It was official; my birth certificate was a lie. I had waited 16,831 days (46 years) for information that arrived between an offer for a new credit card, a medical bill, a reminder of a dental appointment, an Essence magazine, coupons for Domino’s Pizza, and the weekly grocery advertisement. I took my keys out the front door and turned off the alarm stopping the count down before my entry was broadcast to neighbors and someone in a monitoring facility.
I tossed my backpack on the couch and held the mail in my hand, looking at the State of Colorado seal looking at me. Information previously unavailable unless by court order 27 days ago was here amongst pictures of what meat was on sale at Safeway.
Four decades after my birth, 37 dollars allowed me to obtain information no longer secured but put into a plain white business envelope, sealed and stamped. From classified to inconsequential except to me, who, after waiting a lifetime, wasn’t sure I was ready to open it and know the one question that has been in my head for as long as I possibly could remember - Where did I come from?
What happens when the answer you have prayed for your entire life shows up in your mailbox on a Wednesday? You wonder if you really wanted to know. Three weeks ago, when I took the form and sat in the Colorado Department of Public Health lobby, the excitement of knowing filling out this form would provide answers left me giddy. I handed the information to the clerk and imagined that a month from this very moment, I would be tearing into the envelope that I paid for like it contained the last golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
As I sat on the edge of my couch holding the elusive ticket, the reality was that after a lifetime of wondering, this one piece of information would change every fantasy I created about where I came from as a child. I was terrified. My life would be altered. No matter if I ever met the woman who gave birth to me or not, I could not go back to the safety of not knowing.
I rubbed the envelope between my fingertips, noting the texture of the standard white paper, figuring by the thickness that there were two, maybe three trifold pages inside. I held it up to the light to confirm what I already knew and made out “Regarding your inquiry of: Original Birth Certificate” and stopped there. I figured the information would at least have my birth mother’s name, and with that, I knew I could begin searching online for her in a matter of seconds. I had to get my mind ready for the possibility that after finding out who she was, I could also find out she was deceased or that she never thought about me after December 20, 1969. Or just maybe she wouldn’t want anything to do with me. After all, I would reach out. Right? I mean, my birthday was right before Christmas. That had to trigger something in her. At least, I hoped. My birth father wouldn’t be listed because, according to non-identifying information I obtained years earlier, my birth mother never told my birth father about me.
I was irritated by the lack of fanfare this type of revelation received, considering how hard it was to get any information over the years. Before a law that went into effect on January 1, 2016, I needed a court order to file for my original birth certificate. Now holding it in my hand, I felt like I had paid the ransom to get something important to me. Questioning what the shroud of secrecy for decades had been for if the information could show up so casually in my mailbox. I sat there annoyed that I had to pay to find out what so many others get free of charge as their birthright. Hadn’t I paid enough? Apparently, the State of Colorado didn’t think so.
This simple white envelope represented a threatening shift of power, and one thing you should know about me, I like to be in control, especially over my emotions. I knew this lone white envelope held the ability to break the facade I had mastered to deal with the pain of not knowing anything about where I came from. Despite how well I was doing in life, my reality was that I still had no idea who I was. There was a showdown between my curiosity, fear, and words on a page. After waiting a lifetime, today, I wasn’t ready to turn my world upside down. I took the envelope that the state didn’t think was important enough to have me sign for and tucked it in my top dresser drawer, next to other unmentionables.