By Micaela Bicknell
Hello, my name is Alejandra Marie Castillo. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I hope you like a good story because I have got one heck of a doozy to tell you today. It happened about eight years ago, and it is what started me on the journey I’m on today. You need to know about it so that you can understand that it’s not my fault that I’m here in a fleabag motel in the middle of nowhere in Hicksville, U.S.A. I will only tell you about the incident eight years ago and a little of my background leading up to that incident, because that was a defining moment in my life.
I’m an orphan. I was orphaned at the age of two. My biological parents, Jaime and Thuy Castillo, were killed in a head on collision by a drunk driver. I was the only survivor of that crash, or so my adoptive parents, Carol and Tom Anderson, told me. Eight years ago, on my 16th birthday, Carol and Tom decided to tell me the truth. You are probably wondering why I called my adoptive parents Carol and Tom; well, that was what they wanted, and they didn’t want to form an attachment to me, or me to them. I was their living doll. Carol and Tom did not adopt me to love me; they adopted me to win beauty pageants. They knew that my mix of Vietnamese and Mexican heritage, along with my large almond shaped violet eyes, would win many titles. I was two years old, so no potty training was necessary, just training.
Ever see that movie Soldier with Kurt Russell? He was born to be a soldier. When he was outdated, they replaced him with better soldiers who thought they killed him and left him for dead. Anyhow, it’s a great movie, and basically, except for being a soldier, pretty much how I was raised. I was trained only to win beauty pageants; my life story often helped me along the way.
I had just won the Miss Teen Universe pageant two days prior, which was the condition of me being allowed to get my driver’s license. The morning of my 16th birthday started off as any other morning. I was up at 5am, dressed and at the barre, exercising and limbering up. At 6am, after an intense work out, and some Tai Chi, I made a two egg omelet with only egg whites, green bell pepper, and tomato. Carol, Tom, and I enjoyed coffee together and spoke about the day’s events.
“So, are you excited about getting your driver’s license today?” Carol asked.
I looked over at her; she was wearing an ivory silk blouse, with black Armani trousers. “I suppose I am. This driver’s test is nothing compared to the Miss Teen Universe pageant, though, so I’m not nervous at all about it,” I replied.
Tom was dressed for the office today; he would not be joining us at the DMV. He glanced over at Carol and then spoke to me, “Alejandra, there is something Carol and I have been meaning to tell you. We never knew when the right time for this would be, but since you are going to see your birth certificate soon, we wanted to tell you a few things first.”
“All right Tom. I’m sure it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“First, though, you should go upstairs and shower and change. You know how I hate it when you are sweaty,” added Carol.
I wanted to roll my eyes, but I was better mannered than that, so I picked up my dishes and took them to the dishwasher. I went upstairs to do as I was told. When I was done in the shower, I went to my walk-in closet to pick my outfit for the day. It was October in California, so there was a slight chill in the air. I chose my new emerald green cashmere sweater set, a black Gucci pencil skirt, matching green tights, and my black Angiolini ballet flats. My naturally curly black hair was pulled into half a ponytail, with a few ringlets framing my face. The only make-up I was allowed to wear outside of a pageant was lipstick; today I chose Holly Berry Red by Maybelline. It complemented my sweater set well.
I went downstairs to wait for Carol and Tom in the living room. The living room was going to be refurnished in a few weeks’ time; Carol was forever redecorating some room or another. I liked this color scheme. Whatever colors she chose would have to match my beautiful baby grand piano which was finished in a black cherry tint. The sofa was over stuffed and upholstered in a striped cream and ivory satin finish cover. Both the recliner and loveseat had matching covers. Tom loved this furniture, so only wanted to have new slip covers made. Carol only complied because she could change it whenever she wanted to that way, and it wouldn’t take long if she wanted to choose another style.
Waiting for Carol and Tom, I walked over to my piano. I perched on the bench and started playing a new piece I had been working on. I loved my music, but for pageants, I had to stick with the program, only classical pieces that the judges would know. I hated this piano. No, I didn’t, but when you can’t play what you want, you learn to dislike something very, very much. It was Carol’s fault. She wanted me to win pageants; I hated doing pageants. Even at the talent show I won at my school, I was only allowed to play classical music. I don’t complain, though. I learned a long time ago; you never complain.
I went to the couch and sat down again. Carol and Tom were on their way downstairs. Tom entered first, as though he were shielding Carol.
“Before I give you this birth certificate, I need you to promise to stay calm. What you’re about to hear is probably upsetting news.”
“All right. I promise to stay calm.” What in the world was the matter with these two? They were acting stranger than usual.
