Today I would like to thank the God who cares for his abandoned children, dumb luck and my grandma (who passed on to me every single Mary Higgins Clark book and with them a love of mystery) for the story I’m about to tell.
Sadly, (but responsibly and ethically!) names have been changed in this unbelievable story. (But you should still believe it. I was there.)
On a hot and sweaty Tuesday, Francisco used Jilli as carrier pigeon to tell me that he’d like some help in finding his family. (For the record child, you can always ask me directly. Chances of me saying no to a request like this are…let me think about it…zero.) He hasn’t seen his parents since he was less than a year old. (Can we then say that he has never really seen his parents?) Since he was six or seven, he has had no contact with the surrogate family who took over his care when his mom left. What motivates a child to suddenly long for that which he was previously uninterested in? Curious about his identity? Wanting answers to all the why’s? Knowing that he’s going to ‘age out’ soon and wanting to know if there is anyone he can go to?
I gladly agreed to help (please refer to the initial paragraph and my love of Mary Higgins Clark). Starting with the few people who know him best I talked to the Director, the Director under the Director (official title) (not really), and Bas. All three conversations went like this:
Jenny (name has not been changed): Francisco has asked me to help find his family.
Other person: Oh really? We know almost nothing about them. This will most likely be a fruitless search.
So, I tried to prep Francisco for this. What if we look and find absolutely nothing? There is a very, very real possibility of this.
“I can take it either way. I’d still like to try.”
Read his file. (Side note. SUPER interesting. Next mission: figure out a way to see more of these.) This file contains all of the paperwork from the multiple homes he has been in, summaries of interviews, old pictures (gosh he was a cute 6 year old!), and (ding! ding! ding!) the name, address and i.d. number of the woman he lived with for the first 6ish years of his life. Jackpot!
Get permission to bring him to San Pedro to track down this woman. I mean, there are only 1,245,598 people in San Pedro. (A bit of hope is lost.) But we have an address! (Hope revived!!) Right. It’s from 2004. And it was a rental. (Hope dips again.) What are the chances she’s still there? (Opinion polls show a strong 33.47%.) I may have actually felt a little relieved when I discovered that Francisco is unable to leave the center for the next month due to a little ‘incident’. Clearly, this was going to be nothing but a futile search.
Promise Francisco that the search will begin even if he’s not there and that he’ll be kept posted on the progress.
Sit in Dunkin Donuts and pray for a miracle.
(Pen poised mid-prayer) Why hello kind acquaintance who is also a regular in this joint and who sometimes chats me up a bit. What am I doing? Oh, you know, figuring out how to find a needle in a haystack. What’s that? You have a friend who works in the registration office in the nation’s capital? Oh my, you are on the phone with said friend this moment and need her i.d. number. (scramble, scramble, scramble.) So, you’ll let me know when she’s been found? Great… Thanks. (WHAT JUST HAPPENED??)
(Addendum to Step #4.1)
Kind acquaintance will not reenter this story. But he sure did help my hope become buoyant once again. Thank you Jesus and dumb luck. (Pretty sure Mary Higgins Clark had very little to do with Step 4.1)
Go to San Pedro and hang out at Lauren, Jilli and Kaylie’s house for a few hours because there’s nothing more I can do, I’m tired, I want to speak English and somebody’s got to watch Baby Jesus while Lauren and Jilli run errands.
(Who’s Baby Jesus? He’s on deck to be blogged about in a few weeks. Please stop distracting from the story at hand! Geesh.)
Knowing that Francisco is holding tightly to the promise in Step #3, decide to track down that old address. Do this knowing that nothing will come of it, but he needs to know that an attempt was made.
(Do you have any idea how annoying it is to drive in San Pedro? Do you know how many circles I drove? Are road signs REALLY too much to ask?)
Stop and talk to two men with miniature poodles in their laps. (Please stop for a moment and get a mental picture of this. It is abnormal.) They tell me that I’m roughly six blocks from my destination and give me directions that are spot on. (Also abnormal, but this could also be an issue with my Spanish.)
Interrupt two (poodle-less) men talking on a corner. ”Yep, there used to be apartments here, but they were torn down.” (Heavy sigh.) ”But there are apartments around the corner.” (Why did I even check those apartments out? There are probably apartments around every corner. This was THE corner where she had lived so many years ago. And the building was gone.)
Round the corner and interrupt two ladies (who should have had the poodles).
“Do you know a woman named Delia (insert three more names)? She lived in apartments nearby about 10 years ago.”
They both chuckle a bit as they say no. One woman was about to say “Silly gringita” (I just know it) when the other one says “Wait. The woman who sells food out of her house. Her name is Delia, right?” The first woman (who is now grateful she didn’t make fun of me) says, “I do believe so.”
Cross the street.
Ignore the cat calls.
Turn the corner.
Three doors down.
“Hello little girl. Is this is home of Delia (three more names)?”
“Why do you want to know?”
(Who teaches seven year olds to be so suspicious?)
“I’m looking for the family a child named Francisco lived with many years ago.”
Suspicious girl disappears into the back room. I wait for a while and fear that even if this is the family, they are currently hunkered down in the back coming up with a story about how they don’t know him.
A woman emerges with the same suspicious look.
Again, I explain why I’m there.
“Yes, I’m Delia. He was with me for many years. Let’s sit down. I have much to tell you.”
And just like that, so many blank spots in this child’s life start being filled in. His mom abandoned him when he was a baby. Delia loved him as if he were her own (even though she made it clear that he terribly misbehaved at times.) She wanted to officially adopt him, but because she was seperating from her abusive husband and she didn’t have a regular income she couldn’t. Family members told her she could get arrested for kidnapping since she had no way to prove that he had been left with her. A friend told (ahem, lied to) her and said that he’d be well taken care of by IHNFA, so she turned him over to authorities.
Delia: He must be about 20 by now.
Me: He’s 17.
Delia (Her head snapping up to look at my face): You know him?
Me: Yes! That’s why I’m here. He wants to find you!
Delia (I don’t know that I had ever heard a Honduran woman squeal before this moment.): You KNOW him!! (She rubs both arms.) I have the shivers! (This is also my first Honduran woman with the shivers.)
This leads to tight hugs, lots of kisses on the cheek and a beaming seven year old in the doorway. I’m invited in the house and we spend the next thirty minutes deeply engaged in an exuberant game of show and tell. Her family scours all of their albums to find pictures of him. (We never did find the picture of Francisco with ‘that dog that has since died’. But I heard it was great.) I get my computer so I can show them how handsome he has become. We all talk a mile a minute.
Then it dawns on me that it’s really not fair that I’m experiencing all of this initial excitement that should be his. (Plus, Yann has already called or texted at least six times to see just how late I’m going to be to dinner.) As politely as possible, I extricate myself from the commotion in the front room with promises of bringing him to the house as soon as I can.
Twenty minutes and talking to three sets of people. That’s all it took.
(Oh, right, I should probably explain the fact that she wasn’t at the proper address. They had moved a few years ago. When first telling this story, I kept saying “What normal person only moves a block away from their old house???” Then Sean pointed out that roughly a year ago, we moved to the house next door. Valid point.)
And what did the actual reunion between Francisco and Delia look like?
Come on. You had to know that this was going to be a two part story.