My dearest Katya,

Please don't stop reading. Please.

Despite all you've heard about me, despite all you believe about my soul, I'm still your sister. You owe it to our shared blood to at least read what I have to say.

After all, you've never heard my side of the story. You weren't there that fateful night, twenty years ago, when I told our parents I didn't believe in God.

They stared at me in utter shock. Knives and forks dropped from frozen hands to land clanging on their plates.

I thought I was being reasonable. I said, "I respect you decision to believe in God, and I admire the strength of your faith, but I don't share it."

Utter silence greeted this proclamation of good will.

"Please mama... I'm still the same-"

"Get out." Harsh words, harsher tone, from my father. My father - the man who taught me about Christian charity.

I should have known it was stupid to hope for acceptance. Our family is renowned for devotion to the church. Every generation has produced religious leaders. When I was little, I was proud of my religious heritage, and of the belief so strong in my blood. But once exposed to the outside world, I began to question things I had before just taken for granted. I came to see the dark side of our family's devotion - the stifling of original thought, the way women were discouraged from seeking education and leadership, and the clear distinction of the superior "us" from the evil "other".

As I grew, so did my dissatisfaction. All through high school I sought to push it back, to regain the comforting peace of ignorance and unquestioning faith. I tried to stop thinking. But I couldn't. Once at university, I discovered others like myself, those living "in the closet" as I was. For two years I lived a double life. I knew who I wanted to be, but it took two long years to gather the courage and means to be truthful.

Only to be disowned. Tossed out. Rejected by the man and woman who raised me, cared for me, and promised to love me no matter what. For twenty years, I had a large, loving family. There was always someone nearby when I needed support. I lost all of that when I came clean. When I needed my family most, I had no one to turn to. All my efforts to contact someone - anyone - came to naught. I might as well have been a stranger, so quickly did they hang up the phone.

I bet no one mentions my name anymore, do they? I bet the pictures have been burned, the stories censored, all my belongings thrown away. They've done their best to eradicate every last trace of my existence. But they can't erase memories. You remember me. We grew up so close together you'd have had to forget yourself to cleanse me from your mind. I bet you tried though. You always would do anything to please.

I too tried to forget. I tried to forget the happiness, the sense of belonging - everything I no longer had. But I couldn't. Eventually I stopped asking myself if being true to myself was worth losing everything else I had, and I got on with life. I moved to a new city and found new friends. I fell in love and I got married. No mother to fuss over every last detail. No father to give me away. No sister to be my maid of honour. I missed your presence the most.

I sent you an invitation, of course. I sent one to everyone in the family. But I suspect most of my invitations, so carefully prepared, and sent with such great hopes, met an inglorious end in the fire. I choose to believe someone burned yours before you saw it, because believing you couldn't find in in your heart to even acknowledge my wedding hurts too much.

I didn't let go of the hope that you would come until late that night, after every guest had left. Then I broke down and cried. My husband of only hours held me and comforted me, taking it all very well, considering his wife was crying on their wedding night. It was a new low for me, but it was only the first of the many milestones you would miss. So I forced myself to stand up, push past the pain, and once again move on with my life.

I have two beautiful daughters now. The elder is named Katya. She looks a lot like you, with that same carefully observant air. The younger is only four, but already she wonders why I "have no family." I tell her my family doesn't talk to me anymore because they don't agree with my choices. She doesn't really understand. Katya though, she gets it. She knows it's because we don't worship God in our house - because I defied my family and chose my own path.

I'm an agnostic. I believe that faith, hope and courage can have great power, and I believe there is some force greater than our human understanding, but nothing horrifies me more than the idea of an all-knowing, all-powerful being controlling everything that happens here on Earth. If there is a plan, I see any god behind it as an evil, sadistic being.

I respect everyone who chooses to believe differently. I support their decision to believe as they see fit. But I will not be condemned for my beliefs.

What's wrong with my faith, vague though it is, other than it's refusal to conform to yours?

Agnosticism hasn't rendered me incapable of kindness, love, humility, hope... I'm not an immoral, soul-sucking demon because I don't subscribe to your brand of religion.

But I am lonely.

It's been a long twenty years, and I've asked myself over and over if being honest with the world was worth losing my family. If I made the right decision, the right trade-off?

But now, I finally realize I didn't trade anything. I only determined and then sought what I needed to be happy. That my family chose to reject me and my beliefs was no choice of mine.

That being said, once absorbed in my new life, I did stop reaching out. Now, the time has come to change that. I miss you. And my daughters are growing up in half a family. No argument, no difference of opinion is worth that.

You have always been a fervent believer and dedicated to the church. I hope you will see that our relationship can transcend religion. I hope you will find it in yourself to forgive me for choosing a different path. I hope you will help me build a bridge between our respective lives.

Please meet me. I'm sending this e-mail from the park across the street from our old house, where we shared so many happy hours as children. Please come. Please don't leave me alone anymore.

I love you, always and forever.

Your sister,

Margaret

And though she waited for hours, Katya didn't come.