The Lost Sister: An Elegy

Selected for the Best American Essays, 2016


She was not a planned birth.

She was purely coincidental, accidental. A gift.

Born on June 16, 1956. My eighteenth birthday.

“Help us name your baby sister, Joyce.”

We were thrilled, but we were also frightened.

Though my brother, Robin, and I had known for months that our mother was pregnant, somehow we had not quite wished to realize that our mother would be having a baby.

In the sense in which having a baby means a new presence in the household, an entirely new center of gravity. As if a radioactive substance had come to rest in our midst, deceptively small, even miniature, but casting off a powerful light.

At times, a blinding light.

And if light can be deafening, a deafening light.

“Help us name your baby sister, Joyce.”

People on couch
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