For an adoptee, the Question goes something like this:
“Any history of heart attack, stroke, debilitating diseases in your family?”
For me, when I hear The Question, my eyes glaze over and my thoughts wander.
In my mind, I’m suddenly a character alone on a stage, a stage bereft of life, perhaps only a lone tree, possibly like Waiting For Godot.
I always liked the name and was once certain that I was part Russian.
I speak haltingly, yearning, confused, perhaps speaking to Godot himself, gazing blankly into the distance.
“Family medical history?
Is that what you ask, good sir?
Is that the data you require?
(I walk to the front of the stage, peering out)
I…I don’t know. I just don’t know the answer.
I wish I knew but I don’t.
(I pensively take my bowler in my hand)
I do wonder – will death arrive soon?
A heart attack?
Perhaps already growing?
(I lean against the tree)
If I were to somehow know this history…would I then be safe?
But that is an impossibility.
Knowledge is an impossibility.
The records are sealed.
Far from here.
(impotent rage starts to rise in my voice at this point)
So, I wander the earth.
Waiting for the diagnosis.
In actual earth time, about one second has passed since the question was posed.
I say calmly to my new caregiver, my torturer.
“I don’t know…my family history. I’m adopted.”
My doctor, taken aback, stares for a few seconds at the void, then proceeds.
“Well, then. Let’s have a listen to that heart.”
Things, however, are different since I found my mother.
Now I know some family history.
Now I’m ready for The Question.
I actually look forward to it.
But no one asks.
What I need, I have concluded, is a new doctor.
A new doctor would ask me The Question.
I’ve waited my entire life to answer The Question.
With a new doctor, I would at last have my triumph.
I’m quite sure it would go something like this:
“What’s that you ask, doctor?
My family medical history?
Well, I just happen to have that information.
Heart disease, it seems, was rampant
with many dying quite young from it.
My grandfather Russell, for instance, died of it in his fifties and his father, August –
he hailed from Southern Germany
near Stuttgart –
a village called Uhingen –
died of it in his forties.
My Uncle Jack, he was a hell of a drinker and, coming home late one night, drove he and his girlfriend –
he was married at the time with six kids –
anyway, he was plastered apparently and drove his red ‘65 Chevy Impala into a telephone pole and killed them both instantly in a fiery wreck.
Oh – and Uncle Rich –
he was tall like me –
he shot himself behind the barn.
Unfortunately, he didn’t die immediately but was laying too weak to move in the cow manure for three days with the crows pecking at him –
that’s what the coroner said anyway –
that explained the missing skin.
My great grandfather Gerald had severe depression –
Or “the blues” as they his wife Rhonda called it –
and apparently walked the earth like a zombie, barely lifting his eyes to meet yours.
Everyone called him a “good for nothing.”
And Aunt Jeannie, my mom’s sister, insisted on a having a career but the family put her in an asylum for being uppity.
Too much electroshock took her down.
and Morris and Jake, my mother’s first cousin’s –
that would make them my first cousins once removed –
they drank themselves to death on highballs.
So, as you can see, no cancer anywhere!”
My new doctor glances up at me.
I beam with pride.
I know my family history.