We circled the block a few times trying to find a parking space. The wind whipped through the New York City buildings and a light snow fell as my nerves started to get the best of me. Could I do this? What if we got caught? Was this really how I wanted to spend my Christmas Eve? And if I found the answers I was looking for; what if I didn’t like what I had found?
A car pulled out from a parking space up in front of me. My heart was pounding through the outer wall of my chest as I waited for the vehicle to drive away. Then I parked my car in the space that had been vacated.
Stephanie got out of the car and stood on the sidewalk waiting for me. I sat there for a moment as I contemplated my options for the last time. Then I took the key out of the ignition, took a deep breath, got out of the car and joined Stephanie on the sidewalk.
“Ready?” she asked.
The wind tore across our faces like the prickly fingers of the Wicked Witch of the West, warning us against going any further. The gray, drab, dreary day was a perfect backdrop against the frozen city and as we both shivered from the cold, I looked deep into her eyes and said, “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
I took her hand in my mine and we walked as quickly as we could through the front doors of the Lenox Hill Hospital, crossed the lobby to the receptionist and asked for the medical records office.
The receptionist gave us the information and pointed us in the right direction. We thanked her and started walking down the hall towards the elevator. My heartbeat was pounding against my chest again, my mouth was beginning to dry out and my nervous questions were starting to work there way back into my mind. As I pushed the “Up” button for the elevator, I whispered, “Take a deep breath, Doug, deep breath.”
“What was that?” Stephanie asked.
“Nothing,” I replied as I closed my eyes for what seemed like an eternity before I heard a loud ding to indicate that the elevator had arrived. The doors slid open and we stepped inside the car and pushed the button for our destination. I stepped backward until I was pressed firmly against the wall, tilted my head back and looked at the ceiling as I collected my thoughts while Stephanie squeezed my hand in a reassuring manner.
I turned my head and looked at her. As she smiled at me, my nerves, questions, doubts and all of the fears just melted away in the intensity of the moment. In my state of silent insanity, she found the resolve to be my rock of support. She half-smiled at me and as I locked into her gaze, I felt my own confidence in the moment soar through the roof. The elevator door opened and I smiled back at her and said, “Show time!”
We stepped off the elevator and headed confidently into the medical records office. I was surprised to find a small line of people in front of us on Christmas Eve but we were not deterred. We waited patiently as the staff took care of each of the clients in front of us.
“Can I help you?” the woman asked from behind the counter.
“Yes. I took a job in Chicago and my new doctor wants a copy of all of my medical records. I was born here and came here as a toddler. So I would like to get a copy of my records please,” I said confidently.
“Your parents don’t have them?”
“They were destroyed when their house burned down a couple of years ago.”
The woman behind the desk quizzically eyed me up as she listened intently to each word. I could tell that she was intrigued and skeptical all at the same time. But after she paused for a moment to give me the once over, she asked, “Name?”
“Jonathan Andrew,” I said confidently. Ever since I had found my name in the dusty annals of the Public library twenty-one months earlier, I had run into road block after road block in my quest for information about my life. But this was my most brazen attempt to acquire any information I could find about my birth parents. If I was going to be believable, I had to give the performance of a lifetime.
I gave the woman at the counter all of the information she asked me to provide. She conversationally delved into my current life and the need for my records as she searched through her computer for the information. I didn’t miss anything. My story was air tight. I had created a back story for Jonathan Andrew, studied it, memorized it, added nuances to my speech and mannerisms and in the weeks leading up to our trip to Lenox Hill, I became the character I had created.
After the woman spent a lot time searching her computer, a female coworker came over to see what was happening. After spending a few moments looking at the computer screen and reviewing the information, she disappeared into a back room. Within seconds, the department supervisor came to the counter and she took over for the helpful woman who was trying to provide answers. Then the department supervisor stood in front of me and said, “I am sorry, sir. I cannot help you. It appears that those files are part of an adoption proceeding and sealed.”
Her lips moved in slow motion. She was emotionless as she delivered the news as though the person standing before her had no right to access the records of his own life. As her words reverberated in my ears, I stared at her in disbelief as each word started to sink in. I could feel myself deflating as each word left her mouth and as I felt myself ready to leave knowing that I had failed in my mission, Jonathan Andrew rose up from my core and fought back, “I don’t know who made a mistake in your records department but I am standing in front of you requesting my medical records and I don’t intend to leave without them.”
“I can’t give them to you.”
“Then you better find someone who can because until you do, none of us in this office are going to make it home for Christmas dinner.”
“Wait right here, I’ll be back in a minute,” the supervisor said and then she disappeared into her office.
“What are you doing?” Stephanie whispered in my ear.
“I don’t know,” I whispered. But the adrenalin was surging. I was tired of people telling me that I didn’t have a right to know my own history. I was frustrated, no, I was pissed off at the fact that the information was eighteen inches across a counter top on a computer screen and everyone had access to it, except for me. It was my life. I deserved to know the truth. And as I took matters into my own hands, I was as shocked as Stephanie was at what had just transpired. It wasn’t part of the plan, but I was now invested in it. I was willing to see how far this new plan would take us because we had nothing left to lose. They had already said “no!”
The supervisor came around the corner, opened the gate at the counter and walked across the waiting area to where Stephanie and I were standing, “Sorry, sir. State law is clear. I suggest you talk with one of the social workers. They may be able to help you with your problem.”
I tried to argue my case with the supervisor but she wasn’t budging. If I wanted answers, I would have to talk to someone in the social services office. So Stephanie and I went up to speak with a social worker. But we didn’t have any luck there either. We were immediately denied any help or services of any kind and told to go to the legal department or to the administrative offices and request a meeting with the CEO.
