Hands holding a framed portrait of a group home. | Source: Shutterstock

At 19, I received an anonymous box that featured a few items and an old photo of a big house. I spend the next eight years of my life trying to find it, only to discover the truth of my entire life.

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I was left in a group home since I was a baby, so I have no recollection of ever having relatives or close. They told me I was left on a basket at the front door, which was so cliché in my opinion. Even if my birth parents were struggling, they could’ve found another way. They could’ve given me real parents that wanted and loved me. Alas, that didn’t happen.

You might think that babies get adopted easier, but the truth is that it’s still difficult. I didn’t get adopted, but I had a good life at the group home. My friend Kyle and I would get into all kinds of shenanigans, and we loved it.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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We promised to be each other’s family when no one else was, and at 17, we started a small business, doing deliveries and errands for the people in our town. At first, we used some bikes which had been donated to the group home. But after a few months, we managed to buy a cheap car, which made things easier.

“Why do you have this picture here?” she asked, her eyes squinting at me.

We expanded the business, and soon, we were working for three small towns. Thanks to our work, Kyle and I rented an apartment, and it felt terrific to be independent and have a home that we could say was truly ours.

For the first time ever, we bought ourselves things like a Playstation. It was a second-hand, older model, but it was amazing. We could finally start enjoying some of the childhood that other kids always got to have.

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We also enrolled in community college night classes to see if we could become CEOs. We dreamed of being rich, just like many people. I honestly thought my life would not change unless one or both of us married and started our own families.

However, I received a strange call the day after I turned 19, and it was from a lawyer.

“I’m sorry. Maybe, you have the wrong person, sir. But I don’t have anyone in my life except for my friend. I don’t think someone would leave me anything,” I told Mr. Rubinstein on the phone, but the attorney insisted.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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He asked me to come to his office as soon as possible, so I agreed. Kyle told me I at least had to know what it was. I went, and the lawyer handed me a box. He could’ve asked for my address and sent it. I never understood why he wanted me to come over. Still, I thanked him and walked away with the box.

I got home and opened it. There was a teddy bear, a blanket, and an old photograph on a frame. I theorized that one or both of my birth parents might be the anonymous sender, but there were no real clues in the box.

The portrait, however, was rather odd. It seemed old, and it was in a kind of sepia tone. Several kids were in front of a huge house similar to the group home where we grew up. I figured it had to be a children’s shelter as well.

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But why was I getting this photograph and the box? Why now? I had lived all my life without anyone except Kyle and the adults in our group. What was the purpose of this? I wasn’t really sure I wanted to find out until Kyle arrived home that night, and I showed him everything.

“You have to try to find this, Ricky. Whoever sent you this box and this picture wants you to know something,” he insisted.

“But it makes no sense. Why now? After all these years? And why not send a letter or something to explain things better? They could’ve written some sort of message or at least an address or something,” I shook my head at my friend.

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

“Still, I would be curious, I think. I mean… I know my mother died when I was little. But I know nothing about my birth dad. I won’t push you, but you have literally no knowledge of any relatives. Aren’t you curious?”

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“I guess I am… but it’s… it seems stupid to send this cryptic box instead of spelling things clearly,” I repeated, pursing my lips.

“Yeah. They could’ve been easier. But I’ll help you. Let’s try to find this place, and maybe, it’ll give you all the answers you’re looking for,” Kyle smiled. He was the perpetual optimist, unlike me.

I still decided to take his advice. I wanted to find this house. There was no general information at the local library or on the internet. I posted the image on social media, but nothing came of it. I talked to some people and even government institutions about this possible children’s shelter or orphanage, as they were called long ago. Nothing came of it.

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Finally, Kyle suggested calling a private investigator, and I hired one. After some months, the man had no idea where this was or the identity of anyone in the picture, so he refunded me for his services.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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A year later, I was tired of searching and not finding any results. But I didn’t stop. I did whatever I could think of. I hired two other P.I.s who couldn’t find anything either. But there was one librarian who said something interesting.

“This might not be in America, darling. It looks like a European house. Maybe, that’s why you haven’t had any luck,” she suggested, leaving me reeling.

How in the world would I find it if it was in Europe? How would I narrow down the search? It’s not like I had unlimited money to hire more P.I.s. I couldn’t find it. But for eight years, I tried. I tried to find these places, which Kyle was convinced would lead me to family members.

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Meanwhile, we were growing our business. We had to compete with giant companies, but people still trusted us greatly in our town and those around it, so it grew. We had offices, warehouses, and trucks by the time I was 27.

By then, I had yet to give up but didn’t have much hope of finding the house’s origins in the portrait. But I placed it on my desk at work, wishing that seeing it throughout the day would give me inspiration and a sense of belonging because I felt somewhat lonely in life.

