Early Advent, just before Madonna and child begin to appear on Christmas cards, I went to the Cancer Risk and Genetic Assessment Center at our hospital. Because my mother died of pancreatic cancer, my doctor suggested I be scanned to see if I carry the gene mutation that tends to cause it.
A woman brought me into a small office and pulled up my genogram on her laptop. She turned the screen toward me and reviewed the basics, how half of my genes came from my mother, and half from my father. She showed me a chart of genes and zeroed in on two: BRACA1 and ATM. If either of these is broken in some way, she said, the risk goes up.
I suppose I should have been concentrating more on what the counselor was explaining to me, but my mind followed my heart in the moment, and I felt an unexpected, deep closeness to my mother. Half my architecture she created. Half my blood is hers. I may have inherited from her a crippled line of life-code, but that is only one fragment clinging—perhaps—to the curled helix of DNA within me. What crowds my mind is the whole of her donation. I am half her. And maybe just a bit more. Women inherit 50% of their DNA from each parent, but men receive approximately 51% from their mother and 49% from their father. That’s it, I thought, I am my mother’s boy. I was always more like her than like Dad.
In the way that like often repels like, I was not close to my mother. When she died I felt as if I had never really known her. With the possible exception of my father, perhaps no one ever did.
In the 24 years since her death I have only lately been able to cry for my mother. I want to capture those tears in a bottle.
A moment later her blood is half flowing from my vein into a clear vial. I always look away when they take my blood, but this time I look. Mama, I smile, there you are! So that’s where you’ve been hiding.