A Utah Adventure
By audre rae photography x E.P. Floyd
A few months ago over a boozy brunch in Madison, Wisconsin on the patio of Mickey’s Tavern, we (Audre Rae Krull and Erica Pelzek Floyd) bantered about taking a potential girls’ trip to Utah for some epic hiking.
“Let’s take a girlfriends’ trip before we have babies!” we said over mimosas, maybe not fully intending to follow through on the trip. Or at least, not this soon.
A couple days later via Ancestry.com, Erica found out she has a little sister in Salt Lake City, a daughter of the same biological father neither she nor her sister has ever met. Sammie is brilliant, hilarious, so down-to-earth, and a wise, wise soul for being only 15!
Call it kismet or fate or an act of a higher power, but something was telling us to go on that trip. We booked it, planning for Erica to arrive early to spend time with her new family, as well as for us to go to southern Utah’s stunning national parks for the aforementioned bonding and incredible hiking. Erica started writing about the experience of finding her sister, not with the intention of publication, but merely to document her experience and emotions. The essay turned into something far more organized, and what resulted is her second personal essay of two for the Issue 14 blog of Lunch Ticket, the literary journal on which Erica works through her low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Antioch University Los Angeles.
This piece is honest, raw, and—we hope—impactful. Erica grappled with a lot of emotions in this writing process, both her feelings and trying to be as cognizant as possible of others’ security and comfort.
Audre, known for her ability to evoke and portray genuine, gorgeous human emotion in her work, offered to take some photos of Erica and her new little sister. What follows in the post below is our first photo essay collaboration: audre rae photography x E.P. Floyd.
You can read a shortened version of the piece here, divided up into captions for the photos below, or the full version here on the Lunch Ticket blog: lunchticket.org/packing-lists-and-passed-on-traits/. We would be so grateful if you did.
My mom and biological dad were never in a relationship, and he never called after I was born. I’ve never met him or anyone related to him—until now. My own mother gifted me an AncestryDNA kit for my recent birthday, so I spat in the tube and sent it back, hoping for some answers. The AncestryDNA results sped back to me this summer, linking my strands of identity with a young woman in Salt Lake City—Sammie. AncestryDNA called our familial connection a first degree one. Sammie’s biological mother had drug and alcohol problems, and, to my horror, she repeatedly left her three daughters, all of whom have different biological fathers. According to family memories, Sammie’s biological mom once lived in a trailer with an ex-boyfriend, just west of the Utah border in Nevada. The ex-boyfriend’s name matches my biological father’s name.
In one of her first emails to me, Tabbie, Sammie’s adoptive mom wrote, My instincts believe you have a half-sister. What do you think and how do you feel about that probability?
Turns out, I feel surprisingly calm, but crestfallen. The stormy backdrop of drugs, poverty, and other children in his past confirmed what I already knew but hadn’t wanted to admit to myself—this man was not a person I needed to meet. Yet, I wanted to know the far-reaching effects of his influence. Was this young girl like me? I responded in my effusive way, already connecting with this new sister and her devoted, warm, and smart mom.
Here’s what I’m like, I wrote. I detailed my general character traits, my major life events, and my goals.
I’m a fastidious, over-confident perfectionist. What is my little sister like? Tell me everything.
I proceed with caution, wanting to be a good influence on her. She is only a freshman in high school, I remind myself.
Sammie, our biological dad, and I share the same wide, high cheekbones and almond-shaped blue eyes, the same strong chin.
“How tall are you?” my new sister asked through the screen, backlit by autumn sunset.
“Just shy of five-seven,” I said. “But I have long legs.”
That’s my height, she told me. “Amazing!” I said, because it is. “What size shoe do you wear?” Sneakers, check. We also have the same size feet.
I wonder what other commonalities we share and begin to forget my disappointment that our shared DNA source wants nothing to do with us.
A few text conversations confirm our shared ambitiousness. Sammie’s dream college is Brown, a fact her Aunt Mindy confirms when I visit in November.
She has planned her freshman year around preparation for a political career culminating in her appointment as Secretary of State, Tabbie wrote in one of our first email exchanges.
Previously, she wanted to be a veterinarian, and at her preschool graduation she announced her intentions to become an obstetrician, Tabbie wrote. She could pronounce it, so why not!?
My heart swells. One can never have too many sisters, I muse, thinking of my other sister, Maddie, with her droll sense of humor and musical talent, and my husband’s sisters—my creative, accomplished, and exuberant sisters-in-law.
My new sister and her mom already bestowed a nickname on me: Poodles. A smart dog. Sammie’s favorite dog breed. One of my new sister’s goals is to be fluent in five languages. Currently, she is fluent in English and French, thanks to her French immersion school. Russian, Mandarin, and Spanish are next on her list.
She is the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, a rare honor for a freshman. My undergraduate major and first career was journalism. Our shared affinity for languages and words makes me ecstatic. I take in this information from her mom’s emails to me between gleefully translating poems from French and Spanish for my MFA translation class. I studied Spanish and Italian in high school and undergrad, and speak and write Spanish for work.
Enrolled full-time in graduate school and working to take over a family farm, the last year has been one of the busiest of my life, but I’m so grateful I got to meet Sammie and her family. My heart expanded so easily to embrace them, and in such a short time. I look forward to many more years of visits, phone calls, and milestones with my new little sister.