Staring with a Twist

Most women I know organize their closets (if they organize them at all) according to such logical distinctions as work clothes, leisure clothes, and dress-up clothes, or along seasonal lines, separating the heavy sweaters and jackets from the lightweight cotton dresses and sleeveless blouses. Some enterprising women group color coordinates together for easy outfit assembly in the bleary-eyed, early morning rush.

I organize my closet by energy level.

Given the appearance of my leg, I determine each morning how much emotional energy I have in reserve for coping with other people’s reactions to my body and choose my clothes accordingly.

I live with an above knee amputation and a computerized prosthetic leg. I declined to get the foam covering for my prosthesis, so it looks mechanical rather than like a mannequin limb. Previous to this, I spent 20 years with an impaired, scarred, and misshapen leg as I endured numerous “limb salvaging” surgeries that left me with bone, muscle, and skin grafts. Either way, my leg looks weird, and people can say and do some really dumb stuff in response to seeing it.

Some days I cover my leg completely with pants that reveal only my limp and an oddly narrow ankle covered in a dark sock. Other days I choose shorts and leave my prosthesis—and formerly my scars, peculiar shape, and brace—vulnerable to the annoying, amusing, and sometimes painful stares, questions, and judgments of others.

I live in a pretty warm climate, so I typically wear clothes that leave my prosthesis visible. While I’m not ashamed of my prosthesis, I do get tired of the staring. I cover it up sometimes, just to have a break. Of course, I also cover it up when I’m cold or want to wear dress slacks for a more professional look. But mostly I wear capris, ignore the staring, and get on with my life.

And then there are the rare occasions when I am surprised not only by a stranger’s  kindness but by curiosity and creativity.

I just took a flight in which I shared a row with a kid who had no adult along, a little dark-haired boy who seemed about 6 or 7 years old. I nearly groaned when I sat down and saw him with the universal sign for “unaccompanied minor,” a clear plastic envelope on a lanyard, worn around the neck and containing flight and drop off/pick up information. As usual when I fly, I wore cropped pants, and I knew the kid would get a good look at my prosthesis. After shooting me a few quick glances, he asked what happened to my leg.

I gave him my standard answer for kids too young to understand the complexities of bone cancer and late effects. “My leg got really sick and the doctor couldn’t fix it. So he took it away and gave me this one instead,” I stated matter-of-factly.

“Oh! It looks like a robot leg,” he replied, his huge brown eyes wide with excitement.

I smiled. “Yeah, I guess it does.”

“You know what would be really great?” he demanded, his hands fluttering excitedly.

“What’s that?” I asked absently, already shifting my attention to my computer screen.

“It would be awesome if half of your whole body were like a robot! Then you’d have your robot half and your normal half, too!” He gestured, sweeping his hand to indicate the length of my body.

I cracked up. “You’re right,” I said, “That would be awesome!”

The little boy grinned back at me and then returned to his tablet, apparently well satisfied with his proposed enhancement to my body. And I smiled, too.

One thought on “Staring with a Twist

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