There’s an old nursery rhyme* that I think about a lot…
Monday’s child is fair of face;
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe;
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving;
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
is fair and wise, good and gay
I was born at about ten-o’clock, May 29, 1980. A Thursday. Being that I was a caesarian birth, I’m assuming my mother had never read the poem…but at least it’s better than Wednesday. (Or, for that matter Sunday. Who wants to live through middle school being “good and gay?”)
There were no significant happenings on May 29, 1980. No one famous was born. No one famous died. No wars started or ended. No major political movements sprung to life. No buildings unintentionally fell over. It was just another day. I know. I’ve Googled it. It intersects with a couple of holidays in countries and/or faiths I’ve never heard of and depending on the year, my birthday might take place on Memorial Day (in America) now and again. But not in 1980. Nothing really happened on May 29, 1980. Just me. I’m not sure if that’s deflating or inspiring.
After I was born, as the story goes, I would not stop screaming. As though being exposed to the world left me irreparably damaged. Maybe so. Deaf in one ear — both of them slightly oddly shaped. Lack of a muscle in my lower lip, producing a crooked, uneven smile. A perpetual insomniac. Perhaps a bit bipolar. At the time, they thought I might need emergency heart surgery — that I had a heart murmur. I either didn’t, or it went away, because to my knowledge, they never did that surgery — though my brother thought they did up until 2007. Maybe I should check on that.**
I would imagine the news that I may need emergency surgery and my endless screaming must have been unsettling for my parents. They’d previously lost a child — a miscarriage, and late-term from what I understand. I have only spoken with my father about that a couple of times. It’s an understandably difficult subject to talk about for him, even decades later. As such, I don’t have many details. I don’t really need them either. Truth be told, I’m kind of fortunate that kid didn’t make it…I probably wouldn’t have been born if it had.
Eventually, the screaming more or less stopped and I lived a basically normal childhood. Though I am told I threw up a lot as a baby. Apparently, I could hit a moving target at fifty paces. Good for me. Most of my life as a child was as you’d imagine almost anyone’s to be. It’s mostly a boring assortment of diapers, family meals, and essentially carefree times. I won’t bore you with it. Of course, there were the inevitable struggles…and those are the interesting part. So let’s go.
I mentioned a hearing problem. I’m completely deaf in my left ear. It hasn’t affected me much. You can’t miss what you didn’t have. However, one of my earliest memories is of an exploratory surgery that was performed on that ear. It wasn’t diagnosed right away. If you said my name, I responded. The doctor had done only small auditory tests of my hearing in which he stood behind me and said things that I would then have to parrot back to him. I heard well enough with my one ear to pass every test. I guess my parents noticed it at home. I’m still not really sure what happened there. Maybe I failed one of those tests you take in elementary school where you put on the headphones and you hear a series of beeps? I’m not sure how they discovered my “disability” (which it’s never been). At least it guarantees that I’ll never be drafted.
I get the sense that Mom was behind the testing. My mother, I think, wasn’t ever happy with the look of my ears. They stick out and look different from “normal” ears. Doesn’t bug me too much as an adult (until some smart-ass little kid mentions it, and I respond by talking about how well I sleep through the night without pissing the bed…then somehow I’M the jerk). It bugged my mom, though. She had me grow my hair down to cover my ears when I was little. (I ended up embracing the hair and kept it long until I was 18, when I cut it off as a matter of catharsis when I graduated from high school. Then I grew it back out when I was 19.) If she was dissatisfied with my visual abnormality, the internal one probably bugged her, too. She always seemed to want everything to be perfect, and if it wasn’t, Hell would be raised until it was corrected…so I was carted off to the children’s hospital, and they cut into my head.
I remember being scared. I remember hiding in the locker in the pre-op room until they forced me out. I remember the gas-mask going over my face. I remember the world between asleep and awake afterward, and trying to stay awake to see Voltron, but failing. And I remember what must have been weeks of my mother changing the dressing on my ear and eventually pulling out the stitches. I also know it didn’t help. They said I could have a hearing aid that would allow me to hear properly out of that ear…but in the nineteen-eighties, hearing aids were pretty noticeable, and as my mother was already unhappy with how my ears looked, I never got one…though for the next several years, I heard from her probably each month about how we needed to go in and get my ears “fixed” (which essentially meant she wanted me to get plastic surgery to more or less staple my ears to my head). It would have to have been done before I turned 12, while the insurance would still cover it. I’m not sure why that never happened…but I’m glad it didn’t. My glasses never would have fit me if she’d gotten her way.
If it seems that I’m painting an unfair picture of my mother, I don’t mean to. Mom wasn’t a bad person at heart. She was just dissatisfied. She wanted perfection in all things, but as we all know NOTHING is perfect. She was the type of person who just couldn’t get the hang of that. She was not ever intentionally abusive — though she had her moments when she’d smack my brother or me and we definitely did not deserve it. She was never intentionally cruel — though any child whose mother calls him “stupid” to his face at a young age does tend to develop some esteem issues (though to be fair, she actually said, “Don’t be so stupid,” implying that she knew I could do better). She had a short fuse, and when it went off, it went off. I reckon that’s one of the traits I picked up from her side.
I like to remember my mother realistically. (She died in 1994 — October fifth, according to the death certificate. My dad’s birthday. Nice, huh? More on him later.***) When I speak or write of her, I tend to immediately gravitate toward the negative. That’s partially because that’s the stuff that made the deepest impact on me, but also because I sometimes over-compensate in trying to have a realistic memory of her — not a glorified, idealized memory, as most people have of the dead. I sometimes fail to mention the good things. That she loved me.
My mom went out of her way for me a lot of times. She spent WAY too much money to give me all the toys and clothes I wanted. She used to sing me to sleep as a small child. I still remember some of the songs she’d sing. Sometimes that makes me sad, because I can’t quite remember her voice anymore…but I’d like to think she hit all the right notes. (I do know she’d often fall asleep before I did, often in mid-verse.) She provided for me, to her fault. She tried her best to instill Godly values in me — she herself being a Sunday School teacher and minister’s daughter — and I think it really hurt her that she ended up being the only one in the family for YEARS who regularly attended church. She was often kind, warm, caring, and comforting. She was a good mother. It’s important that I say that. She may have given me some of my neuroses, but she also gave me love.
She also gave me my first real bass and she started a lifelong journey in doing so. One that has both outlived her and sustained her…but I’ll get to that later…
…Thursday’s child has far to go…
* Believed to be in the Public Domain.
** Upon conversation with my dad, he insists that this happened to my brother and not to me, but since I’ve lived 28 years of my life believing it to be my own story, I’m sticking with it. I think it’s supported by the fact that my brother thought I had an early heart-surgery. Pity mom’s dead. She’d know for sure.
*** Note: I will talk more about my dad in later chapters. Remember, this is non-linear. I will say in advance that I love my dad, and I always have…but the really influential moments in his impact on my life come after my mom’s death…at least the way I tell the story. I have many childhood memories of him, and I’ll get to those, but he did much more to shape my adulthood. Mom was the one shaping my childhood, which is what we’re dealing with here.