Five minutes later, Stephanie and I left the social services office intending to meet with the CEO. As we stood in the hallway outside the administrative offices for the Hospital, we contemplated our next move. My plan had gone as far as it could go. I didn’t have any identification or any documents to back up my claim as to who I was and why I was bothering them on Christmas Eve. Without them, I had no leverage.
We stood in the hallway and discussed our options for some time and at that point, the plan changed again. We decided to come clean with the supervisor in the records department and appeal to her human side. It was Christmas Eve and we were hoping that in the spirit of the holidays, she might look the other way as we looked at the computer screen that contained the relevant information we wished to obtain.
We waited patiently for the woman who had helped us originally because she seemed to labor over the decision as to whether she should help us or not. We came clean about why we were there and asked if we could speak to her supervisor one more time. When the supervisor came back out to the front desk, I threw myself at her mercy and implored a perfect stranger to please provide me some vital details about my life. The irony wasn’t lost on the supervisor, but she had to deny my request a second time. State law was clear and without written authorization from the Chief Operating Officer, there was nothing else she could do to help me.
We thanked the supervisor and the woman who had helped us twice. Then we walked out of medical records and headed toward the elevator. I took out a piece of paper and wrote down my address and phone number. Then I went back into the medical records office and walked briskly over to the woman who had been helpful and handed her the piece of paper. “If you know of any way to help me, this will help you find me. Merry Christmas!”
Then I turned and walked out.
The walk to our car was a silent one. I was powerless. I didn’t signed any of the documents twenty-eight years earlier, yet I was bound to be a victim of them; a form of collateral damage! My rights, as they were when I was born, were the least important aspect of the entire transaction. I was at the mercy of others who had full access to my life and the records involved. And based on the dealings I had had with people so far, understanding was in short supply.
Stephanie and I drove to my Aunt’s house in New Jersey for our family’s annual Christmas Eve celebration. We mingled with family and friends and were having an enjoyable afternoon when I decided to check my answering machine at home. As I played back the messages from our voice mail, I heard the following message, “This is A.B. and I am calling about your visit to Lenox Hill Hospital today. Call me back at the following number and use the code 101 in order to prove who you are.”
I replayed the message four or five times until I knew I had the phone number and all of the pertinent information correct. Then I took a deep breath and dialed the number.
“Hello?” said a voice on the other end of the phone.
“101,” I quickly replied.
There was an empty pause for a couple of seconds and then he said, “You were the one at the hospital today?”
“Yes. Can you help me?”
“Those records are stored at a remote location in a warehouse and the record is flagged on the computer. I would have to have a friend get them for me.”
“Is it possible to get them?” I asked.
“Depends. How much are they worth to you?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. A myriad of thoughts raced through my mind as I flirted with what to tell him. What if this was a scam? What if he was telling the truth? What if he could get those records? And finally, how much was I willing to spend?
I was working but Stephanie had no income because she was in graduate school, but I didn’t want to tell him that or the price might go up. I had a split second to figure out how to initiate this negotiation and I had no idea where to begin.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” I said. “I work for a non-profit and my wife is unemployed at the moment. We are living check to check.”
“It has to be worth something to you?”
I thought for a moment and decided to let him start the bidding and to test whether he had done this type of thing before, so I asked, “How much do you normally charge?”
“A thousand,” he responded without hesitating.
I almost choked on his words, “I don’t have that kind of money. Could you do it for a few hundred?”
“I said a thousand dollars.”
“All I have in my savings in three hundred fifty, that’s all I have. I could probably borrow some from family members but a thousand is asking a lot.”
“Seven-fifty is as low as I will go.”
I still wasn’t sure if I was being scammed or if he was telling me the truth, but something didn’t feel right. “Can I have some time to see what I can pull together? Or do you need an answer right now?”
“Call me on Monday night after 6:00pm.”
We discussed a few more details and then I agreed to call him on Monday night. My heart was racing again. Where was I going to get that kind of money? Was it worth it? Was it a scam? Could I really be this close?
I had so many questions that my head was spinning. It was starting to give me a headache but at least I knew one thing for sure, the information was out there. It was attaining the information that seemed to be problematic.
After the Holidays, though, Stephanie and I headed back to Boston. I left work early on Monday and went straight home. At exactly 6:15pm, I sat down on my couch and called the same number that I had called on Christmas Eve. When I heard A.B. pick up the phone, I said, “A.B.?”
“No one here by that name?”
“A.B., don’t you remember me? 101. We spoke on Christmas Eve.”
“You must have the wrong phone number, sorry.”
“But…” And before I could get the words out of my mouth, A.B. hung up the phone. The blank expression on my face said it all as I slumped back into the couch and stared at the ceiling. It was over faster than it ever started. Whoever was on the other end of the line didn’t trust me enough to negotiate any further. My Christmas miracle was lost and I was back at square one.
“What happened?” Stephanie asked.
“He denied it was him and hung up.”
“Was it the same person?”
“Yes,” I said sullenly. “How many more people who have access to the information are going to look down on me as a second class citizen when all I want to know is the truth about my own life?”
Stephanie let my words dangle in the silence of the night. I could see snow falling on our deck outside the sliding glass door and in that moment, the world became an infinitely bigger place than it had ever been before. My search had come so far and yet, in that very moment, I was back where I had started. I had a name. But now I had to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to find the rest…
Author’s Note — In case you have not read the previous articles in this series, click on the links below. The next installment should be out later this Spring!
Part II — The Underground; Twelve Years Later!