The bus ride with Isabel to the adoption agency seemed like the shortest one Dolores had ever been on. The walk from the bus stop to the front door of the agency seems like the steepest hill Dolores has ever taken. The front door seemed to be the heaviest door Dolores ever tried to open. She feels like she is going to throw up at any moment. Maria Cruz is the woman Dolores talked with on the phone. She greets them as they enter and then leads to a large room where other children of various ages are playing. There are three other women herding in this area. They women introduce Isabel to the other children and the toys. When she is comfortable enough, Maria directs Dolores to a table on the side of the room.“Señora, tell me everything that led you to come here today.” While Dolores tells the story, Maria asks several questions and takes notes.When Dolores is done, Maria sets down her pen and says, “Based on everything you have said, I suggest that Isabel be placed into foster care. That will help you with your employment situation, and it will help Isabel become accustomed to you not being around.” Maria pauses for a reaction.
Maria asks, “Are you okay with this?”
Dolores’ face shows no emotion. “I need to be. This is for Isabel, not me.”
Maria pulls out a form. “This form says that I have informed you that you maintain full parental rights of Isabel until the completion of the adoption process. Even though Isabel will not be living with you, you are her parent. You have the right to end this adoption at any point. We will contact you for three more signatures that you agree this is what you want to do. Do you understand?”
Maria hands Dolores the form and points to where she is to sign. She signs the form and pushes it back to Maria. She signs in the witness blank.
Maria pulls out an application. “Now I need to complete this application.”
In between the questions from Maria, Dolores looks at Isabel. Occasionally, they lock eyes. Isabel seems to know something is happening that will change her life. She is not playing with the other children, but she is not fussing, either. It is as if she has turned off all her emotions. Dolores smiles because she feels like she is looking into a mirror.
Maria asks more questions and makes comments while completing the application. Her sincerity and compassion surprises Dolores. She thought the people here would not be as friendly or understanding.
“Señora Cruz, how long will Isabel stay in Guatemala?”
“No, it can be as short as a couple of months. It mostly depends on the country she is going to.”
“Where could she go?”
“We work with agencies in Western Europe and theUnited States. It depends on who responds to the referral. Do you have a preference?”
Dolores smiles for the first time. “No, just someplace where she will be loved.”
“We will make sure of that.”
Maria pulls out a calendar and searches for a date. “Now, we need to schedule a date when you will bring Isabel back to relinquish her to our custody. Would the morning of July 10 work for you?”
Dolores vacantly nods her head. “That is fine. Whatever works best for you.”
“Here is my card. Call me with any questions. Also, if you change your mind between now and the tenth, just call me and we will tear up all the paperwork. That is no problem.”
They finish, Dolores picks up Isabel, and they leave. On the bus ride back to the Recinos’ home, Dolores holds Isabel tight wondering in what castle this princess will live. It doesn’t matter, as long as it is a place where she will be happy and loved. With that, the stoic face falls off and the tears flow.
It is July 9 and Dolores has just put Isabel to bed. Doña Carmen asked, “Are you ready?”
Dolores takes a deep breath, “Much more than I thought I would be. There is nothing in Guatemala for Isabel.”
Doña Carmen looks puzzled.
“When I left my other children with family, I knew that’s where they belonged. Nothing is more important than family. In this last week, I have come to understand that Isabel’s family is not inGuatemala. She came to the world here, but this is not where she belongs.”
“But she will always be your daughter.”
Dolores slowly shakes her head for a few moments while looking down as if there is a portal on the floor where she can see the life Isabel is going to have.
“Yes, but I will not be the one she calls mamá.”
She reaches out and squeezes Doña Carmen’s forearm, smiles quickly, and then goes to bed.
It is the next morning and the mood is somber at the Recinos’ household. Isabel is the only one who doesn’t know why. The children ready themselves for a day with their mom. They are crying as they say goodbye to Isabel. Doña Carmen squeezes Dolores’ hands as if doing so will stop the tears. The Recinos leave. Dolores gathers Isabel’s things and leaves for their last bus ride together.
