Mother's Day

© 1999

       It’s Mother’s Day and I’m going to visit her memorial again. I’m on the train now. When I’m on trains I stare out the window most of the time because I don’t like looking at the other people. I know they know who I am. Well, they most likely don’t know which one I am, we’re a little difficult to tell apart, but I know they can tell I’m one of her children. It’s strange to be famous and anonymous at the same time.

       I always look out the window because I don’t like their blue eyes. Almost everyone on this planet has blue eyes. It’s a real provincial world and so they don’t get out much, and everybody in-breeds. Everyone’s got those bizarre recessive genes that make them look like ghosts: sky-colored eyes, corn-colored hair, and paper-colored skin. Even if our “family” wasn’t famous, I’d still stick out like a sore thumb. I look like some kind of speckled, brown-eyed carrot among these translucent people. But even though they all have that same color scheme, they manage to look so different from one another. It always amazed me how one species could have so many different ways of being human. But I’m sure I only think that way because where I come from we used to have to wear nametags to tell each other apart.

       Now I know how strange my upbringing was. No one ever thinks their boyhood is all that weird, unless they have something to compare it to. Sure, we were always told about the way everyone else lived, but how do you know what to believe when you never see evidence of it? But that was one thing my mother made sure of: We would never be lied to about who or what we are. All our questions would be answered truthfully. Proof would be offered upon request. So when I asked why we all looked the same and all our staff looked different, they told me plenty.

       They told me that outside, everyone had unique looks, except in the case of twins. It isn’t normal to identify your best friends by glancing at their nametags instead of their faces. It isn’t normal to have to identify yourself on the phone to your brothers. It also isn’t normal to master quantum physics by age six, but that was life, and we lived it.

       At the complex, we tended to form our closest attachments with our roommates. The guys in my bunk were Simon and Copland. I felt most comfortable with them throughout my boyhood, for some reason, even though everyone in the complex was just as much my brothers as those two were. If you want to get technical, we’re all the same person, even, but it’s hard to think of it that way since we’re all separate minds. We even have varying interests sometimes, which is odd considering we have the exact same genes and we’re raised so similarly. One of the few really major differences in our environments was the music. Music was always a big part of life in our boyhood.

       I was very familiar with the music of Aaron Copland and Paul Simon, because Copland and Simon were my roommates. I never liked Copland’s music much (which caused some arguments), and I could deal with Paul Simon’s but I liked his stuff with Art Garfunkel better. I never met the guy who got named after Garfunkel. I wonder if he exists? He’s probably on another planet. In any case, I was very proud of my name because it meant I got to have an intimate relationship with the music of Jimi Hendrix.

       I’ve seen videos of Jimi and I still think it’s kind of funny that we both carry the name Hendrix, since he was this elegant dark-skinned man and I’m this speckled little redheaded boy, but the truth is I feel pretty close to him, even now that I don’t listen to him as much as I used to. I always wished I had time to learn to play like he could, but first classes and later my training took up all my free time. I’ll learn one day. My mother would have been really impressed with me if she knew how much I knew about him. Sometimes I used to daydream that I was Jimi, and I’d sing to myself in the shower, holding the scrubber like a microphone and pretending my voice wasn’t embarrassingly high.

       I got to be Hendrix because he was one of my mother’s favorite musicians. She liked the music from that era more than any other time up until her death, so even though she’d said that we could be given the names of any musician, there were certain artists whose names had to be reserved for the children that actually came out of her body.

       I think that’s why I feel so old. I was created hundreds of years ago, as a fertilized egg, and I was frozen until sixteen years ago, when they thawed my zygote and grew me up. Cloning me five hundred times in the process, of course. I feel like my body is so old. No one in the complex had ever reported feeling that way except me. But it makes sense. I waited nearly half a millenium to be born. If I had been allowed to be born naturally I would have been dead and rotten on Earth by now. I feel like I should be dead sometimes. Other times I marvel at the fact that I’m alive. Because, chances are, I never would have been born if science had left it up to nature. And here I am, four hundred and three years after the death of my mother . . . living and breathing. But for so many years I was frozen, literally packed in ice, life made still for what might as well have been forever. I feel like I never really came completely unfrozen. I’m still cold. I feel like I should be living in the sixties, when this music my mother loved was just being born. Even though that music was old even when my mother was born, she made it such a part of her that I’m still feeling its influence. I wonder how she found time to enjoy her music so much in between genetic engineering projects, rocket science, microbiology, and quantum physics? One of the smartest people to have ever lived had a musical human soul.

