Staring Back

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.