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Bodysnatching

Published and printed by Swim Press in Bodies (Issue II, 2022) 

You can’t choose which body part is lost. No amount of money or voodoo magic can change the outcome. And I would know, I have tried it all. You can influence your loss as much as you can decide who your parents are before you were born (if you can do that though, call me). One day, without warning, something is just gone. Poof!  Limbs, naturally, are the most obvious losses. But nose hairs and lymph nodes can go just as easily as anything else.

For example, my husband got my hands shortly after we married.  One day, when he left for work, they vanished. At first, it made my job particularly difficult since I spend most of my workday writing emails.  I had bloodied my nose and given myself a migraine before a colleague told me I should stop pecking around like a chicken and just use the dictate function. I was such an amateur. 

After my typing snafu, it was easy to adapt to a primarily handless day. I switched to slip on shoes and avoided wearing clothes with buttons, laces, or zippers unless it was for a special occasion. You don’t want to get stuck in the bathroom. Trust me.

When my husband arrives home at the end of the day the hands come back of course. I embrace him tightly and cook him dinner. He loves spicy food, so I try to cook it a few times a week. It’s very pleasant to chop peppers after a long hard day without opposable thumbs.

I still think about my hands from time to time when they are gone. When I dictate a message to him, I feel a brief phantom pain for my digits. It’s not unpleasant. I find it comforting for him to know that I am thinking of him, and how I’m not whole without him. 

As I’ve gotten older, I have found more to love, and more to lose. 

My son got my left leg. This was honestly tougher than the hands. You can still walk around without hands. Without a leg you can just hop around until you inevitably fall flat on your face. I occasionally use a homemade wooden leg to get around during the day, but I feel ridiculous, and I look like a pirate. I’ve held back so far on fully embracing the pirate look and buying a parrot. After all, the loss is only temporary. It’s also frankly a logistical nightmare to try to clean up bird shit without hands or the ability to reliably walk most of the day. But I’m open to suggestions. 

What has helped me the most is developing a routine so that I can use my whole body as effectively as possible. My husband leaves early for work, so everything that requires hands is either done by 6 am or is waiting until he gets home. On a weekday that means getting me and my son ready for the day. I spend a few extra minutes placing a large pot of filter coffee and a sandwich next to my laptop. It’s not elegant to eat and drink with limb stubs alone, but I can’t go for a whole day without solid food. Also, I’m a bitch without caffeine. 

When everything is in place and my husband is out the door, I walk with my son to kindergarten. Without my hands, he stays close by and sometimes rests his hands on my waist. When we arrive, I kiss him on the forehead and remind him to listen to his teachers. Once he is out of sight my left leg disappears and I hobble home. Friends have told me that he is old enough to walk on his own, but I like to do it. Besides, I don’t trust drivers on the road. Who knows what they have just lost? 

I usually hang out in a rolling office chair dictating memos most of the morning until it is time to pick up my son and can walk with him home. He is at an adorable age where he genuinely wants to skip. I love to skip with him.

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten the knack of a mostly handless and legless week. When it gets hard, and it still does, I remember that it’s temporary.

At least it normally is. Except when sometimes dies. When someone is gone for good, whatever they took from you stays with them and never comes back.

For example, I lost a baby this past year. Two babies actually. It happened early so most people wouldn’t have called either a baby. Both were just old enough to have a heartbeat. But I wanted one so badly that they were bona fide babies to me. And they very well could have been real babies they didn’t just fall out one day while I was handlessly and leglessly dictating complaints to obnoxious clients. 

When it happened, I was heartbroken. But I was also scared, because I knew whatever part of me the baby took with it (my tonsils the first and my right ear for the second) was never coming back.  

To be fair, I never liked my tonsils to begin with. They just dangled dangerously over my esophagus all day long, waiting to get infected. But that doesn’t mean I was happy to see them go. On the contrary, it just made me think about them more, every time I brushed my teeth. 

The ear was harder because everything became quieter. I love music and can no longer hear in stereo. Everything sounds strange. I know it could be much worse. I’m not deaf. I grew out my hair to make it less noticeable to others, but you can tell something is missing if you look closely. 

My son asks me why my ear does not come back like everything else, and I lie and tell him I never had one. What else can I do? Adults who see me regularly politely know better than to ask. But I’m sure they guess. I certainly do for the things I’ve never seen come back on them. 

All in all, I should consider myself lucky. I’ve never lost a vital organ. Which is good. I know people who lost their livers, their lungs. Which is bad. People say that the heart is a cliche thing to lose, but that is unfair. They didn’t choose to lose it.

My biggest fear is another permanent loss. When I start to worry, I remind myself that I am happier loosing and regaining bit and bobs all day long than I ever felt when I was always whole. It’s true. My body didn’t matter to me then. I took it for granted. Now I have a loving family and if that means letting go of my extremities for a good part of the day, that is a fair enough price. I’d rather keep my hair, but I can’t start to be picky at my age.  It’s a risk that I am willing to keep taking.

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