This isn’t the last installment after all.
I love to travel alone. I also like traveling with one other person (two is starting to push it). I have also liked traveling in larger groups when someone else is in charge, at least if I can get away a fair bit.
So flying to Budapest, renting a car, and going to see the boys as their father for the first time was a great adventure. People at work asked if I was nervous about seeing the boys, which seemed a bizarre question to me. I was worried that they would be nervous, apprehensive, suspicious, uncertain, or any number of uncomfortable feelings along with the positive excitement. But I was fine. Couldn’t be better.
No real story for awhile, no connected narrative. Just incidents.
I think I changed at Frankfurt. Lufthansa to Hungary was almost empty. I drove an Opel, and couldn’t figure out how to get into reverse because the directions were in Hungarian. The index did me no good, and I finally sat in a market parking lot in Vecses and flipped pages until I found it. The Tisza River was in flood stage. Easiest border crossing ever, though I had to drive through a trough with white liquid because of Mad Cow Disease. The boys’ Certificat de nastere from the Republica Socialista Romania said that their father had been born in Sarbi, their mother in Spinus, not too far out of my way. You won’t find those on Mapquest or Googlemaps, BTW, but I had acquired excellent maps on my last trip. Maps were gradually becoming accurate at this point – under the communists, many map roads were fictitious, or greatly overestimated, on the ground.
The cemeteries were both out on deeply mudded roads. That made me nervous. No Parcalabs or Pârcalabs in either place on hurried inspection. I rehearsed what I might say in my broken Romanian if approached and belatedly realised I might not be a welcome figure. Hey then! On to Beius, arriving at sundown, took supper and went over to the orphanage.
I don’t know what I had planned to say to the boys, but I hadn’t expected the gate to be locked, hadn’t expected one of the little ones to be out alone in the courtyard, and I certainly didn’t expect John-Adrian to be the one she went and got. So J-A and I got excited, we hugged, and all I could think of to say was “You look good. You look very good to me.” I followed him along to the playroom, where Chris was watching TV, and he said something to him in Romanian. A little impatiently, I noted. Yeah, this was the older-brother/younger-brother dyad I was used to. Hey you! Don’t you know this is an important moment? Pay attention! I hugged Chris and told him he looked good as well. I don’t remember anything else about the evening. Little kids probably tried to interrupt and get my attention a lot.
We had prepared a book for them, with pictures of our house, their rooms, a floor plan. We got yearbook photos from the classes they would be in at school, photos of relatives and friends – an introduction to our family in simple English and bad Romanian. All the adults who saw it thought it was one of the most brilliant, sensitive ideas they had come across. But I don’t think the boys read much of it. They started calling me Dad the first day, which surprised me. I did things with them together and separately. They both still had school, and I think they were expecting to get out while I was there, but I just blithely insisted they keep going, as if not going were unthinkable. I wanted to get that value implanted immediately. I eventually went to their schools and spoke with their teachers, which provided me with no useful information at all. They spent all our talking about what a good system of schools they had, and because my boys were in that system and were not notably awful, they must be good students who would have no trouble with American schools.
By the end of the day I was pretty clear that they had no real knowledge about my children in particular. Orphans are considered unimportant, and I don’t think they had noticed them much. I got a copy of their report cards and their testing. That made me even more suspicious. The tests said John-Adrian had an IQ of 87, which I was already pretty sure was an underestimate. As he is 3.5 years through college in a language which is neither his first nor his second, I think my suspicions were justified. Chris tested at IQ 85, and has also since proven that this is about 10 points too low. I have never told them this, as I feared loss of confidence – and now it doesn’t matter. But this great school system had him finishing 6th grade with decent math grades, but unable to do his tables of 3 accurately. It was an intense summer of home-schooling getting those two up to speed.
The key item from the week was walking with J-A on the second day, when he bitterly said “I have no good memories of my parents. Both of them.” He spent about 30 minutes explaining to me what life had been like with them. He never mentioned them again for years. It was hard to get Chris to say anything, good or bad, but he seemed to like just going around with me. He turned out to be the one to talk about his parents and siblings the most over the first few years.
There were other events of interest, watching John-Adrian play soccer on cement, going to 2.5 hour church with them, meeting their friends – but nothing of especial significance. Leaving was rather an anticlimax, enough so that I worried they might disbelieve I was coming back in a month. I toured Budapest on my own for a day and a half in the rain. I remember nothing about the trip home.