Yesterday I took my mother to a regular check-up with her doctor. Nothing has changed. Aside from Alzheimer’s she is healthy. All her former complains (arthritis, costochondritis, GIRD) have been forgotten, and so they no longer trouble her. (Some insufferable Pollyanna’s would argue that this is a positive aspect of Alzheimer’s, but I would rather keep my aches and pains and still remember your name and why I loved Bob Dylan.) I have never before considered impacted earwax to be a medical event, but that was the main topic of our visit. I will spare you the details of my mother’s earwax and its removal. There will be no illustrations. Let’s just say that it was, for me, a uniquely appalling and disturbing experience. In order to calm my queasiness, I resorted to Wikipedia. (The efficacy of factoids as a means to allay anxiety is seriously underreported.) I learned that there are in fact two kinds of cerumen: moist and dry. Asians and Native Americans have dry cerumen, while Europeans and Africans have the moist kind. The difference could, possibly, be related to diet. This distinction has lately proved useful to anthropologists in studying the migrations patterns of Eskimos. Even mom’s doctor, who is an adept at cerumen removal, did not know this factoid. I am hoping she will share it with other patients. I look forward to cerumen classifications becoming Common Knowledge.
After the doctor’s appointment I took Mom to lunch at Mint, a lovely restaurant in Tarrytown owned by Hassan, who is Moroccan and charming and always gives me tastes of several cheeses. Mom assured me she had been to Morocco many times and spent time on the wide beaches there. She asked me how many children I have. The instant I answered, truthfully, that I have two, I regretted it. For years, I longed for a third child or even a set of twins, and now I can rewrite my history and have as many children as I like. I can name them according to my obsession of the week: Abelardo, Ishmael, Daphne and Hyacinth.
The possibilities do not end with offspring. Since Mom daily asks me what I do, (Why are you leaving me? What are you doing?) it seems that this may well be my chance to have the careers I once imagined for myself but did not pursue, due to lack of talent or circumstance or living in the wrong century. My career as a professional Ping Pong player, for instance. It never got off the ground, off anything. But I dreamt of it. I dreamt that when the journals wrote about my exploits, they would call me Careening Christine, the Joan of Arc of Table Tennis. Then there was my vocation as a cartographer, back when maps were hand drawn and decorated with mythical animals. There are also my careers as a defrocked nun and a botanical explorer and an opera set-designer, all imagined, all unrealized.
The next time Mom asks me what I am doing, and there will be a next time, because any question worth asking once is worth asking twenty times, if I do not tell her that I am mapping the newly created country of Surlandia, and then granting an interview to Sports Illustrated about my proprietary line of Ping Pong paddles made with sustainable tropical wood, I will have only myself to blame for my pedestrian and monochromatic life. Again.