Love story has happy ending

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Allow your thoughts to focus on Russia, that mysterious land of intrigue, once a friend, later an enemy and threat and now an unknown puzzle.

Visualize what you think, what you know, what you've heard. Gray, gloomy skies. Unhappy people. Non-descript, rundown living quarters. Little heat. Poor cooling. Inadequate housing, food, medical care, transportation, general education. Splintered families. Deep feelings of dispair, uncertainty, even fear. High crime. Crooked government. Little opportunity for change.

Shift those thoughts and that stage to an orphanage in that same country.

Worst of the worst.

A million kids of all ages, homeless and parentless, unattached from diversified backgrounds, unsettled pasts and even more challenged futures. Neglected, even abused.

Think 15 babies in a single room cared for by young women in their 20s who may care but are forced, by sheer number, to herd them like cattle, to dangerously drug them with Phenobarbital so that sedated control is more manageable.

Imagine heads shaved so close there is little distinction between boys and girls, unmatched clothes identified more accurately outside the walls as rags, a smelly porridge mix of chicken broth, beets and carrots for food delivered to even tiny children in old Coke bottles through nipples whose tops are clipped for better flow.

No vitamins, no antibiotics, old boilers that serve as potties, hard, huge wooden playpens where some learn to stand and to walk amid the constant bumping, toyless playgrounds, no concept of mommies and daddies or family.

Say the words helpless, defenseless. Repeat them for emphasis.

Remember the number 16. That's the age those who make it that far are released, who take that unprepared departure to the confusing outside world, armed with no bonds or attachments and with few clues how to exist, to survive.

Some of the boys, likely destructive to themselves and to others, have an option, usually the military or street life that often leads to prostitution. Girls, seeking survival, sell their bodies, often find undesirable paths and live a hellish existence from day to day.

Now reach for a name. Elena. Put a real person, a breathing human being, into the mix rather than simply a cold statistical number.

Born as the second child to a 21-year-old Russian girl, abandoned in the hospital by a fleeing mother shortly after birth, assigned almost immediately to the orphanage and seemingly destined, though no fault of her own, for the cruel fate of many young girls, she is one of the lucky ones.

Only seven months old and unaware, she escaped.

A haunting little voice, echoing in the head of a Greenville woman, wouldn't let go. It ignored initial disbelieving responses by her husband and children, planted gripping seeds of action and eliminated excuses, answered questions even before they were asked and created a comforting path laden with heavy doses of patience, hope and faith.

Because of that, Elena now has a full name, Elena Jess Causey. She has a mother and father, Evelyn and Mark Causey. She has two brothers, Cory and Matthew. She has a home. She is loved. She has a future. Her look back will be brief, not painful, and explained by those she trusts instead of memories she regrets. And her life, no matter what direction it ultimately takes, will always be the better part of a genuine love story.

&#8220There was a baby overseas with our name on it,” Evelyn says simply of the tiny soul who changed her life. &#8220I knew it. Something kept tugging at me. I had dreams about it. It wouldn't go away and the more we ran from it, the more it followed us.”

International adoption is not easy.

Overcoming the puzzled &#8220are you crazy” looks of your own family is just the beginning.

Evelyn, chief financial officer for family-owned Camellia Communications and Mark, an environmental scientist with Montgomery Water Works, had thought about having more children.

The &#8220little voice” convinced them to do that.

They started the adoption process in late 2002, passed the rigid investigatory inquires, submitted papers to Russia in September 2003, chose Rostov-on-Don, south of Moscow and 500 miles from the Ukrainian border, as a region of concentration, listed a child between the ages of birth and two years as their preference, then sat back and waited, unsure of what might happen.

In April 2005, they got a call. A seven-month-old girl was available. Though authorities assumed she might be too young, the Causeys knew otherwise and were elated.

A 14-hour flight and three-day whirlwind trip introduced them to the orphanage, the director and Elena. It was love at first sight followed by more paperwork, the return home and anticipation of anxious and perhaps prolonged delays.

&#8220We just hoped nothing bad would happen to her,” Evelyn admitted, recalling horror stories heard earlier.

Incredibly, the approval notice arrived almost as the plane landed.

Two weeks later they were back in Russia, appearing through an interpreter before a judge, taking Elena - now Jess - from the only surroundings she ever knew, completing financial arrangements (average adoptions cost $25,000), obtaining credentials from the U.S. Embassy and boarding the aptly named Delta Baby Flight that included 17 couples and their new children.

Within weeks, Jess started to improve developmentally. Her hair grew back and proper nourishment gave natural color to what had been an ashen, gray look.

&#8220She only needed love and care,” Evelyn said.

Today, nearing her fourth birthday in September, she is &#8220very girly” and like most little girls into princesses, dolls and stuffed animals.

She laughs and grins a lot and seems in control of the Causey household.

She can find Russia on a globe, knows she is adopted and is being taught to be proud of her heritage.

Her brothers say they can't imagine life without her. Her parents admit she brings them together, involves them in things they would otherwise ignore and makes them all more understanding of what being a family really means.

Could there be a more powerful message, a more chilling plea.

Jess is one of the lucky ones in a world with far too many unwanted Elenas, far too few Causeys.

But hers is a story worth telling, worth sharing and worth hoping &#8220little voices” will cause it to be repeated again and again.

Interested? Contact Families of Russian and Ukrainian Adoptions at 1-703-560-6184. Ed Darling is president and publisher of Greenville Newspapers LLC. Contact him at 382-3111 or