Four Days to Family – THE Call (Chapter 1, Pt 2)
Ohio House Bill 84 required adoptions between January 1, 1964 and September 18, 1996 to have their “official adoption records sealed unless the birth-parent signed a waiver allowing the record to be shared.” Even today, these records remain closed, while birth records before January 1, 1964 or after September 18, 1996 are available to birth-parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees.
Michael took a step toward the ringing on the wall, lifted the headset, and without saying a word into the receiver handed it directly to me while I was still seated on the floor with my knees pulled up to my chest. The cord was stretched to its limit to reach me on the other side of the room and was quite taut. Yet I remained in my squatted stance, as if it provided me some sort of shelter from what might be on the other end of the receiver, unable to move from the safety of my position. My eyes were riveted to the phone in anticipation that it was him.
As I took the phone in my hand, it felt as if it were on fire, and I had difficulty raising it to my ear. But this was it – there was no turning back now. I had to make sure I did this right.
“Hello?” A heavy German accent spoke through the headset. “Are you Christeen Raw… I am sorry. I could not hear your last name.”
“That’s okay. Yes, I am Christine Ross. Are you Max Oppenheimer, Junior?”
“Yes. You said you knew my daughter Carolyn, yes?”
“Well, sort of, sir. Let me explain. My name is Christine Ross. I was born March 8, 1968 in Cleveland, Ohio. My mother was born on January 13, 1951; her father was a professor with a Ph.D. in languages at a small college in New York.” I spoke quickly, like a nurse administering a painful yet life saving shot. “You were a professor at SUNY Fredonia in New York in 1968 with a daughter Carolyn born on January 13, 1951. My birth name was Julia Lyn Oppenheimer. I believe that you are my grandfather.”
There was a long, deadening silence on the other end of the phone. I could feel my heart beating in my ears as if it was in my throat choking me, making it hard to breathe. The phone weighed heavy in my trembling hand.
“Oh … I am very sorry … you ARE mistaken …,” came the ancient voice calling from Arizona.
“I don’t believe I am, sir.” I knew I was right. Too many of the disjointed pieces fit together with this man for me to be wrong. “You were in SUNY Fredonia until 1976. My grandfather worked in a small college in New York at the time of my birth. My grandfather had two children, a son and a daughter. You have a son and a daughter. My grandmother had a Masters degree in English. Your wife has a Masters degree in English. My mother was named Carolyn and was born January 13, 1951. Your daughter is named Carolyn and was born January 13, 1951.”
“Oh, NOW I understand … you are one of those people who was given up for adoption. The laws are changed and you are able to get information from the courts and you think I am your Grandfather.”
“Not exactly. I was given up for adoption at birth. In Ohio, if you were born before 1964 or after 1985, you are able to get access to what had been closed records. Unfortunately for me, my records are still closed. I have bits and pieces of non-identifying information about my birth family, but I will never be able to gain complete access to my records unless my birth-mother were to place a letter in that file stating she would want it released, which again unfortunately – I don’t have.”
Max had to be in shock, denial. Here I was, a 35-year-old woman saying I was the granddaughter he has tried to forget since 1968.
An embarrassing family skeleton that had been well hidden and dormant for 35 years, buried in a way that was intended to remain hidden forever. And yet….
We went back and forth several more times, all the while I kept repeating the facts that connected our two lives. The date of birth, locations, degrees … too many similarities to deny.
“Miss, I am sorry I can’t help you, you are very mistaken.”
Despite my panic, I didn’t give up. “No sir, I am not mistaken. You were in a small college in New York when I was born. You have two children. Your wife has a Masters degree in English. Your daughter was born January 13, 1951 and gave birth to a daughter in Ohio on March 8, 1968. You ARE my grandfather.”
The voice on the other side grew quiet, as if in deep contemplation. If it weren’t for the breathing on the other end, I would have thought he hung up at my insistence. After what felt like an eternity, there was a heavy and tired sigh on the other end.
“Well, maybe I can help you. Tell me what led you to me.”
Now it was my turn to sigh, for I was about to explain the most intense, exhausting, yet amazing four days of my entire life.
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