“I know you won’t believe us without seeing it yourself, but, well, here.” Tom thrust the paper into my hand. I saw my mother and father listed, and my name. I searched and searched and couldn’t figure it out. Then, suddenly, something caught my eye. Under where it lists multiple births, it was marked for twins.
My jaw dropped and then closed quickly. I looked up at Tom, then Carol, and said, “That’s it? I’m a twin? Okay, why should that bother me? I was the sole survivor of the crash that killed my family. This is what you were worried about?”
Carol glanced nervously at Tom, but Tom shook his head and said, “No. You tell her; it was your choice, not mine.”
I had never seen such hatred in Carol’s eyes, but she acquiesced. “Alejandra, you weren’t the sole survivor. Your sister also survived the crash.” She handed me a picture of me and my sister, probably taken at the orphanage. We were holding each other’s hands tightly, as though we were afraid to let go and lose one another. She was beautiful, like me, despite the burn on her face.
“She had health problems stemming from the accident. Well, you know why we adopted you; we couldn’t take her as well and still provide this life for you. So, we left her at the orphanage. She was well taken care of,” Carol added hastily.
My heart hurt for her; my sister was left behind because she wasn’t beauty pageant material. She was left at a cold, lonely orphanage because of the scar that covered half her face. Some fierce feeling made me want to lash out. I couldn’t tell you then what it was, but I can now. I was angry for my sister. I was angry we were torn apart. I know that we would have been best friends; you could see we were in the picture, yet Carol and Tom left her because she was scarred. I knew they weren’t the most caring people in the world, but this was beyond cruel.
“How dare you leave her there?” I said. “She was a child; she was my sister. She IS my sister. She didn’t die, right?”
“No, she didn’t die, but she was adopted. We were told she had a good family that wanted her and you, but we made a few calls, and we were given you,” Carol said. Carol came from a political family, so I knew she was given what she wanted.
I composed myself, but right then, a plan had formed. “Is this all the news you needed to tell me?” I asked. “Are there more siblings living that I should know about?”
“No, you two were the only ones,” Tom said. For the first time since I could remember, he showed some concern. “Are you okay?”
I looked at him sadly. “Would you be if you were in my place?”
“No, I suppose not,” he responded. “Will you be okay? Do you want to wait another day before taking your test?”
“No, I’ll be fine,” I replied, “besides, Carol promised me this reward if I won the title of Miss Teen Universe. I held up my end of the bargain; I won’t let her back out of hers.”
“Okay then.” Tom walked toward the door. “I’ll see you girls later. Good luck at the DMV today, Ally.”
For the second time that day, my jaw dropped. Tom never called me Ally. “Thank you, Tom.”
After Tom had gone, I looked at Carol. “You know what this means, don’t you?” I asked.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I think I do. It means you want to find her doesn’t it?”
“Oh yes, but not only that. I’m going to punish you. You wanted a beauty queen; that’s why you left her behind. But you won’t have one now. I’m done with the pageants, and I’m giving up the title I currently hold. You only told me I had to win it to get my license; you never said I had to keep it. I hate you, Carol, and there is nothing you can do to make up for this betrayal, nothing. Now take me to the DMV because I have some very important calls to make this afternoon.”
This time, it was Carol’s jaw that dropped.
It’s been eight years since that day in the living room. That day, I started my journey to find my sister. It was hard, Carol made sure there were road blocks in my way. Even though she could have had them removed, she had to go. It happened quickly, which in of itself is sad, because she deserved to suffer. Death comes for those who forget to wear their seat belts when being chauffeured by a 16 year old newly licensed driver.
Tom and I had only each other after that, and he changed so completely, that I couldn't see harming him. He admitted he wanted to take both my sister and I, but Carol didn’t want her. Her name is Leilani Marie. That was all Tom knew about her. Carol kept her secret well. Her parents refused to tell me more, but Tom told me they were instrumental in the adoption process. After Carol’s death, however, they refused to talk to me. I wasn’t “blood” as Tom said.
Tom spent all of his savings trying to help me find Leilani. When he got sick with pancreatic cancer three years ago, I had gotten part of my trust that Carol left to me in her will. I used that to keep Tom as comfortable as possible while he stayed in hospice. He died just 4 months after being diagnosed. His service was private and small. He was a good man.
That’s the beginning of my story. That is why I am here, in a fleabag motel in the middle of nowhere in Hicksville, U.S.A. I’m waiting for my next trust to be released before I can continue my search for her. Until then, I am just going to have to chill. So are you.