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Tag Archives: So what!


DAK self portraitIn diagnosing my mother’s ulcer, the doctor did not use the word hypochondria. But the prevailing knowledge of the condition, and the doctor’s attitude, suggested that, while serious, this was an ailment she had brought upon herself. It was something that happened to nervous people. (Helicobacter pylori would not be identified for another three decades.) Rest and diet were the only known cure.

My father, who wasn’t exactly a happy-go-lucky kind of guy himself, was convinced that, once she came home, my mother would progress in her healing only if she could learn not to fret. To this end, he was determined to teach her to say, “So what!”

He spoke soothingly of how little things, whatever they were, didn’t really matter and how, by just saying, and believing, “So what!” she could exorcise the demons that put her gut in a knot.

We would be sitting at the dinner table, my mother recounting something from her day. As she began to become riled by the recollection, my father would prompt her, quietly: “So what?”

“So what,” Dorothy would parrot, clenching her teeth.

It took a lot of reminding to get her to say it on her own, but my father was a patient man. It took only one slap across my face to teach me that I was not allowed to prompt her.

My mother didn’t usually talk aloud to herself, but sometimes, even years later, I’d hear her exclamation of “So what!!” from the kitchen or her studio.

Eventually my father stopped urging. Still, I don’t think she ever truly believed the words or became less worried or less invested in the things that bothered her. She healed, in a way: a mended teacup with a few porcelain shards glued slightly out of alignment, their raw edges always knife-sharp if you got too close.