I started my life with the cleanest of slates, so to speak. Everything went swimmingly well for Howard for those first two and a half years in what was metaphorically a perfectly chlorinated pool. But then comes my first memory of infancy. I may not be accurately depicting the facts, but I promise you I'm accurately depicting my memory.
In the last week of October 1957, my mother disappeared. My dad went off to work during the day, driving a cab, and a strange woman showed up at the house to take care of me.
I think her name was Mrs. Weatherburn. I can't remember her name as accurately as I can remember the fact that she wore dentures. I didn't know what dentures were at the time, which made things worse. In addition to being terrorized by the fact that my mother was gone, I had to deal with an old woman who would go into our bathroom in the morning, put her fingers in her mouth, rip out all her teeth in one piece, brush them in front of me, and then put them back into her face.
I felt as if I were living in a horror movie. You have no idea how scared I was. Every day after my father went to work, I was left alone with a lady who ripped out her teeth. All I wanted was my mommy. But Mommy had gone away. I felt like a small, human Jewish Bambi. In the span of seven days, I went from gleefully happy to utterly miserable.
At the end of the week, my dad informed me that we were going to pick up "the baby." I remember this as clearly as yesterday. I can tell you honestly I had no idea what "the baby" meant. He seemed excited about "the baby." He could have said we were picking up a lemur. It would have meant the same thing to me.
I want to clarify what "the baby" was. In the fifties, when women were pregnant and ready to give birth, they checked into the hospital for a week. At that time, children were not welcome as visitors in the maternity ward, which is why I didn't see my mother for a week. All this makes sense to me now, but it didn't then.
We drove to Mount Sinai Hospital in downtown Toronto. I hadn't been there in almost three years, and I didn't recognize the place. It was a cold, gray, drizzly day. We parked in the back of the building, and my dad disappeared inside to get "the baby."
I was sitting quietly in the car with Mrs. Weatherburn, waiting. I remember not saying anything for fear that she might talk to me and bare her teeth. I was afraid that those teeth might jump out at me at any moment. After what seemed like an eternity, my mother emerged through the hospital's big metal door.
I remember watching my mom, who was my whole life, coming out to the car. I was so excited to see her again. She was carrying something wrapped in blankets. This must be "the baby." My dad helped her into the backseat. Mommy leaned over, said, "I love you," and gave me a kiss.
As she leaned over, I looked inside all those blankets she was carrying and I could see a little face. There was another person with my mommy. Who was this? Was it "the baby"?
From that moment on, my life was different. My mom tells me that my whole demeanor changed. My sense of contentment was replaced with agitation.
Stevie-that's what they called "the baby"-needed very little attention. He had a couple of meals a day, a diaper change once in a while, and the rest of the time he slept. If you do the math, it worked out to about 5 percent of my mom's