It had been a long haul. I believe it took six trips total to get the passports finalized. The younger kids and I were determined to attend my eldest daughter’s wedding and there had been no end of snags. We needed a loan for the plane tickets, but first, we needed the passports. And there were endless complications.
In my case, they didn’t like the way my birth certificate was worded. (As if I had a say.) Specifically, they did not like how my dad did not have a middle name, only an initial. They needed his full name. Those were the rules. So I went to my 90-something year old father and asked if I could make a copy of his birth certificate, so I could prove he was the same person on my birth certificate.
My step-mother dutifully produced the document, which by then resembled a tiny, black rag. A half-sized negative, no doubt the same one issued when Dad faced the draft board in WWII. So worn that when I picked it up, it fell limp, as if made of soft linen.
Being impossible to copy, I was entrusted with the precious artifact itself, and after presenting it to the local Health Department, they issued me a new, certified record of birth. One with my father’s full name on it.
Dad was not pleased. He never liked his middle name. Legally, for his signature and Social Security, he uses his middle initial only. Most people don’t even know his middle name. But for his eldest granddaughter – Lillie – born in his house on his birthday, he was willing to make the sacrifice.
With my latest proof of existence, I took the kids back to the post office and presented my documents. I was at the finish line. Finally satisfied, the agent smiled and said there was just one more thing:
“Raise your right hand. Do you swear the information provided is true to your knowledge?”
I glanced for a split second at my youngest daughter, standing next to me. And in that split second, she recognized I was about to swear a lie to be the truth, and I also knew it. That my adoptive mother gave birth to me. That my adoptive father’s blood ran in my veins. That my biological parents did not exist. My original birth certificate has my mother’s name only, and is boldly stamped NOT CERTIFIED, meaning not legal. Not legal, but true. While my amended was legal and certified, but a fabrication.
I could have done the right thing then. I could have protested at being put into this position, of not only lying, but doing so while pledging to telling the truth. I could have taken a stand. I thought about adoptees in New York unfortunate enough to have had their adoptions finalized over a year after their birth, who could potentially never get a passport. They would no doubt love to be in my enviable position right now.
I swear – that it’s all a sham. I have two identities, and you think the fake one is real because that one has a name. I am forced to lie in front of my children to satisfy your insipid security measures. To keep us all “safe”. I had to get my father’s middle name put on my birth certificate to make me real enough to suit you. But that doesn’t make me his biological daughter. And that is what my birth certificate states: That these people are my blood kin. So no, I won’t swear, because the State is the one who is the liar.
I wish I could report this is what I said. That I took one for the team. But it was also true that I considered my adoptive parents as real as my birth parents. I had been living as my adopted self for over fifty years; it was the only identity anyone knew. I was blindsided by the question. The kids were counting on me. And…I would have done nearly anything to see Lillie get married.
“I swear,” I said. And once again hated myself, for being adopted.