Hillary Harris was adopted as an infant. She searched for her birth family as an adult, and after many years, her search was incomplete. She knew she had a half sister, and she knew the sister’s name from her adoption file, but she couldn’t find her.
At night, Harris would Google her sister’s name — Dawn Johnson — and scour Facebook photos of the thousands of Dawn Johnsons out there. She would peer into their faces, trying to see if any of them looked like her. Maybe just a little?
Then one day last year, a strange thing happened. A couple moved in next door to the home Harris and her husband own in Eau Claire, Wis. The woman’s name was Dawn, and she was from Greenwood, Wis., the same place Harris’s sister lived, according to the adoption file.
Harris ran to her husband, Lance Harris, who had spent years helping her try to track down her sister.
“I’m, like, Lance! Her name is Dawn! She’s from Greenwood!” Harris recalled in an interview with The Washington Post. “He was, like, ‘No.’ And I was, like, ‘No.’ And we both said that would be funny if she was my sister. Ha ha.”
But Harris couldn’t get the idea of her neighbor Dawn out of her head. She didn’t know Dawn’s last name, but she would see her often, as their two houses share a single driveway.
Harris would watch Dawn from a distance as she and her partner, Kurt Casperson, worked on their fixer-upper. As an introvert, Harris, 31, didn’t chat much with the new neighbors. Also, Dawn, 50, was older than Harris.
“I was always looking at her, thinking, ‘Could it be her?’” Harris said. “I never had the courage to ask. I didn’t want to be nosy and pry into her life.”
About two months went by. The couples would say ‘hello’ in passing but never got to know each other.
Then, last August, Dawn and Kurt got a huge delivery of shingles for their roof. Draped over their delivery in the shared driveway was a large red banner with a name. It said “Johnson.”
Wait. Her neighbor was named Dawn Johnson?
“I was floored,” Harris said. “I was almost speechless. I called Lance right away and said: Her last name is Johnson. That’s Dawn Johnson. It’s got to be her. It’s got to be.”
Her husband told her it was time to approach Dawn Johnson. The clues were adding up that she was probably the woman Harris had been searching for. According to Harris’s adoption file from Catholic Charities, Harris and Dawn Johnson had the same father, a man who died several years earlier, and whom Harris had never met.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not going to go ask her,’” said Harris, afraid of rejection. “What if she never knew about me? What if it’s a secret?”
Lance told her: “If you don’t do it, I’m going to do it right now.”
So that afternoon, the Harrises ambled next door when they saw their neighbors outside. Hillary Harris stood very close to Dawn so she could get a close look at her. It was awkward.
“I go out there and I stand by her and I start talking to her, and I kept looking at her curly hair. I have curly hair,” Harris said. “I looked at her hands; they look just like mine. I have large hands, man hands I call them.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Allison Klein