Meleia died on a warm night, during the summer of 2005, in Berkeley, California, where we both grew up. I had to be restrained by police and friends as I approached the yellow tape surrounding her apartment building near the University of California at Berkeley campus. “My sister!” I cried, and from where I stood could see her body lying motionless beneath a white sheet stained with blood. A stray bullet had struck her in the chest, and she had died almost immediately. Hours later a police officer told me that I may have to identify her body, at which point I explained that we were not really siblings, at least not in any legal sense. Although we were not brother and sister legally, I believe that we were brother and sister where it mattered most: in heart.
We were both 14 years old when we met, when her family moved into a house two doors down from mine. We quickly became close friends, and remained close throughout our high school years and after. I can’t remember when it started, but it wasn’t long before she began referring to me as her “brother.” She introduced me to people as such, and maintained the pretense through all the confused stares and rebuttals about the obvious contrast in our skin colors. “What do you mean he’s not my brother?” she’d say. We didn’t listen to the same music, wear the same style of clothing or even hang out with the same group of people. But we loved each other, because, like any two siblings, we had a bond that overlooked such things.
In high school, as my household was torn apart by my alcoholic father, I felt most comfortable in the family that my relationship with Meleia had created, which also included my younger sister and her younger brother. I had found a whole and secure family where my other family had failed.
I believe, just as Meleia taught me, that family is borne of love, and everything else comes second. This can be seen in families with adopted children, foster families, and even in the “street families” of homeless teenagers. And now, as America debates gay marriage and adoption by gay couples, I apply these same principles. I believe that family is whatever you make it. And that family can never be limited to the lineage of blood or name. This I believe.
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