New Dorp, Staten Island. 1986. My first apartment, the entire second floor of a small two-family house. Bedroom with alcove closet, full bath, large kitchen/dining area, sunny living room with small private terrace overlooking the neighborhood. At $450 a month, it was a gem. I felt safe if a tad remote. The commute was cool: Walk two minutes to the above-ground subway; subway to Staten Island Ferry; ferry to lower Manhattan, walk up to Rector Street. Roundtrip was less than $2 a day. It was also not Brooklyn nor Manhattan, where my college classmates lived. While they’d been busy taking acting and dance classes and auditioning, I’d landed a receptionist job at the quiet offices of Wagner Stott, a small but monied subsidiary of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith.
Good job for a girl, decent paycheck, no social life, only associates at work (most of whom were married men or young men honing their trading skills by day and drinking hard at night). No bad habits and no hobbies. Frankly, I was boring and I was bored…unlike the theater kids living in NYC who, once I got a telephone, dispatched regular invitations to late-night parties and celebrations of one casting or another. Only once did I agree to attend a theater classmate’s party – and that is a crazy story of its own.
Weeks of thinking. Alone, in that first apartment, I had plenty of time to think about searching for my birthmother. Plenty of time to weigh the pros and cons, to fantasize every outcome, including how much devastation searching would cause my adoptive parents, especially my mother. But I lived alone, kept mostly to myself and knew how to keep a secret.
The woman who answered the phone at Spence-Chapin was friendly, professional, kind. She suggested I write them a letter asking for non-identifying information – the only sort they were able provide – and include anything I might know about my b’mother. I hung up and wrote the letter. Several years’ prior, home from college on March break, I found papers in my mother’s jewelry drawer. They’d always been there as long as I could remember, but I’d never been curious about unfolding them to see what they were. The social worker who handled my birth information; some birth info from Lenox Hill Hospital; my real first name – Susan; I was a 14-hour delivery, normal, anemic and average weight and long, last name McKee. My birthday was the same as it always was. Somewhere in those Mimeographed papers, it noted my birthmother had been single, in college, an only child, Caucasian, last known address was Scarsdale. It wasn’t much but I added it to the letter.
Three weeks later, I received non-ID information and while it was exciting , it was lackluster and somewhat mysterious – but it was detail I didn’t have previously so it mattered. There was so much to ask. So much I did not know. Two typed pages.
I still have that letter from Spence-Chapin. A few weeks later, I made an appointment to meet with a staff member to see what more I might learn…
…to be continued…