Today is the day. The sun is shining and spreading warmth – the kind of warmth that makes me want to shed my pants and don my shorts. But before I do that I need to take a deep breath and make a mental shift. I need to steel myself in preparation for all the stares.
I used to have a leg that was sculpted and painted to look as much like my long leg as possible. About three years ago I made the shift to a C-leg, a very mechanical, robot-looking leg. Instead of a Caucasian colored calf, I have a grey tube, complete with the C-leg logo. I’ve always disliked clothing that advertises a brand and here I am walking around with a brand on my body.
I used to be able to pretend that my sculpted, painted leg made me look normal. In fact when my prosthetist urged me to switch to the C-leg, I was worried about how that would change my husband’s desire for me. I didn’t know how much my sculpted leg had fooled him, too. I’ll never forget his answer when I asked him, “Would it make a difference to you if I had a robot looking leg?”
“Honey, I want you comfortable and happy,” he said. “That’s the difference I care about.”
So I made the change and I love the way walking feels in the C-leg. But I still have to get used to being so obvious. Mind you, I’ve always stuck out, even with my sculpted leg, but with that leg, people usually had to take a double-take to realize what they were looking at. With my grey C-leg, there’s no question what you’re looking at: a piece of hardware made to help me walk.
The feelings that arise when I’m stared at are a jumbled mess of discomfort, vanity, self-consciousness, pride, and, sometimes, anger. I like attention as much as the next person, but I prefer it for something I did well or for looking good. What makes me uncomfortable, even thirty four years later, is that I’m being stared at because of my deficit, because of my difference. I understand that people are curious; I just don’t like being a curiosity. And I don’t want to compartmentalize myself by saying they’re just curious about my prosthetic leg. My prosthetic leg is not separate from my body; it is a part of my body. So when people stare at my prosthetic leg, they are staring at me.
I used to stare back at people, well, glare actually, to let them know how rude they were being. I threw my discomfort right back in their faces and tried to make them as uncomfortable as they were making me. A number of years ago I stopped doing that. I realized that didn’t help the situation. Now I just let people look or stare. And deep inside, I remind myself: it’s my difference that has shaped me, sculpted me into the woman I am today. When they look at my prosthetic leg, they are looking at courage. And when I look back at them, they are staring straight into the eyes of acceptance.
Okay, so here goes….. I’m digging out the shorts.