When I was a little girl, I’d sometimes think that my mother had been replaced with either a realistic robot or a CIA spy. I’d imagine this on those occasions when she was stern or grouchy (or both). I used the word mean at the time, just as my children did when they were little and I was stern or grouchy (or both). When I’d start to think Mom had been replaced it was, needless to say, worrisome. Fortunately, I had a way to check.

Long before I was born, when she and my dad were stationed in Africa, my mom had a small cyst removed from her forehead. After the doctor treated her, he put a small piece of rubber band in the wound so it would drain. (I’m serious.) It left a tiny hole, not much bigger than a pin’s mark, right in the middle of her forehead. When the wound healed, the tiny hole remained. I had to get very close to her to see the hole–no one noticed it unless she pointed it out.

My mission was dangerous. I had to get close enough to the possible robot or spy to see if the hole was still there. If it was, I was safe. Mom was just having an off day. Certainly those who would replace her did not know about the hole. If it was gone, I was in considerable peril, not to mention close range. I’d prepare excuses for the potential robot/spy. “Oh I thought something was in your hair,” I’d imagine saying so that I could wriggle of the room and plot my escape. As it turns out, though, the hole was always there, and I would travel in mere seconds from the realm of immediate danger to the land of relief.

A few weeks ago, when my mom was hurting, the nurse gave her a pain pill. Since Mom weighs in at less than 100 pounds and is not routinely on pain medication, it’s easy to imagine how loopy she became. My sisters were both with her, and they recounted the moment. Mom, although quite ill at the time, became lively on the codeine and began recounting her days as a CIA spy. Apparently she went into some detail. She chuckles about it now when I remind her, but she doesn’t elaborate. All she’ll say is that her mind went many places that evening.

This morning I checked. The tiny hole is still there. But now I guess I’ll never know. My mom has always been a woman of mystery.