My mother died when I was a baby. I have no memory of her. I have seen a jumpy home movie that show’s her for a few seconds. That’s it.
Of course people tell you your whole life, usually with a sad look on their faces, that it must be a very intense thing for you, having grown up with a mother.
I usually say something like “my father was father and mother to me,” which is true. Or I say, sometimes with bitterness, “well, I was kinda ‘brought-up’ by a series of ‘housekeepers’ who took care of me, kind of like taking care of the house.”
When I look at a picture of myself as a baby sometimes my eyes look sad to me. Is it my imagination? Is it the reflected grief I have seen in others’ faces when, particularly as a child, I would say I didn’t have a mother ‘cause she died.
But the truth is that I don’t know how it feels not to have had a mother — a person I called mother or thought of as being my mother. How could I know? How could I know what was missing?
A few years ago, there was a stretch of time when I got worried that there was something wrong with my heart. I had this pain in my chest that didn’t get worse but didn’t go away. I knew I was crazy. People don’t go around having heart attacks for months at a time. I also felt like the pain was strangely familiar, like I’d had it as far back as I could remember.
I went to my doctor. He checked me out and hooked me to an EKG. He didn’t like something he saw, so he said I should get a stress test. I did. There was nothing wrong with my heart. I went back to my doctor, who’d realized by then that he was wrong about his interpretation of the EKG. That was that, as far as he was concerned. He was done; nothing more to say. You’re fine. Go home.
I said: “Wait a minute. What about my pain? Good, I’m not dying of a heart attack, but what’s this pain? Maybe it’s not gonna kill me, but it still hurts.”
He looked at what he’d written on my chart. “Atypical pain,” he said.
Oh, I thought, I must have got it from my mother. From losing her, that is. I wonder it’s all that “atypical.” I imagine a lot of us some pains around with us our whole lives.