on your sorry behind. Just see if I don’t!
So, now I have some family, and that’s great because I have always wanted a little sister. I’m a born nurturer and am very supportive and protective of my loved ones, so, Meredith, you and Kenneth now have a big brother. I hope that I won’t disappoint.