Knowing Sam

A baby’s first touch—so foreign and yet so familiar—taught  Life Lessons Essay Contest second runner-up, Molly Fessler, the meaning of love.

Photo by Jay Blakesberg/Getty Images

“How did you meet me?”

It is 5 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. The summer sun is hazy, string beans are losing their veins to the sink in preparation for a patio dinner. The question, posed from a little voice at my navel, its owner having wedged his head between my T-shirt and the countertop, requires attention.

“Hey, Sammy.” I turn off the faucet, wipe my hands on a towel, and ruffle his hair. I briefly consider stalling, waiting for Mom to reappear in the room or for Dad to come home. There is probably some guidebook or an advice column I should read before broaching this topic. I imagine the politically correct gorges and linguistic minefields to avoid. Visualize Sam and me perched atop a paper sailboat, attempting to navigate the Sea of Very Wrong and Bad Answers to This Question.

And yet, he asked me. I think I have to answer him.

“Want to help me with dinner?” I set Sam up on a stool next to me and show him how to pull the thread from the bean, hoping to hold his attention long enough to formulate a response. If being the eldest of eight kids has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the big sister has to forge through moderately uncharted territory—flu shots, middle school, curfew—often without the help of a map.

How did you meet me?

Well, I turned 13 in July 2005. Over an angel-food cake sprinkled with raspberries, I wished for a few things.

1. Removal of braces.
2. A chest.
3. A boyfriend.
(I assumed that, with the aid of one and two, three would readily follow.)

The subsequent months brought the fulfillment of none of these desires. I remained in heavy orthodontia, with a flat chest, still single, and as bitter as an eighth grader could be. I sought that same degree of glitter, of special, as so many preteen girls do, and it seemed as if in cosmic retribution for my shallowness, my parents decided to fulfill a wish I speculate no 13-year-old has ever whispered into her tear-stained pillow.

They were going to have another baby.

Correction: They were going to have two babies.

Further annotation: They were going to adopt these babies. (Pause for effect.) From Guatemala.