CNF / Connected: My Estranged Half-Sister Keeps Viewing My Instagram Stories

by Jillian Pretzel

Last year, my dad called and we got into an argument. We’d always had a rocky relationship and, during this fight, hurtful things were said—from both sides. At one point, when Dad was being particularly rude, I hung up hoping he’d call back and apologize. He never did.

I was upset, but after a couple weeks, my anger faded. I was busy planning my wedding and had other things to worry about. While I still wanted an apology, what I needed was to know if he preferred chicken or fish.

That’s when I realized: not only had Dad not contacted me in weeks, I hadn’t heard from anyone else in the family. My half-sister stopped responding to the group bridesmaid text. My aunt stopped commenting on Facebook posts. My grandparents wouldn’t call back.

I was confused. Had the family sided with Dad after our fight? Had he pitted them against me? I didn’t know, because no one answered my calls, texts, or emails.

We had no contact whatsoever.

But my half sister watched my Instagram story every day.

Instagram lists which followers see a story. And one afternoon, I happened to look through my posts and saw Jessica’s name.

Curious, I posted another picture. She saw that one, too. Soon, every time I posted something, I’d check if she looked at it. She always did.

She’d been a no-show for the bachelorette weekend, but she viewed pictures from the party. She didn’t come to the wedding, but she saw every photo from that day. Was she checking these pictures and making fun of me? Was she curious because she really wanted to talk, but couldn’t?

Christmas came and went. And my birthday. I never heard from my family, including Jessica. She wasn’t talking to me. Just watching.

By now, I’d post something and immediately check the list. When Jessica was among the first to view, I’d feel proud. When she wasn’t, I wondered what took so long. Sometimes I’d post especially for her benefit: glamorous, filtered photos of me, where my smile was big and my hair shiny. I wanted her to know I was happy without her, without our family.

One day, she missed a post. Then a few. Soon, she stopped viewing them altogether.

This felt worse than when my family skipped my wedding, when they forgot my birthday and ignored me at Christmas. At least before, I felt like someone was interested in me, that there was still a connection. Now, I felt alone.

I wondered if there was something I should do to fix my relationship with Dad, with them. But I couldn’t be the one to apologize, not now.

One night, I decided to block Jessica on Instagram. I knew this constant checking, this obsession, was unhealthy. On her page, I hovered over the “block” button—but couldn’t click it.

That night, I looked through Jessica’s page, something I’d usually been too proud to do. I looked through photos of her, her friends, and our family, all of them smiling, until my phone battery went to 20 percent, then 10 percent, and finally, turned off.


Jillian Pretzel received her MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English at Chapman University. She teaches at California School of the Arts San Gabriel Valley and writes regularly for Mommyish, The List, and Realtor.com. She lives in Southern California with her husband.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Connected: My Estranged Half-Sister Keeps Viewing My Instagram Stories”?

After graduating from a rigorous but wonderful duel MFA/MA program, I told myself I had to give my mind a break. For months I caught up at work, finally attacked the giant pile of dirty laundry that had been growing continuously since the beginning of grad school, and went to the community pool for the very first time since I moved into my condo three years ago. Once I finally sat down to write again, I sunk back into my old writing habits like an anvil in the ocean, and it felt good. The only thing was that I missed my writing friends. I missed sharing stories. So, I signed up for a writing class at UCLA’s extension program, wrote this story for the first assignment, and read it to the class. The feedback I got on the first draft was valuable but the best part of the class session was listening to other students’ work. Sharing my story as they shared theirs, learning, together.


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