Belief in the Tooth Fairy lasts about as long as your most annoying classmate can keep his mouth shut. The same goes for Santa. These public mythologies are built on weak foundations, easily shaken when a group of children develops reason. They communicate, share evidence, and inevitably conclude that all their parents were in on a light-hearted, well-intentioned ruse. On the other side of the myth spectrum is religion—a collection of beliefs with stronger foundations whose implications are all but lighthearted. Somewhere between the two are the personal mythologies. These beliefs are not to be shared publicly in the way that five dollars under the pillow or an eternity in heaven are. Perhaps the myth was created when you asked your Dad a question, and he, not knowing the answer, fed you something to quell your curiosity. It may have grown from an offhand comment jeered by an older sibling. Perhaps you just made it up one day.
Regardless, these beliefs were, for however briefly, an unshakable fact in the compendium of your knowledge. That is, until one day, they weren’t. The brown-cows-make-chocolate-milk thing stopped adding up, or some Sunday PBS programming informed you that rainbows do not, in fact, have ends. If you weren’t so lucky to figure it out alone, you shared your myth one day, and some prick laughed aloud at your intellectual oversight. My myth was told to me by my mom. And it lasted for a while.
It goes like this: When I was born, my mom was the first person to touch me. She did it with her lips, and her lips left my shoulder forever marked with their imprint.
I imagined my birth was simple. On the 28th of June, in the second year of the new millennium, my mom was brought to a hospital room, and in it she felt no pain. They put her under with whatever magical air it is that makes moms feel nothing. And because she felt no pain, she had no fear as she watched them slice through her abdomen and pull from it her first child, a son. It was quiet when they did it. Neither of us surrendered a cry, gasp, tear, or grunt, only two smiles of two intrinsically connected human beings. My body was clean and bloodless and untouched by anyone. Even as the doctors held me, pulling me away from my mom, their touch did not count. When she held me in her arms, that somehow did not count as touch. Somehow, the first time another human touched me was when she kissed me on my shoulder, and left a mark. The mark is dark enough to contrast against the surrounding tones but still light, ethereal. And it is small—not two inches long, not half an inch wide.
This story has a lot of holes. But refusing to surrender the truth of its premises, I spent the first decade of my life filling those holes in. Something in the makeup of a new mother’s saliva makes the mark. And the skin of a newborn is only permeable for so long, so of course, later skin-saliva contact wouldn’t make a mark. That’s why only the first kiss stays. It’s an evolutionary adaptation, a way for moms to mark their children in case they are lost from the pack.
I was almost thirteen when I learned the truth about the light brown mark on my left shoulder. It was a birthmark—as simple as a little extra melanin. That it was a mere coincidence that mine formed in the shape of a pair of lips was news to me. The realization was acutely embarrassing. So confident I had been that I had shared my knowledge like gospel. When my young friends wondered aloud why their birthmarks were shaped the way they were, I made sure to tell them it was likely due to the way their mothers had first kissed them when they were born. If the mark was too small, perhaps their mother had spit a little before kissing them, a reasonable enough mistake. But my mom made no such error. Mine was in the perfect shape of a pair of lips.
Thirteen! I was horrified. By this time, I had made sushi for my family using raw fish. I had been trusted enough to defend the household from the perils of salmonella. But I believed this. How stupid to believe. I didn’t even believe in God (I was beginning to have my doubts, at least). The lip shape on my arm was so sensible, such empirical proof of the story my mom had told me. I felt betrayed.
Years went by living in the fact of my birthmark’s banality. I didn’t think much about it. But lately I’ve missed my myth. I’d like something to believe in that isn’t God or Art or Humanity or the Environment. So maybe I’ll start again. Birthmark or not, that light brown mark on my left shoulder is still shaped like lips. And maybe Mom did kiss me there that day; it would certainly be the spot to do it. I spent over half my life confident that my mother had kissed me permanently on the day I was born, that she had left a mark that would connect us forever. Why not keep that story?