Kyle had gotten married and moved in with his wife. I loved them dearly, and they were now expecting their first. They asked me to be the godfather, and I was so proud. However, living alone was hard, and I dated sometimes, but nothing really stuck.

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

The portrait seemed like my only other connection in life. Kyle knew before me that I needed to find wherever it came from, but it felt awful not being able to discover the answers. I never imagined that putting it in my office would finally lead to the truth.

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I finally met someone who recognized the photo and had the same one… Annmarie, the daughter of an important client who exclusively used our delivery services for their company’s products.

She had just taken over his father’s business and came to meet with me for some reason, except she got distracted.

“Why do you have this picture here?” she asked, her eyes squinting at me. She had just sat on the chair opposite mine on my desk, and instead of getting right down to business, she hit with that question.

“Excuse me? Have you seen this picture before?” I wondered, squinting right back at her.

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“Yes, that’s a picture of my grandmother, Lucille, and other kids, I guess,” Annmarie replied, shrugging. “I saw it among her things long ago. I asked her about it once.”

“What did she say? Can I talk to her too?” I immediately interrupted.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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“Grandma died a few years ago. But she told me it was taken at the orphanage in Eastern Europe where she grew up,” Annmarie answered. “So, why do you have it?”

I tried my best to explain the situation and the last eight years of my life. She didn’t have a lot of answers, but she called her father, who knew exactly where that building was located.

“My dad says that the group home is still working and has been run by the same family for over 80 years,” Annmarie said after calling her father. “Do you think… maybe, you and I are related? Maybe we’re family if someone gave you this picture, and I have this picture too?”

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I didn’t want to hope, and I was right not to because we took a DNA test, and Annmarie and I were not related. But now, I had more questions than answers, so I got the exact address of the place and used my savings to book a plane ticket.

I met the director, Willa, of the group home when I arrived. Fortunately, she spoke a little English with a broken accent. She had been working there for many years, as she also lived there. I showed her the picture I had, but she couldn’t recognize any of the kids, not even Lucille.

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

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“My mother would’ve recognized each child here, but she is gone now. I started working here around 30 years ago,” she said apologetically. “I’ll have to check some of the old archives, but there’s a good chance we won’t find much. This is a family-run place, and years ago, you didn’t have to document much.”

“I’ll appreciate any help you can give me,” I started, but my eyes focused on something. It was a framed thank you note on her desk. “Wait, your last name is Novik?”

“Yes,” she nodded.

“Me too,” I continued.

“Oh. Well… that’s a common name here. But if you have this picture… you see this man here?” she asked, pointing at the man next to the children. “You only asked me about the kids before, not the adults. That’s my grandfather. He founded this place. His last name is also Novik, of course. My father kept it running and made it better, thanks to my mother. I followed their tradition.”

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

“Could I be… related to you?”

“If you don’t know your parents, there’s really only one way to find out,” Willa said, and I nodded. I needed another DNA test, and this time, I waited with bated breath to find out the truth.

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I had been disappointed when the DNA test with Annmarie came back with nothing, but it seemed more plausible this time.

To our shock, Willa’s grandfather – the man in the picture – was most likely my great-grandfather because Willa was my cousin. Perhaps a 1st cousin once removed or perhaps a 2nd cousin, but a cousin nonetheless. Although, I would prefer to call her an aunt.

Therefore, Willa introduced me to some relatives, and one aunt said, “He looks just like Iker, doesn’t he?”

“Who is Iker?” I wondered.

“Iker was my cousin and a rebel… what do you call it? Eeh… the black sheep of the family,” Willa added. “He left many years ago for America when I was a little girl… oh, wait. Wow, I didn’t see that before, but Aunt Danika is right.”

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For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

For illustration purposes only | Source: Pexels

She looked at me with wide eyes, and everyone else did too. None of them had seen or heard of Iker in many, many years. A feeling in my chest grew, but I didn’t know what to do. I finally found family. I had actual relatives – a whole side of the family – but was that enough?

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Should I keep looking for answers? Should I find Iker? Was he the one who left the box with the lawyer? And who was my mother? What would you do?

Tell us what you think, and share this story with your friends. It might inspire them and brighten their day.

If you enjoyed this story, you might like this one about a man who died, and his widow and daughter discovered they were not entitled to the inheritance.

This piece is inspired by stories from the everyday lives of our readers and written by a professional writer. Any resemblance to actual names or locations is purely coincidental. All images are for illustration purposes only. Share your story with us; maybe it will change someone’s life. If you would like to share your story, please send it to info@amomama.com.

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