Thursday, June 30

the others

Growing up one-armed can be a very lonely experience. But this never occurred to me until I was well into adulthood. As a child, I was surrounded by two-handed people doing everything the two-handed way. So I kind of forgot that I was different––like the little chick that starts to bark, thinking the family dog is its mother. 

Meeting another girl––or boy––with only one arm was very rare. I can only think of a handful of occasions. There was a guy in my class at college with a deformity leaving him minus one forearm and hand. But we weren't friends. It was almost like we avoided each other on purpose because it was too weird. The sum total of our communication in four years amounted to a brief greeting one afternoon when he rolled by me on his skateboard. I don't even remember his name. I do remember he was the lead singer in a punk band, and I'm not really into punk.

I'm actually pretty shy when I see people "like" me in public. I feel awkward, wondering if I should talk to them or pretend I don't notice. Most often, I sidle away, feeling like one of us broke an unspoken rule about not turning up at the same place at the same time––someone didn't get the memo, there's been a glitch in the matrix.

But meeting other handicapped people was not high on my agenda for the first twenty-five years of my life. I mostly did everything I could to forget what made me different. I preferred to blend in with the crowd, and when everyone around you has two arms, it's easy to forget you don't.

But two's company, and when I met Rick, I realized how alone I really felt. Rick lost his left arm to cancer when he was a kid. I met him on a hot summer day at a vaulting clinic. He told me to stand on top of a horse, so I did. The connection was instant. We exchanged notes on one-arm living. He taught me to hold a horse hoof between my legs. Allied in a world of two-armed people, we relished the company. When I'm with Rick, I feel special and average at the same time.

Only several years after college did I start to develop an interest in other people with similar handicaps. It started slow, but now it's verging on an obsession. Turns out I'm in good company. It seems the more I think about it, the more people similar to me I run into...

I recently saw a woman with atrophied hands at a coffee shop. She was sitting with friends, using her nose to navigate a touch screen phone (I can't even do that with my fingers).

Last week, I found myself in a grocery store with two other patrons that appeared to be amputees. It was like a convention that no one had signed up for. I wondered if other people in the store were concerned that it might be contagious.

The one-arm way
At a billiard bar last night with Little Gen and Asif, there was a guy with a stub leg playing pool. Personally, I think he had an unfair advantage, sitting nearly level with the table in his wheelchair. I caught his eye when I walked by and we looked at each other in a moment of recognition, much like bikers hold out a couple fingers when they pass each other on the highway.

This week I received an email from the beautiful and vivacious Pam, one-armed woman and sister blogger at Unarmed...just the way I am. This reminds me that I've never had a girlfriend with one arm or any other missing appendages. Exploring her blog this morning, I find we have a lot of similar interests and I'm suddenly gripped with a strong desire to talk to her about everything she's ever thought, over a glass of merlot, preferably in a rainstorm, on a screened-in porch.

In Poster Child, Emily Rapp's memoir about growing up with a prosthetic leg, her mother explains to her teachers that Emily is not to be called 'disabled,' that she is no different from anyone else. This seems correct, but also sounds a little like rearing children to be "just another brick in the wall."

And I've never been a huge fan of bricks.