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College Essays, Fortune Cookies, and Grim Newscasters


            What has been the most life-changing moment you have ever experienced? I sat back with a sigh. My life had been pretty easy. My father was the ninth wealthiest man in the United States of America. He and my mother were in perfect health, and I was a very good student. Nothing had ever been much of a struggle for me. I know how spoiled that makes me sound, but it was the truth. The only thing that gave me problems was my unruly dark hair that never wanted to cooperate with me. No matter how many times I had straightened it or used every product imaginable, my hair was wild and typically looking like it had gotten into a fight with a vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t very well write my college essay on how hard it was to brush my hair. I decided to take a break from the essay and went for a walk.

            “Hi, Amanda!” my friends from school waved at me as they drove past. I gave them a small wave and continued to walk. Sometimes I wished we didn’t live in a city so big where you felt like you couldn’t breathe. I briefly wondered what my friends were doing and where, and why no one had thought to invite me along. I could add that to my essay: My hair cannot be tamed and sometimes my friends hurt my feelings when they do things without me. That wouldn’t exactly have an Ivy League school knocking down the front door. As I was walking, a fortune from a fortune cookie blew into my face. I grabbed it and read, your whole life is about to change. I rolled my eyes, and threw it away. I sat down on a bench and I watched people come and go from an apartment building. I stared at a woman coming out the doors. At first glance, she just looked like a weary woman who had been dealt with a lifetime of struggles. On the second glance, I realized something that chilled me to my bones: she looked exactly like me. I hauled myself to my feet, when the woman looked up at my movement. She made a guttural note of surprise, but before she could say anything, I ran home faster than a paparazzi trying to out chase a celebrity.

            I collapsed on the couch with my head spinning. My mom came in the room and smiled at me. Since I was the only child, I was accustomed to all of the attention from both of my parents. Where I had dark, curly hair, brown eyes, and was a respectable five foot one; my parents were blond, tall, blue-eyed, and gorgeously tanned. With my olive skin, I never had pulled off a tan in my life. I was adopted at only four months old. There’s not really much of a story behind it rather than I was born in Detroit and both of my biological parents died in a car crash. I was put into foster care since I had no other family. My adoptive parents weren’t able to conceive a child, so they decided to adopt me. They met a woman in Detroit who was a social worker, while my dad was on a business trip. They talked about wanting a child and suddenly (not for them, they had to do a ton of paperwork and prepare the mansion for me) I was theirs.

            “Hi, sweetie. What’s the matter?” she added as an afterthought, taking in my bewildered expression and heavy breathing.

            “Mom, I ran into someone today who looked exactly like me.” I had always been one for being straight-forward and honest. Everyone I knew called me blunt, but I looked at it as I hated to prolong the truth. My mom’s face suddenly became closed off. Only for a second before she returned back to her normal expression, but I saw how guarded she had suddenly become.

            “Sweetie, you’re just worried about that essay. I’m sure she looked very similar to you; you’re not the only person in the world with wacky hair.” She gave a short, forced-sounding laugh. Mom walked into the kitchen before I could say another word, throwing another fake smile in my direction as she left.

            The next day at soccer practice I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t get that woman out of my mind. I went home, feeling exhausted physically and mentally. I turned on the TV, which was turned to the news. I rolled my eyes; my dad loved watching the news and had it on constantly. I was about to change the channel, when the next news story caught my eye. I watched as the newscaster showed a photo of the woman I saw at the apartment building. There was a photo of her looking much younger, probably about twenty years old. The next photo was of her holding a baby girl with thick, dark hair. My heart stopped. Why was the woman on the news? Who was she? I turned up the volume, just as the newscaster started to speak.

            “A woman in the Los Angeles area is asking for help in finding her daughter.” He said with an appropriately grim look on his face. Jim Victrola had the appropriate expression for every occasion and news story he covered.

            “The woman who goes by Masha Maksim says that seventeen years ago she boarded a train while in her home country of Russia, with her then infant daughter, Antosha. While on the train she claimed she fell asleep with her daughter on her lap. She woke up when the train stopped in Ukraine with her daughter nowhere in sight. After living in Ukraine for the past decade and a half, she recently moved to the Los Angeles suburbs. She claims that when leaving her apartment building the other day, she saw a teenage girl she believed to be her daughter. The girl ran off, before Masha could speak with her. Masha is asking that her daughter come forward, so the pair can reunite.” Jim started talking about the next segment like it was no big deal, like he had not just shattered everything I thought I knew. A hand reached over my shoulder to grab the remote. The TV turned off. I stood up and whirled around. It was my father, looking paler than I had ever seen him before.

            “You don’t need to be watching the news, Amanda. Go do your homework.” He ordered this to me in a hard tone. My father was never harsh with me. He pointed at the stairs like I was a dog who had chewed his favorite shoe, and he was sending me to the doghouse. I was speechless, but went upstairs. Once I got to my room though, I didn’t do my homework. I paced back and forth with my head spinning. I knew, of course, that they weren’t my biological parents. This still, in and of itself, was a shocking revelation. The chances were crazy that the daughter could even be me. However, why did my parents act so strange whenever I asked about my birth parents? Why did they both act so weird when I brought up the woman and saw her on the news? I thought the unfathomable; What if my parents were lying to me?