       I’ve gone to my mother’s memorial at least a dozen times that I remember. Usually it was for Mother’s Day or her birthday. I usually go alone, on this train. I endure the stares because it’s worth it to go out. I once thought it was stupid of them to let us go out without bodyguards. We are, after all, the single most important human resource in the entire group of civilizations. We run and design their ships. We control their economy. We create science. We’re the basis on which all of society rests, and yet . . . they let us go out like anyone else, unarmed, unguarded, easily recognizable. But I know there are at least two reasons for this. One reason is that our mother wanted us to have the choices anyone else has. “I chose my career and my life. My children should be given the choice for their own destinies as well,” she said. Therefore, we get no special treatment, other than our being raised with our clones (another of Mom’s specifications) and being given access to extremely advanced curricula and equipment. Of course, there is always the second reason, the one I found out myself: There’s always more where I came from. Funny how we’re so precious but they can always make more of us. It actually costs them less to make ten of us than it does to ship a crate of jeans offworld. Ridiculous. But at the same time, perfectly sensible.

       My mother’s biggest memorial is on my planet. I guess I should be grateful for that. It’s just a stone statue, though. A pretty small one, too. She looks beautiful carved in marble. Even though the marble is light gray I can see somehow the redness of her hair and the brightness in her brown eyes, and the determined love on her stone face. She holds in her arms a book and a model of an atom, and she stands atop a small platform which displays her name: Sara Ann Miller. Probably a thousand people had her name back then. Now a hundred thousand have carried her genes.

       The memorial is in front of her museum. That place holds all the dull details of the projects she completed in her life, with more information on the stuff we did and are doing. I find the details of her non-scientific life much more interesting. I like to visit, but it always makes me wonder. She isn’t buried at the memorial. I can’t find any details of where her body is, so there’s no way to visit her real grave. I feel bad that I was never able to be a good son to my mother and besides that I can’t even visit her on Mother’s Day. That cold stone statue isn’t really her. But then again, I suppose her dead body isn’t either. I wonder if she donated herself to science? Sometimes I think I hate science, even though I’ve helped invent half of it.

       I’m still looking out the window of the train, to avoid the stares of the paper doll people. I wonder if they wonder what’s going on in my head the way I wonder what goes on in theirs. What’s it like to not think about science all the time? New science is always getting born in my head, based on things I’ve read and things that just pop in there. It’s not uncommon for a few of my brothers and I to all come up with a similar idea on the same day and all report it within an hour of one another. When that happens the complex suggests we meet and talk about it to further our ideas. Sometimes we all say the same things at the same time. I found out normal people don’t do that to the extent we do, not even close. But that makes sense. Normal people aren’t carbon copies of each other either.

       I’m almost to the memorial. When I get there I’ll go right past the statue first and look at all the neat stuff in the section about us. I like to read it again and again even though I have the book of it and I’ve had it memorized for years. When my mother found out that her genes for scientific genius were heritable, she knew she had to give us to the world . . . but the world had to pay her in promises.

       There was a list of acceptable names for her “original” children, with the specification that all clones had to be named after a musician of one sort or another and must be well-versed in that composer’s music. It was to give us a sense of individual identity despite having five hundred siblings with the same face. There was a personal voice-recorded message for us and about a billion mandatory books and music we were to be exposed to. There were even recipes for foods we were to eat and little step-by-step life lessons we were to be given. This was all my mother’s sincere effort to be a parent to each and every one of us. She never actually raised a single child herself. I bet she would have made a great mom.

       When I get to the museum I’ll definitely go read that stuff again, and then maybe I’ll stop by the development center to see what new things other complexes have come up with today. When I’m done I’ll go look at the statue some more. This is all provided that Joplin doesn’t come early.

