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My Very First Sighting

by E.

It's been almost 60 years, but I still remember an incident that occurred when I was six years old, and in the second grade. I was waiting for my ride after school, and two older (third-grade) girls were nearby, sitting astraddle a concrete bench, playing jacks. I noticed something about the girl on the left that I'd never seen in another child before. As she bounced the ball and scooped the jacks with her right hand, her left arm just flipped around, and most of it below the elbow wasn't even there. Thoughts raced through my mind: How did she do that? Is it that way all the time? Was it cut off? Did it hurt? I was completely fascinated by this unusual girl. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had experienced my first sighting, and seen my first Single Below Elbow amputee.

We lived in the same town, and I saw her in school and around town for years. As she got older, she got prettier, with blonde hair and fine facial features. She usually wore short sleeves, and acted two-handed. By that I mean that she used her elbow like a little hand, as though she hadn't noticed that anything was missing. Seeing her do that drove me wild. I noticed that she didn't seem to have that effect on anyone else, so I kept it to myself. In high school I had a crush on her, but I had never asked her out. Part of the reason was that I was pretty much of a nerd, and didn't date much. She was almost two years older than me, and such differences loom large at that age. I was naturally shy, even around regular girls. Although I was dying to, I couldn't work up enough courage to ask THE ONE-ARMED GIRL for a date. And what would the reaction be if I showed up at the Malt Shop on Friday night, with THE ONE-ARMED GIRL? Part of my confusion was due to the fact that, although I knew how she looked to me, I had no idea how she looked to anyone else, and I didn't dare ask. We were in chemistry class together for a semester, and we were lab partners a time or two. She caught me staring at her once as we worked, and I felt pretty bad because she acted hurt (or pissed off.) She didn't say anything, she just gave me a glance and tucked her arm tightly into her side. When she graduated a year ahead of me, and went off to college, I was sure that I would never see her again.

Fast-forward seven years. I'm sitting on a hard bench in a Greyhound bus station a thousand miles from home, traveling in uniform, returning to my post from Christmas leave. I had just flown in, and was looking forward to a 30-mile bus ride. There was a blonde in a blue coat at the other end of the same bench. My practiced eye noted something about her left sleeve... Then I realized OH MY GOD IT'S HER. I was determined not to let her go again, so with a mouth full of cotton and a near-fatal heart rate, I said something really cool, like, "Hi. Weren't we in chemistry class together back in high school?"

It turned out that she remembered me, and that her job was about twenty miles from mine. I dated her a few times during the months I had remaining in the Army. I continued to date her after I got out of the service, and after a fairly long courtship, we were married. It's been nearly forty years, so we must be doing something right.

To answer the question that some are thinking, we never had "the conversation." Keep in mind that all of this happened before the word devotee was part of the vocabulary. Instead, we had a long, slow, courtship. I had a long, difficult struggle with my own feelings. My greatest fear was not for myself, but a fear of hurting her. I wanted to be absolutely sure. I came to love this woman deeply, as a person, as my wife and the mother of our two girls. In a sense, we came full circle. By that I mean that I arrived at the same place that a guy with "plain vanilla" tastes, very much in love, but not attracted by disability, might have arrived. It's the relationship between two people that's important, and an extraneous influence, whether an attraction or an impediment, has to be placed in perspective.

We've been married long enough so that there's nothing she doesn't know about me, even though we've never discussed it explicitly. For example, she knows that I think short sleeves look better on her, and she wore them for years. I respect her preference for longer sleeves now, so I back off. She knows I like the special way she "holds hands." I respect the fact that she's not crazy about it, so I don't overdo it. There are a thousand little tradeoffs and understandings in any marriage, and we aren't even aware of most of them.

I'm going on and on. How can I wind this up? I've gone back over this, and I've never set it all down before. Having just reread it, I am just now realizing something: I'm one of the luckiest men on the planet.

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