            I snuck out my window and ran back to the apartment buildings where I had last seen the woman. I waited for half an hour, before I finally saw her leaving her building. She evidently felt me looking at her, because after a moment she changed course from her car towards me. She got a few feet away from me, and looked at me the way I would look at a full-ride soccer scholarship to the school of my choice. Tears were brimming in her eyes, and neither of us said anything for a moment.

            “How do you know it’s me?” I asked her finally, and then felt pretty stupid about it. We looked exactly alike. If she were younger we could be identical twins.

            “Antosha, I know it’s you. I have waited for this moment for seventeen years. You were taken from me, but I have found you.” She spoke this in a very thick accent. She stepped forward and hugged me. Not feeling too comfortable, I stepped back from her.

            “If you honestly believe I’m your daughter, then I need to have a DNA test done.” I said this with a challenge in my voice, daring her to argue. She, however, inclined her head, and two days later we had the test done.

            It has been two weeks since the DNA test was done. I had been anxious and on edge with everyone. My grades dipped, my friends avoided me, and I was on my second warning with my soccer coach. My parents were trying to act business as usual with me, but I barely spoke to them. Not until I knew the results, could I breathe normally. I went down to the kitchen where the maid had brought in the mail. I thumbed through some bills and a postcard from aunt, when I saw the official looking letter. Opening it quickly, like it might explode before I have the chance, I read the results. We were a match. Masha was my mother.

            Later that night my parents came home for dinner. We sat around the table, with me only picking at my food. I hadn’t called Masha yet to tell her. First I had to tell my parents. I was pushing my peas around with my fork when my father cleared his throat and looked at me expectantly. I looked at him. He had clearly just spoken to me and wanted an answer.

            “Amanda? Are you even paying attention?” He looked at me with a smile and glanced over at my mother as if to say, “How cute, our adopted daughter we stole from a sleeping woman was daydreaming!”

            I glared at him. How dare they both act like nothing was wrong? I suppose they had become good at doing it after having to do it for so long.

            “Sorry,” I said with sarcasm dripping in my voice, “I guess I wasn’t responding to Amanda, since Antosha is apparently my real name.” My parents faces had gone very white. They looked like they were about to say something, but I wasn’t finished yet. “I met her; Masha from the news. We spoke and got a DNA test done. What do you know, we’re a match! Got anything you want to tell me?” They glanced at each other. They looked frightened, yet slightly angry.

            “That woman is not your mother. I am.” My mom said this in a scary sort of calm voice. “When your father and I found out we couldn’t have children, we were devastated. Right after this, your father had to go on a business trip to Moscow. I went with him, and when we were on the train we saw this girl who hardly looked like a woman, let alone a mother. It made your father and me so angry that we were two functioning adults who couldn’t have children, when there was this young woman who was sleeping and not even caring for her child that she was so lucky to have. The train emptied out, and before she woke up we took you. We flew back home and forged documents from a Russian adoption agency.” After saying all this she went back to eating her dinner. Here I was thinking that I was the blunt one. I pushed back from the table and stood up.

            “Are you crazy? You can’t just kidnap babies in a foreign country! You’ve lied to me my whole life!” I was so mad I was practically spitting the words out. My parents stood up as well.

            “It’s hardly kidnapping when we were doing it for your benefit! We have raised you and loved you more than that woman ever could have! She would not have been able to provide for you in Ukraine, Russia, or anywhere else she has lived.” My father says all this with his teeth clenched. “We are your parents, Amanda. You are still our child, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

            “You are not my parents. You kidnapped me and lied to me. And you can’t call me Amanda anymore; my name is Antosha.” With that I stormed off, with both of them calling after me. I went to my room and locked my door. Who would I possibly contact for this? The police? Child Protective Services? I knew that the first person who deserved to know was someone who had been waiting seventeen years for this moment. I got out my phone and called Masha. She answered and before she could even say anything I said “Mom?”

            Several months have passed. Masha and I just got back from the grocery store. After the truth was unveiled (that was the most awkward meeting with my guidance counselor, let me tell you) my adoptive parents were sent to prison for ten years for forgery of legal documents and first degree kidnapping. I had to switch schools, but now I live with Masha. Sometimes I forget to call her Mom. Despite everything, I miss my adoptive parents. I am angry with them for lying to me, but they always treated me well. Masha is very kind to me and tells me every day how much she loves me. She told me that after I was born, my birth father died in an accident. Devastated from her loss, she decided to move to Ukraine to be with her sister. She had felt very ill and tired on the train and had fallen asleep. She searched frantically once she realized I was gone and told the police. After a few days they told her the search was useless and that my abductors would never be found. After living in Ukraine for fifteen years, she decided to move to America and find a job in the ‘land of opportunity’. Little did she know that I would be here, and that she would finally have what was missing in her life for so long.

            If it hadn’t been for the college essay, I might have never found my mom. This was definitely the moment that changed my life. So many colleges were impressed with my story, that I got accepted to some of the best schools in the country. I decided to go to UCLA so I could be close to Masha. I think back every now and then to that fortune form that fortune cookie; your whole life is about to change. I know one thing; I will never doubt the power of the all-knowing fortune cookie ever again.