Sitting in the middle of the semi-full bus, Isabel is on Dolores’ lap upright and watching everything with great interest. Isabel is Dolores’ focus. She has her nose buried in Isabel’s hair, breathing in her smell. She is holding tight to her baby. Not understanding, Isabel is squirming to get away.
Maria meets them just inside the door. She leads them to an office where there are more forms to complete. “This form transfers custody of Isabel to us during the adoption procedure. As we discussed, you have the right to terminate this at any time. Please be sure you read it before signing it.”
Dolores takes the form. She tries to sign it but Isabel keeps reaching for the pen. Maria reaches for Isabel but she pulls back and crawls up Dolores. Maria sits back and waits.
Dolores has closed her eyes and is holding Isabel tight. After a few moments, she calms down. Much to Isabel’s surprise, Dolores set her down. She grabs Dolores’ dress and pulls herself up screaming.
Dolores signs the form without reading.
“This is a Birth Registration that we are required to have. Thank you, I see you brought the original from the hospital.”
Maria is transferring the information while Dolores picks Isabel back up and holds her tight. Isabel holds Dolores tighter.
Maria finishes and then slides the document toward Dolores. “This is the last one to sign.” Isabel has no interest in the pen this time.
With the forms complete, they go into another office. Another of the agency staff is there. “This is Señorita Claudia Barrientos; she will be taking pictures that we will send to the agencies.”
Claudia says, “Señora, could you stand here and Señora Cruz…you know where to stand. Now, could you both hold Isabel?”
Dolores turns Isabel around toward Claudia. Maria moves in closer with one hand on Dolores’ arm and the other holding Isabel’s hand. Isabel shows no emotion and stares at the ground.
Dolores notices a girl standing next to Claudia. Maria says, “Mercedes is one of our clients. She is an orphan awaiting the completion of her adoption to the United States. Are you here for your visit?”
“Yes, Señora Cruz. Tomorrow is my birthday.”
Claudia says, “It is? How old will you be?”
“Happy Birthday,” Maria tells Mercedes and then turns to Dolores, “Each month, our foster children come in with their foster family, usually the mother, for a check-in. We make sure everything is going well and get measurements to send to the adoptive families.” Maria directs her attention back to Mercedes. “Mercedes, come and say hello to Isabel.”
Mercedes tries to talk with Isabel but she continues to look at the ground. While Dolores and Maria are trying to coax Isabel to talk with Mercedes, Mercedes makes a few adjustments to Isabel’s dress and hair.
Maria says, “Mercedes, Isabel is having a big day. You remember the first day you came here. Could you step back so Señorita Barrientos can take the picture?”
Mercedes walks behind Maria. Claudia steps forward to take a closer photograph and does not notice that Mercedes is in the background.
Maria smiles and nods to Dolores. “Are you ready?”
Dolores bites down on her lip. She stands for a moment longer and then moves Isabel closer to Maria. Maria now supports all of Isabel’s weight, but Dolores still holds on. She closes her eyes for a moment. Tears start. She pulls her arms back. Isabel looks back at Dolores. They lock eyes. Isabel reaches toward Dolores. They hold hands for a moment. Dolores pulls Isabel’s hand to her lips and kisses. She whispers, “I love you, Isabel. I love you.”
She holds Isabel’s little hand as tightly as she can without hurting her. Then, she lets go and walks out of the room.
Isabel cries. Maria pulls her close. Claudia and other staff members tend to Dolores.
Moments later, the door closes behind Dolores and she’s on the sidewalk in front of the agency, alone.
She looks back at the building. Tears streak down both sides of her solemn face; she does not bother to wipe them away. Tears of anger, of sadness, of loneliness, of failure, of hope, of joy.
She is oblivious to the people walking by her.
In moments, she wipes the tears from her face. She takes a deep breath and walks to the bus stop.