It was an overcast and chilly morning. As Stephanie and I waited for the train in Norwalk, CT. on Saturday, March 16, 1996, I felt an unexplainable feeling in my gut. I had had the feeling the week prior when I made this trip with her mother. It was the feeling of trepidation; the uncertainty of stumbling onto a truth that could ultimately change my life forever. The only unknown was if the revelation would impact my life for the better or for the worse, but there was no turning back now. I had to know.
As we boarded the train and found a couple of seats, we engaged in some small talk. I wish I could remember what we had talked about on our way to New York City but I can’t. Maybe it would have some relevance to the rest of the story or maybe it wouldn’t. I don’t know. What I do remember is that the butterflies were once again flying furiously in my stomach. I remember feeling a tinge of irony as I boarded the train because I thought about the previous weekend when Stephanie’s mom and I had made the same trek to New York City. Stephanie and I were taking the same exact train, at the same exact time and we were headed for the same exact destination but this time, I could only hope that we would not encounter the same exact result.
Stephanie’s mom and I had spent the entire day scrolling page by page, line by line through the volumes of books trying to locate a single solitary number. It was monotonous. It was tedious. It was eye-crossing, neck stiffening, droning work that required very little thought on our part but mandated the ability to pay very close attention to detail. There was one number that would match. It was a needle in the haystack approach and in the end, could we ever be one hundred percent convinced that we didn’t miss it?
There must have been at least three hundred numbers on each page and the books were thick. We diligently and methodically went page by page, line by line in search of our information. Any number of factors could have caused us to miss finding what we were looking for; there were no windows in the room, we sat in uncomfortable wooden straight back chairs and we weren’t allowed to talk. It was the type of work that was exhausting because it was mentally grueling.
Stephanie and I talked about a myriad of topics on our way to New York City but my mind kept wandering ahead toward the end of the day; ‘what if we got to the end of each book and we didn’t find what we were looking for?’ ‘What if today was going to be like last week?’ The “what if” questions kept springing up in my mind as the train ambled along slowly toward our destination. I did everything I could to drive the thoughts from my mind but they kept resurfacing throughout our entire trip. I never said anything to Stephanie because I didn’t want to start the day with a defeatist attitude. I wanted to be positive. I wanted to believe but I also wanted to be realistic; anything could happen and I had to be prepared for that inevitability.
Stephanie and I arrived at the library about a half an hour before they opened. It was a brisk morning so we had gotten a couple of coffees on our walk from Grand Central Station to the library. As we sat on the steps of the library, we took in the sights and sounds that surrounded us.
There was a clash between protesters and the police at the start of the parade route for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. As Stephanie and I watched the policemen put a number of the protesters into the paddy wagon, she joked about it being a “bad omen for the start of our day since I was Irish.” I don’t remember her exact comment but I made some sarcastic remark back at her. I believe she was just as nervous as I was about the task at hand but she never expressed her concern or any of her doubts to me.
When the library finally opened, Stephanie and I made the long walk from the front door to the room where I had been just a week earlier. It was an eerie walk to make for a second time. Our shoes echoed through the nearly empty library as we climbed the stairs in the old library. We felt a sense of history enveloping us as we traveled through the hallowed halls of the building. As we walked up to the door of the room we were looking for, I took a deep breath and said a little prayer inside my head before we entered.
We went into the room, walked up to the desk and asked the clerk for the annals that Stephanie’s mom and I had intensely waded through just a week earlier. We took the archives from the librarian and found a table where we could sit down and begin our investigation. We took off our coats, placed them on the backs of the hard, wooden chairs and sat down. We both stretched and I believe I cracked my knuckles as we opened the books to the pages where Stephanie’s mom and I had left off the previous week. I handed Stephanie the slip of paper with the number written on it, showed her the way we had conducted the search previously and then we both continued to sort through the pages.
Stephanie tapped my arm a few times to show me a couple of the entries that she had come across but none of the entries were a perfect match. After a few false alarms, Stephanie and I settled into our chairs for a long day of searching. The time passed slowly as we probed line by line, number by number. Our minds constantly wandered and we had to bring them back to the pages in front of us so we could focus on the project. We rubbed our eyes because they were playing tricks on us as the numbers seemed to blend together. We rolled our necks as our muscles would tighten up from keeping them in the same place for too long. It was slow and mind-numbing work but it was the next step in unlocking the mystery.
