CRYSTAL has a story to tell. She has told it to the Miami Herald and to Time magazine and on the David Susskind Show and now that she's living in the Washington area, she thought she'd tell it to me. It's a good story - the story of how she spent 15 years trying to find her natural parents, but she's told it so many times that it comes out of her mouth like a report on a trip to the grocery store. The only time it comes alive is when she gets to the part about names. She says she doesn't have a last name.
"I don't have a last name," she says. "Everything I sign, I write Crystal. Crystal is all I ever sign. When I become a lawyer and sign pleadings, I will sign Crystal."
Crystal is 35 years old and lives in an Alexandria basement apartment with her son, 15. She is now a legal secretary for a Washington law firm, but she spent one semester in law school and intends to become a lawyer. She has a last name, which is the name of her former husband, but she prefers not to use it.
It's OK with me. There are too many names in this story already. There is the name Crystal was born under. It turned out to be a name her mother just made up. There are the names of her natural parents and the name of her adopted parents. Then there is the name of her natural mother. She had a maiden name, then a married name, then a phony name, then maybe another married name. It would be hard to find the woman. There are too many names.
Crystal was 20, married and a mother herself when she found out she was an adopted child. She went to the courthouse for a copy of her birth certificate. The clerk was nice. The clerk said Crystal would have to write to the state where she had been born. She would have to write to New York. Crystal took the certificate.
"I looked at it and it said Bronx, New York. I said, 'What the hell is going on?'"
Crystal was determined to find out. She asked her mother why she was led to believe that she was born in Virginia. She got no answer. She asked her father and again there was silence. They lied. They told her that her mother and father had split up - her mother going to New York to give birth. Finally, her father told her the truth.
"Daddy told me, I cornered him at lunch one day. In the car I just blurted out, 'If I'm adopted, just tell me yes or no.' His reply was, 'Yes, Dammit' and then he wouldn't talk about it anymore. he never has.
So Crystal set off on her own to find out who her parents were. She wrote to the State of New York and the State of New York told her that her file was sealed. The State of New York told her that while clerks could look in her file and judges could look in her file and all of them could find out who the parents of Crystal were, Crystal could not. They told her to get a lawyer.
The story is long and complicated and Crystal tells it because she joined an organization called ALMA, which believes that adopted persons should have the right to find out where they came from. ALMA (Adoptees Liberty Movement Association) told her what to do - how to place newspaper ads and where to look. She did all those things, but the fact of the matter is that at the same time her natural mother was also looking for her and found her first. They met, and they talked and they continue to be friends - nothing more. Crystal says that if she was on her death bed and could see only one person, she would call for the woman who adopted her 34 years ago - the only mother she's ever known.
From her mother she got the name of her father. She called him first in Virginia and was told that he had retired to Florida. So she called him there. She asked him if he know her natural mother. She used her natural mother's maiden name and she used her natural mother's maiden name and she used her nothing. Then she said her own name. She said Phyllis Crystal. There was an old man on the other end of the phone and he asked, "Are you Phyllis Crystal?"
"I said, 'Yes'
"He said, 'I'm your father.
It was nice. He came right over to see her and they stayed up until four in the morning, talking about ancient history. It's the old man's passion. By then, Crystal knew the story. Her father was an Orthodox Jews and her mother a Protestant. They could not have married. It was 1941. It was different. His family would never have permitted it.
It was several days ago when I heard this story and the person who has stuck in my mind is the old man. He had never married. The mother has married. She has had her children. The adoptive parents have Crystal. But the old man in Florida, he is alone. I called him.
"Her story is no different than anyone else's," he said. "There have been other people like her who have looked for their natural parent. She's not unusual. Keep my name out of it."
Call her just Crystal.