Many of you know that I was born in Panama. In the city of Colon, as opposed to the city of David. Claiming the latter could have been fun, but oh-well. And then I was adopted. Anyway, the birth certificate says that Mom was British, by name one Susan Stockin, and the apocrypha says that Mom was connected with the royals in some obscure way. Who would give that the least bit of credence that if it were not for the fact that the trail has been blocked? All traces removed? Is stone cold? On a Neolithic scale of freezing. Which is to say, there is NO information about my origins.
I grew up secretly believing, as many adopted children do, that I was really a princess. This was before I ever heard the apocryphal story. At the time I was just glad I had been adopted by regular people because I thought princessing sounded like a really rotten job. From what little I could see a princess almost never got to do anything she wanted to do, she had to marry whatever dork her family picked out for her, and she had to spend an awful lot of time doing what my young self considered dumb things like christening ships, waving at people, giving interviews and looking nice while holding flowers at hospitals.
I had known I was not a biological member of the live-with family since maybe forever, in spite of all the well-meant lies they told me, but it didn’t really bother me. I was never especially obsessed with finding the birth parents, as some adoptees are. I had been adopted – that meant somebody really, really wanted me – and then I had been adopted again after my first adoptive mother died and my adoptive father remarried. And in spite of the fact that the second mother and I were mutually not in love, I still felt sufficiently wanted and had no internal pressure to hunt down people who emphatically didn’t want me.
When I was 18 I received a graduation gift of a trip to Europe. This necessitated getting a passport. So step-adoptive mother hauled out the birth certificate and for the first time I saw my birth mother’s name: Susan Stockin, British citizen.
Father: unknown. Huh. I bet Susan knew who he was. And then the fateful line: Born out of wedlock and therefore illegitimate. Well.
That was in 1942 when stuff like that still mattered, and if a girl was a bit fast you said she was “no better than she should be.” And everyone knew what you meant. Old biddies in particular. So can’t you just see the pinched lips below a faint mustache on the nurse making that entry? Can’t you just see the neat, no-hair-out-of-alignment chignon under the crisp cap, and the glint of the cat’s eye glasses as she wrote?
My step-adoptive mother was mortified by that line of text. She could not deal with it, and didn’t want me to have to deal with it either. Not anticipating the loose ways of the world to come, she destroyed the document after I had been safely en-passported and citizenized. (Yes, I had been an illegal alien for 18 years and nobody had the least idea. Woohoo.)
It wasn’t until Step-Adoptive Mom had been laid to rest for some years and I was in my thirties (it was about 1982) that I needed that fateful document again. I managed to use my passport for proof of birth and age. However, in the process my then sweetie, Steve, had his curiosity bump excited and with my permission he began trying to track Susan down.
This was when we discovered the trail was blocked.
Steve was a determined investigator. He made phone calls to Panama. He wrote letters. He contacted the military and the diplomatic services for Panama, Britain and the US. He called the embassies and the consulates. Short of physically barging into offices, he made his presence known as an investigator.
And there was nothing there. The trail was non-existent. It was as though I had never been born, had never even had my adoptive father push on his own commanders to obtain emergency clearance so he could take me to the states.
We both thought this was a very suspicious circumstance. Too much TV? Maybe. But what was there to do about it anyway? I was not really interested in continuing to try to meet people who so obviously did not want to meet me. I told Steve to drop it.
And so it stayed until 2010, when once again I needed my birth certificate because I wanted to teach ESL in Mexico. I had pretty much forgotten how much trouble Steve had in his search, and sent off a letter (with a check for the very healthy fee) to the Panamanian Consulate asking for help in finding my birth certificate. It only took a week or so for a note scribbled at the bottom of my letter to be returned to me along with the check. “Sorry, we are unable to locate it.”
Well, I thought, when I am in Mexico I will at least be closer, and perhaps I will pop down to Panama for a visa-run. It would make a nice vacation, too.
So toward the end of my allotted days in Mexico, I bought a ticket for Panama. But the trip was fated not to be that year. A mere month before departure I slipped in the tiled shower of my ‘habitacion’ and fell. My wrist shattered and I was forced to fly home for repairs.
It took me another year and a half to recover and save up to try again. This time I got talked into going to Costa Rica by well-meaning friends. It’s true that Costa Rica is totally gorgeous, from the countryside to the people. And I certainly do not regret going there, particularly since I felt some renewed connection with my first adoptive mother, who died in the jungles there.
She and Daddy adopted me because they could have no children of their own. Then, the frequent miracle occurred – once the pressure of desperately wanting a child was off, she became pregnant. Unfortunately, it was a tubal pregnancy and she was on vacation in the Costa Rican jungle when my potential sibling began to make him or herself known. So the only one of my mothers who really wanted me perished there before they could get her to medical help. I was six months old.
Daddy pressured his commanding officers and pushed through the paperwork that allowed me to enter the US when he flew back with her ashes. He presented us both to her mother, my beloved Gram.
Nearly 70 years later, here I was, living in Costa Rica but thinking constantly about Panama. Panama is right next door. Life is cheaper in Panama. I want to see Panama. Etc. But there so many come hithers in Costa Rica – the unequalled natural beauty of the land, the riotous bursts of flowers, the pleasure of seeing so many lovely, smiling faces wherever you look. And the kindness of the people. Friends. And then there were the expelling factors – the local hacker who had been after me, the constantly rising cost of living, the bad plumbing in my cabina, the bugs that simply love to munch me.
One day when I was half-mad from scratching a fresh set of bites from an unknown insect, had just returned from spending way too much on groceries, and opened the door to my cabina to be met with a deep whiff of sewer, I made the decision. It was time to move to Panama.
To be continued…