9 months ago



Sophie 177 for the last

Sophie 177 for the last two years in Bucharest #1, a large orphanage in the center of town. Marianne had seen the building on the cab ride from the airport. It was a huge, imposing building, with large shutters and no greenery. It had struck Marianne that it could pass for the headquarters of the secret police. Instead it was “home” to hundreds of babies and children, most with little hope of adoption. Marianne remembered the pictures from TV. Each floor contained many cribs all lined up in rows. The children lay in cots, were rarely taken out into the sunshine or out to play. Children from the poorest families and those of gypsy origin were usually placed at the back of the room, where they received even less attention than those at the front, nearest the nursing station. Marianne learned from the interpreter that the child’s mother was a gypsy who gave up the baby soon after birth. The next day, the interpreter brought Sophie, wrapped in a blanket, to the apartment. Marianne was shocked when she saw her. The child was shaking and covered in sores. Her head had been shaved in an attempt to prevent lice, and she was still in a diaper. She could not lift her head up and was covered in diarrhea that had leaked around the diaper. She weighed about fifteen pounds and looked emaciated. The interpreter asked if Marianne wanted to feed her. She handed Marianne a giant pop bottle with an agricultural nipple on it as Sophie could not yet chew solids. The bottle contained milk of indeterminate age and color. Sophie had a hard time sucking, and Marianne noticed that she kept her eyes turned to one side. Marianne tried to talk to her, but still Sophie would not look at her. Marianne had brought some toys for the child to play with. While at the airport waiting for her assigned interpreter, she had talked to other parents, who had given her advice about toys that could be used to assess a child’s level of intelligence. Sophie was placed on the carpet, propped up by pillows, and Marianne arranged the toys close by. But Sophie did not play with them. She felt them, turned them around in her hand, and brought them up close to her eyes. She was alert but very distant. Marianne tried to relate to her, to talk to her. But Sophie, with sores all over and shaking from head to toe, was in her own world. Other adoptive parents had told Marianne that the “smart ones” create another world for themselves as a protection. It would take Sophie a long time to come out of her world, if she ever came out at all, Marianne thought. She looked down at Sophie and said to herself, “You were exactly what we decided not to adopt.”

178 A MIND APART It was at that moment that Greg called, excited. “Well?” he asked. “We can’t take her. You have never seen a child like this. She is not a child; she has no soul.” “What do you mean?” Greg asked incredulously. He could not understand. Marianne told him how horrible Sophie looked, how she did not talk, could not walk, and was in her own world. If they adopted her, they would have to forget all their plans about the future; in fact there would be no future. They would just be in a prison, caring for this profoundly damaged child. They would have nothing left over for themselves. Greg listened patiently, thought for a moment, and then asked, “Why don’t you take her?” Marianne protested again, describing what Sophie looked like, the sores, the shaking, the shaved head. “We can’t. It’s too impossible.” But the more Marianne protested, the more she realized that she had to take her. “Where would she go back to? Shit, she would die back in that orphanage,” she said over the phone. Then Marianne started to cry, heaving sobs, weeping for this poor child, staring at some pathetic toy on the carpet of this filthy apartment in the middle of a city on the verge of disintegration, watched over by an interpreter, who smiled benightedly at this poor strange woman, heaving with grief by the phone. Greg whispered, ten thousand miles away, but as close as if he were beside her, “Just take her. Just take her. Promise me, will you?” * * * The paperwork to get Sophie out of Romania was prodigious. Marianne hired a good lawyer, and they went to court to get the papers signed. Marianne was interviewed as to whether she would make a good mother. Sophie was also examined by the doctors. She had not been out of a crib for her entire life and had hip dysplasia because of the diaper. The doctors too were concerned, but small bribes were paid to the health authorities to expedite the process. The authorities signed the final set of papers and it was done. Time to go home. * * * Greg met them at the airport. He was shocked at how tiny Sophie was. She was hidden in the stroller, covered by a blanket, her head shaking back and forth, her eyes looking down. She never looked at him. They packed her in the car and drove home, speaking little, each lost in

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