I turned another page and was about halfway down the list of numbers when Stephanie gasped and her right arm reached out and forcefully grabbed my left elbow. I could tell by the way she had straightened up in her chair and grabbed my arm that she had found something.
“What is it?” I whispered.
“Look,” she said quietly, yet excitedly, as she pointed to a number on the page. Her body was rigid. She was elated, scared, sure of herself and not so sure of herself all in one moment. She was so certain that she had found it but she had to confirm it with me to be absolutely positive.
I leaned into her and looked at the number just above her finger tip. I took my piece of paper and matched it against the numbers on the page and my heart started to beat wildly. My eyes went wide as I said, “Oh my God” silently under my breath.
“Is that it, Doug?”
“I, I think it is,” I responded as I stared at the page for a moment in disbelief. I couldn’t believe we had found it. I couldn’t believe that after three and a half months of this search that we had come to a point where the next stage of the investigation was about to commence. I was on pins and needles when I said, “Let me double check it against the original.”
Stephanie was nervous, the goose bumps were rising on her arm as I opened up my binder of materials and slid out the original copy of the numbers. They matched exactly! As I was frozen in time for a minute, I think a tear may have welled up in my eye as I said softly, “It’s an exact match, you found it.”
“YES!!” She screamed as she threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug.
“Shhhh!” came from the librarian and the other people in the room as Stephanie gave me a kiss and another big hug. In that moment, my future bride had found the next piece to the puzzle, she had quelled a lot of my fears about what I might have found, she gave me a feeling of elation that could never be described accurately, but most importantly, she had given me a name.
I am adopted. In December of 1995, I decided to look for my birthparents. After the adoption agency sent some non-identifying information and met with us twice in two very frustrating meetings, I decided to take the road less traveled. I undertook a personal journey to find my name, my heritage, and maybe, just maybe, the members of my birth family. I had no idea where to start and no idea how to proceed but as I met more and more people who had embarked upon the same journey I had just started; they all pointed me in the direction of the library.
Stephanie and I didn’t know what to do next. We weren’t allowed to make copies of any of the pages from the book so we wrote down the information as it exactly appeared on the page. The clues the information provided would be vital to our next steps, so we wrote it all down exactly as it appeared in the register. We made a lot of noise while we were pulling together all of our information which infuriated the other people in the room, but we were both walking on cloud nine. Nothing could take that moment from us. We had the next clue in our journey and we were ecstatic.
We finished up our work and returned the records to the librarian. We quickly made our way to the front door of the library where we celebrated very loudly and joyfully on the front steps of the New York Public Library. If there was ever a moment where visitors thought New Yorkers were crazy, it must have been at that instant as Stephanie and I reveled in the moment on the steps of the public library.
I felt inebriated; I had a smile plastered across my face. The search so far had not been in vein. I had discovered information that would hopefully provide a direction for the rest of my search but had also given me a partial glimpse into my past; I had been given a name. It was a good feeling to know that somewhere out in this crazy world I just hadn’t been another “baby boy” but that my birth mother had named me; Jonathan Andrew.
Stephanie and I went to an Irish Pub for lunch and listened to some Irish music. We wandered the streets of New York and celebrated with all types of Irishman. We had a great afternoon that was underscored by the fact that we had accomplished our mission. We had found the needle in the haystack and although it may have seemed like a small, insignificant piece of information at the time; it wasn’t. It gave me an identity by which to identify during my search. But more importantly, this small tidbit of information created a new dilemma as I prepared for the next phase of my pursuit for my birth family; a new sense of power.
As I sat in my apartment later in the day, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and our new piece of information with my fiancé, her mother and our friends, I was struck by a very powerful emotion that I had to rectify before I could continue; compassion! It seems weird to think about twelve years later but as I moved forward on my quest to uncover the identities of my birth family, I had to constantly remind myself that they had no idea I was looking for them. Every time I found a new piece of information, I had to remember that I was one step closer to finding my birth parents and that that power had the ability to shatter lives.
I knew right then and there that I was going to have to proceed compassionately. The goal of my search was not to harm but to hopefully rectify and reunify. A daunting task by any conceivable realm of the imagination but one I hoped I would be able to achieve as I sat there that night, surrounded by some very important people in my life who were very excited for me.
As I spend this weekend celebrating the St. Patrick’s Day holiday with my wife and children, I will also have a little smirk on my face as I remember that weekend twelve years ago when my fiancé grabbed my arm and showed me my birth name for the very first time…
Author’s Note– For the second part of the link, click the following link: The Underground; Twelve Years Later!