The hum of the computer filled the silent office. Monsieur Grange had ordered me not to disturb him in his important meeting, so I was able to hide behind my polite mask while making contact with the outside world via the Internet.
On a whim, I typed in "adoption search" and the die was cast. Countless sites appeared. I sorted through them until I found what seemed to be the most reputable, the New York State Adoption Information Registry. Unlike some states and other countries where adoption records are open to adoptees, New York seals adoption records; they can only be opened by petitioning the court. The Adoption Registry allows biological parents, children, and siblings to be put in contact, if all parties have registered.
Maybe my birth parents were simply waiting for me to register and I would soon be reunited with the mysterious and formidable characters who had shadowed my life. Perhaps, after searching for many years, they had been unable to find me. On the other hand, as a temp, I certainly was not at the pinnacle of my minor artistic success, and the thought of disappointing these imaginary figures was daunting. Maybe they would reject me again. Or perhaps they wouldn't be fazed at all, having come to peace with their decision years ago. I would be a hiccup in their reality. The scenarios and possible repercussions of my inquiry multiplied infinitely in my mind, a million possible futures.
I filled in a form requesting identifying and nonidentifying information about my birth parents and sent it to the registry in Albany.
PAULA: In one of my earliest memories, I am sitting on the brick stoop in front of my grandma's row house in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. My pale, skinny legs crossed Indian-style, I peck away at a black manual typewriter. Doing my best to sit up straight and look grown-up, I practice "playing piano." When I press too many keys at once, the metal spokes of the typewriter jam together and I fear that I've broken it.
I like to think that my childhood fascination with the typewriter was an early indication of my eventual career as a writer. More likely, it was simply the closest thing to a toy that I could find in my grandma's house that balmy summer afternoon. No doubt, I also dwell on the memory because it is one of the few that involve my grandmother, who died two years later.
She was the only grandparent I had the chance to meet; the others had died before I was born. Growing up, I grilled my parents with questions about these phantoms and envied friends with grandparents who showered them with attention, not to mention gifts.
I now see that there was another element of my grandparent obsession: they were a link to a past that did not include me. The only evidence I had that they had ever existed were the photos my parents preserved in musty old scrapbooks in the attic. Since all of their pictures were in black and white, I reasoned that my dead grandparents had lived in a time before the world had turned to color. Unlike most kids, I couldn't study these grainy old photos looking to find a resemblance to myself.
How were these antiquated strangers related to me? Just because I considered my adopted parents my "real parents," did that automatically make their parents my grandparents?