The fourth baby was almost seven years old.

Adopting an older child is not like adopting a baby. It is, as they say, a horse of a different color. It is an act somewhere between liberating someone from prison and taking them hostage.

I’d brought new clothes for her. The orphanage said they wanted her orphanage clothes back for other children but I cheated and kept her pink shirt and too-small flowered pants. They are still in a drawer in my dresser.

She’d worn her orphan clothes on our little excursions around Managua, to see the doctor for her ‘physical,’ to get her visa from the American Embassy. We drove past playgrounds and I asked her if she’d ever been to a playground. “No, ” she said, “I’ve never been anywhere.”

She sat on my lap in the car and leaned into me even though we had just barely met. I knew that my Nicaraguan friend had been coaching her for weeks about America and flying in an airplane. Now I think she coached her in how to be an instant daughter. This is your big chance, I can hear her saying. Don’t mess it up.

The night before we left Nicaragua, she emptied the suitcase of the new clothes to pick out what she would wear on the airplane. I’d brought pink things for her. Pink hat, pink shirt, pink shoes. And she marveled at these things. That they were hers to keep. It amazed me that she was grateful already, pleased with everything and uncritical, unquestioning. She had no suspicion or fear, never asked a question about America.

I could have been taking her to the moon.

That it was a mistake, a gross miscalculation was evident from the beginning. She wasn’t a baby a person could carry, wrap in a blanket, and rock in the dark. She was a fully formed person who would have to be led by the hand. At any given moment, she could pull away and run screaming in the other direction. Part of me wished she would.

We went to bed late in a tiny bedroom with two single beds, so close together there was barely room to walk. It was hot, I remember. It was always hot in Nicaragua but the nights were the worst. Still. No breeze. Endless. A little light came through the barred window. Every once in a while, my friend’s dog, chained up in the yard, would bark at a passerby. The night was florid with tension, my own, the world’s. Thick with it.

In the night, I woke to watch her sleeping. I stretched out my hand, thinking that if she was a baby, it would be so easy, I would be so easy, I would have no fear. And then she opened her eyes and took my hand. And we stayed that way, hand in hand, for a long minute. And then we went back to sleep.


Qualm: The Daily Post

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