Until she was 40, Melissa* thought she was an only child. For the first decade of her life, she grew up happily in a suburban, upper-middle class area of the Great Lakes. Then, her father committed suicide, and soon after, she says, her mother's mental health began to decline.
"I had to be her caretaker," Melissa says, sharing about her mother shoplifting, peeing in public, and "other weird behaviors." Their home life got difficult. Her mother's boyfriends often lived with them, and she let her teenage daughter have guys stay overnight. When Melissa was 14, her much-older lover was allowed to move in for a time, too. There were no boundaries, she says of her mother, who died several years ago. "She spoiled me rotten and let me do anything, probably because she felt guilty for hiding who I really was."
A Shocking Revelation
In January 2015, a Facebook friend request came from Chris*, a man she didn't know — and her world shifted drastically again. "When I messaged to ask how I knew him, he said, 'If I really told you, you wouldn't believe it,'" she says. "I pushed, and he said, 'Your dad was not your dad. Your mom lied to you your whole life about who your father was.'" Chris claimed to be the stepson of Melissa's real biological father, who had recently died. He said he grew up knowing his stepfather had a secret child out there, and even tried to contact Melissa years before, but her mother always intervened. "He knew all this information about me," she says. "Of course, I was flipping out."
She asked to meet Chris in person. Though she was raised to believe her mother's husband was her father, Melissa learned that four decades before, her mother had an affair and became pregnant with the other man's child.
The news got even more startling: Before his affair with Melissa's mother and eventual marriage to Chris' mother, her biological father was married a first time — and Melissa had several half-siblings. "It was all so crazy. I was dumbfounded," she says. "My life was just exploding."
After their meeting, Chris, the stepbrother, gave her contact information to Brian*, one of her half-siblings. And Brian, 45, immediately reached out to her on Facebook with a simple note: "Well, I guess I'm your brother." He says he asked if she was doing okay with all the news. "I knew it was a huge, life-changing thing for her to find out."
A flurry of messages led to a phone call.
"That's where things started getting a little bit weird," says Melissa. She remembers having an immediate and intense reaction to hearing Brian's voice. "I don't really know how to describe the feeling, but I was really attracted to it."