Old Papers

We looked through old papers tonight, pages of them, some in English, most in Spanish, documents pulled out of a torn white envelope, each one signifying some step in the adoption of one of our three children from Nicaragua.

In the papers there were names we had forgotten, names of people and places.

We found the places on maps on our phones courtesy of Google and Wikipedia. Twenty years ago, we knew exactly where the places were, how far this village was from that city, but not anymore. We’ve replaced everything we knew about Nicaragua then with what we know about here today.

The people in the papers we never knew except the ones who came to live with us. For a good while, we thought about the other unknown people very intently but gradually we stopped thinking about them, there was too much going on here.

Among all the official papers with the notarized seals was a page full of my husband’s writing. On one side was a flyer about a picnic at a neighborhood park, on the back, his just barely legible notes about the history of the child we were about to adopt.

And as it happens in the sea of forgetting everything that once was so urgent, one memory flashed bright with all the details. It was of my husband sitting at the kitchen table, the phone receiver held to his ear by his shoulder, using one hand to hold the paper and the other to write notes, fast, terse scratches that I read upside down from the other side of the table.

Phone calls to Nicaragua were difficult then. They were arranged ahead of time by fax. Hard to believe but back then telephones lived in physical places, like kitchens and offices. When they rang, people had to pick them up or they just stopped ringing and no one was the wiser. So a phone call to Nicaragua to get details about an adoption process was a big deal, urgent, and high stakes. If a person didn’t pay attention, hear every word, take good notes, it could mean trouble later.

So I remember that night and his furious note-taking. I remember telling him to ask this thing and that and I remember him signaling me to slow down. I remember that he hung up the phone before I thought he should, there seemed to be so many more questions to be asked and answered.

After the call, we analyzed the entire conversation, every word he said and heard. For a while, the notes were stuck on the refrigerator with a Brewers baseball schedule magnet. Every time I looked at them, I’d feel dwarfed again by the problems that lay ahead and start thinking of ways to back out. Then the note in the bottom right corner would catch my eye.

“Delightful child.”

“Could fall in love.”

I remember how I held on to that. It was meant to trump everything else that had been said.

And it did.


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