A Small Crime
In the spring of my twentieth year, I committed an act of thievery, stealing a piece of myself. Truth be told, I don’t know if it was a crime, although it felt like one. To whom does my history belong?
I dressed that morning in the loosest clothing I owned: a tent-like denim jumper with big pockets in the front. I put on makeup and tried to look like somebody’s wife. I didn’t have a ring to wear except for the braided silver one with the moon face. It didn’t look much like a wedding ring, but I put it on my left hand anyway.
My appointment was at eleven, but I got there early. I sat in the parking lot and stared at the sign - Finger Lakes Obstetrics & Gynecology - and cursed myself for putting me in this situation.
The month before I had spoken with the woman in medical records at New Rochelle Hospital. My roommates were gone and I was alone in the stilt-house floating over Cayuga Lake. Everything was white that morning: the sky, the frozen surface of the lake, the snow-covered trees against the shore. It was bitterly cold, even in the house, but I was sweating. I had the adoption record spread open on the kitchen table and there, on the single sheet of paper from the Bergen County Court, was my birth-name, which I had only known for a few days. From this day forward, the child Hana Shimizu shall be known as Susan Kiyo Ito. I was still getting used to it. Hana Shimizu. Hana.
The woman answered the phone like she was singing. I had prepared for a battle, but she was so cooperative that I started with the truth.
“Hello. I was born at New Rochelle Hospital, in 1959.” I took a breath and a lie tumbled out. “I’m pregnant now, and my mother…” I hesitated. “My mother passed away when I was small.”
My stomach clenched as I prayed that this wouldn’t be true. I crossed my fingers behind my back, the way I did when I was a child. “But my father told me that she had problems when she was pregnant with me.” Almost done, I thought. Just say the last part. Say what you want. “My doctor would like the records from my birth.”
She didn’t hesitate. “Certainly. What was your date of birth?”
Easy one. “August 14, 1959.”
“And your obstetrician’s name?”
“Oh. It’s, um…” I grabbed for the phone directory on top of the refrigerator and flipped through the yellow pages. “Wait, sorry, it’s Dr. Vogel. Dr. Edward Vogel.”
“And his address?”
I ran my finger down the list. “2537 Green Street, Ithaca, New York.”
“I’ll take care of that right away. And your name again, Mrs…?”
“Ito. It’s Ito.” I couldn’t think. The room was darkening with late afternoon shadows. “But my name is Hana Shimizu. Or it was, then.”
I realized my error later. I had given her the address of a doctor I had never met. How would I get the records from him? I called back and pretended that the doctor had moved. I gave the address of my boyfriend Mike’s apartment on Buffalo Street.
For the next week I staked out the mailbox, rushing from my classes down the hill to paw through it. Finally, a thick brown envelope arrived, the document that would tell me the name of the woman who had given birth to me. I ripped it open and a picture of a woman slid out. She was naked, with gleaming round breasts. I let the papers drop like something on fire. It was a Penthouse magazine, addressed to Mike’s housemate. I picked it up and, in a rage, jammed it back into the mailbox.
I waited two more days. Three. Mike called me on the phone. “Ito, you have to stop messing with our mail.”
Two weeks passed. I could barely function. Finally I called Dr. Vogel’s office. The records had been there for days. I made an appointment for a prenatal exam and there I sat, parked in front of the office, impersonating a pregnant woman, a married woman, a woman named Hana Shimizu.
Inside, the receptionist gave me a clipboard and I filled out the papers with a fabricated life, waiting for an alarm to go off: Impostor, liar, thief. I signed the unfamiliar name. I chewed on my lip and looked at the other women in the room, real pregnant women, and wondered if they would all keep their babies.
A nurse with a face that was all freckles came to the doorway and called out "Hana?" She held a manila folder in her hand. It had new orange tabs on the side and my mother's last name.
"Please follow me." She slipped the folder into the wooden box nailed to the exam room door. "Take everything off, including your panties," she said, handing me a blue paper gown. “Keep that open in the front,” she called over her shoulder and left me there.
I sat on a straight-backed wooden chair, wondering. Until that moment, I had assumed that Edward Vogel, MD, would be a compassionate, reasonable man. I had imagined him shaking his head at the injustice of closed records and giving me the manila folder. But maybe it wouldn't happen like that. Maybe he would be scornful. Maybe he would call the police. Maybe he was an adoptive father and my subterfuge would make him angry.
I looked at my watch. Three minutes had passed since I'd entered the room. I stood up and opened the door. I took the folder out of its box and pressed it against my chest, underneath my coat. I walked down the corridor.
I passed the receptionist at her desk. "I forgot something in my car," I said. "I'll be back in a minute."
I threw the folder on the passenger seat of my Toyota. I didn't look back at the doctor's office. I pulled into traffic and drove while my mother's name waited patiently on the seat beside me. I didn't touch the folder, the chronicle of my birth, until forest and snow surrounded me, until I was sure that the Ithaca police were far behind me.
The pages were black and shiny, microfiche photocopied onto thick, curling paper. There were three pages of scribbled medical notes, pages from a hospital chart, and then a page-and-a-half typed. I held my breath and read the first line. Name of Patient: Fumie Shimizu.
I didn’t know how to say it. I whispered into the cold air in the car. Fu-mee. Fu-my. Fu-mee-ay. My mother’s name.
I sat and read the story. I read it over and over, like a child begging for another round of Goodnight Moon. This was the story of the night I was born, at two minutes before midnight. It was filled with words I didn’t fully understand: Nulliparous. Hypertensive. I read of my mother’s rush to the hospital to deliver a preterm infant girl of four pounds, two ounces. I cradled the papers in my hands.
Susan Ito was co-editor of A Ghost At Heart's Edge: Stories & Poems of
Top photo courtesy of MC Fitzpatrick.
Ghost at Heart's Edge: Stories and Poems of Adoption
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