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Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings

Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings PDF

Author: Chrysta Bilton

Publisher: Little


Publish Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN-10: 0316536547

Pages: 288

File Type: Epub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

There’s a knock on the front door.

“It’s for you, Chrysta!” my husband yells from the kitchen without having to look. It has been this way all morning: one perfect stranger after another, standing on my porch, luggage by their side, arms outstretched to hug me, their older sister.

I walk down the stairs and open the front door to greet another sibling. The first had been surprisingly warm, kind, and likable. The second, too. What will the next be like? I wonder. Will they be like him? I open the door, smiling as brightly as I can. After an awkward hug, I introduce myself.

“I’m Chrysta,” I say, trying my hardest to put this stranger at ease.

“I’m Grace,” the woman standing in front of me replies. My eyes scan hers as I laugh uncomfortably at the uncanny physical similarities between us.

“The other siblings are in the back,” I say, helping Grace with her bag as I usher her inside.

As she walks through the front door, a bit shy, I am struck by a familiar, loud braying sound. It is my own laugh, complete with the guttural gasps for air. As I wander back to find out which of them is making that sound—my sound!—I see the dozen siblings who have already arrived standing in a circle, arranging their toes in a lineup for a photo because, according to another sibling, we all share the same feet. I slip off my sandals and add my right foot to the circle, and sure enough, my big toe has found its doppelganger—a dozen of them.

I am learning that most of us share physical traits—the same dimple on our left cheek, the same prominent eyebrows, the same muscular forearms. There are some distinct personality quirks as well, like the constant spaced-out gaze that makes friends feel like we don’t care what they have to say, when really we do—we just can’t help being lost in the clouds. Or always having the battery of whatever device we’re using linger at 1 percent.

Then, again, I hear that roaring, echoing laugh.

Then, again, another knock.

“It’s for you, Chrysta!”

But this time, as I run back into the living room and open the front door, I recognize the person waiting on the other side.

“I still can’t believe you invited them here,” Kaitlyn, the one sibling I grew up with, here in Los Angeles, whispers to me with a scowl as she looks past me and toward our brothers and sisters. She is less than enthusiastic that I agreed to host this “reunion.”

“Couldn’t you have chosen a neutral spot at least—somewhere that’s not your personal space where you live with your children?” she asks.

“Kait, they are all very sweet,” I say, hoping to ease her concerns. “Just go outside and meet them.”

“These are strangers, Chrysta,” she says, hardly concealing her panic behind a dissociative gaze. “Just because we share biology with them doesn’t make them our family.” Then, as she looks past the hallway and out toward my backyard, where she can see one sibling now playing with my toddler, Kaitlyn leans in and wonders aloud, “How do you know someone won’t steal something?”

I look at her irritated expression and can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation we now find ourselves in.

“Kait,” I say, trying to hold a straight face. “If the worst thing that comes from this weekend is that one of our siblings, who we have never met, steals something from my house, I will consider it a rousing success.”

Kaitlyn is not amused.

“I told my therapist about this,” she says as she looks at the luggage, reminiscent of the baggage claim area of a small-town airport. “And she agreed: this is very strange.”

She pauses for a moment; clearly she’d just heard our laugh, too.

“What are they like? Do they look like us?”

“A lot like us.”

“Where’s Mom?” she asks, still lingering with one foot out the door.

This reunion is my mother’s worst nightmare. We have known about the siblings—that there are anywhere between three dozen and a few hundred—for more than a decade, since the shocking day the story appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Since then, Mom’s coping strategy has been to pretend the whole thing never happened rather than face the reality that she was partially responsible for it.

My decision to meet and host the siblings is a dose of reality so vivid it threatens to completely upend all the illusions Mom has ever harbored about our family. And she wasn’t happy when I told her I was doing it.

I take a deep breath as I look out toward the street and see my mother’s navy-blue Prius pull around the corner and park, the rear jutting out at an angle and several feet from the curb. I watch with the same combination of love and anxiety my mother often inspires in people as she reluctantly makes her way out of her car; her face is red from crying. She opens the rear door to grab her sidekick, a pudgy Pekingese beagle with tiny legs and as much separation anxiety when it comes to my mother as my mother has when it comes to Kaitlyn and me.

Mom is dressed in her usual several shades of orange, head to toe, to match her orange apartment and orange dog, Gracie. Wearing orange is one of the many lingering traditions she still carries from a life she spent as a pioneer in many of the new age religions—and a few cults—to come out of Los Angeles in the sixties, seventies, and eighties.

“Hi, Mom,” I say, smiling warmly, hoping I can defuse some of the intensity of her inner world by simply refusing to acknowledge it.

She approaches, and as I open the door a bit more, she bursts into sobs.

“I pulled over and cried for an hour before coming here,” she explains.

I stand, quiet and resolute.

Her eyes dart back and forth, waiting for my reaction, perhaps hoping she can bully me into canceling my plans. I invite her in, a demonstration to signify that there is nothing she can do to stop me.

“This is a bad idea, Chrysta,” she warns, abruptly ending her display and turning irate as she walks right past me and into the house. “A really bad idea.”

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