       I’m supposed to meet my sister Joplin there at the statue. We’ve never met face to face. We’ve been on anonymous message boards together—we all are—but text is even harder to tell apart than we are in person, so I have no idea if I’ve ever truly exchanged words with her. It’s very possible, since both Joplin and I, according to reports, were each the first to leave our complex, and posting of ideas on message boards tends to increase for us once we leave our clan.

       We got a message that we ought to meet on basis of a similar idea. I’m not sure who arranged it, but I think I know why. I’ve had a big idea for a while. My sister must be sharing that idea. I accepted the anonymous suggestion once I found out she was going to be on-world, and I knew we both knew the other was coming and where to meet, but that was it. Anonymous message boards were just that: anonymous. And we’d never questioned them. Whoever had the kind of access that allowed posting on the boards obviously knew what they were doing.

       As I’m getting off this train I have to wonder if people make the connection. Do they think about why I’m coming here on Mother’s Day? Do they understand what it’s like to be frozen while your mother’s alive, and then be born only to find that your mother is now the frozen one, pressed into a marble statue? Do they know what it means when a museum is the closest thing you have to a parent? Do they know what it’s like to be raised to the tune of complicated memos? I know they don’t know. It’s a rare condition to be frozen for four hundred years and then defrosted in this weird world. Even though I grew up in the twenty-fifth century I feel like I remember the nineteen-sixties.

       Joplin is early. I’m doubting that anyone else standing around by a statue on this planet would have red hair. We all have red hair, freckles, and brown eyes, absolutely no variation from that color scheme has ever been found. Scary how a freakish thing like that can be comforting.

       I’m standing wordlessly next to my sister. It’s not uncomfortable; it’s just our way, and we both know it. We look at our mother together. Dead and gone so long before we’d been born. It makes the fifty years between us seem so puny.

       “Hello, Hendrix,” she says finally, turning to me.

       “Nice to finally meet you in person,” I reply. We execute the polite bow and take each other’s arms, on our way to get some food. We want Greek salad. We both know it.

       “I’ve got to say this,” Joplin says once we’ve got our salads. “I know it’s silly to go into these sentimental subjects, but it’s so wonderful to meet a real sibling.”

       “I know,” I tell her.

       “We’ve both grown up with complete clones of ourselves and yet I’ve never felt so close to anyone. Even though I’m a middle-aged woman and you’re just a teenager.”

       “Don’t remind me,” I say. I want to be a middle-aged man. It would be nice to have a body that matches my mind.

       “You probably know I take first impressions very seriously.”

       “I do, too.”

       “I think I’d like to work with you. Would you join me?”

       “I’d have to move off the planet, wouldn’t I?”


       “I’ll think about it. Is this about the time project?”

       “The big one, yes.”

       We both want to go back. We chew our breadsticks silently.

       “I’ve never met a real child of our mother before,” I tell her after I’m tired of holding it in. “So can I ask you something?”

       She nods and fixes her eyes on me.

       “Do you ever feel cold? You know what I mean. You were frozen almost as long as I was.”

       “I used to feel that way, yes.”

       “Not anymore?”


       “How’d you get rid of it?”

       “I felt cold because I’d been waiting so long to be born, just frozen in time—”

       “I know. Me too.”

       “But I realized . . . so has everyone else.”

       “No they haven’t.”

       “Most aren’t frozen with ice. But we all await the passage of time to begin our lives. Everyone alive today has been frozen in time just as long as we have. And we all go back much further than Sara Ann Miller.”

       It stuns me to understand her and see that she is right. She reads it in my eyes.

       “Why do you still want to find her, then?” I demand. I know she wants to learn about collapsing time so that she can go back to visit our mother. I know because it was the first thing I thought of.

       “I owe her all of these,” she explains, opening her shoulder bag. Inside are multicolored envelopes; old-time Mother’s Day cards. Just like the kind I like to make.

       “I want to deliver mine too,” I exclaim.

       “So what do you say? Shall we collaborate?”

       “It might never work. But I want to try.”

       “I knew you’d say that.”

       “I bet I can say something you didn’t expect . . . ”

       “Oh?” She has a twinkle in her eyes. I love it.

       “We’ll take Mom to Woodstock.”

       She shakes her head. “I already thought of that.”

       We get up together and hold each other’s arms. We go to stand in front of the statue of our mother. We both imagine that she is smiling at us.

       “Happy Mother’s Day.”