I only have one leg, and my mom hates that.
She doesn’t say it, but I can tell. She has this certain look she gets when she’s disappointed in me but doesn’t want to say it, like when I walked out of my room this morning wearing a pair of jeans rolled up to the middle of my calf and my plastic shower leg on in place of my regular prosthetic, and she squeezed her keys even tighter in her hand before saying I looked lovely, but I really should put my normal leg on, and wouldn’t I rather wear something that hid my prosthetic better?
We get along a lot better when I pretend that I don’t notice the way her voice shakes when she lies, though, so I sit patiently in the car as she reminds me people will like me at this school if I just try to get along with them, and maybe I should let people get to know me better before I talk about my missing leg, because then they want to get to know me for who I am and not just because I’m different, right?
“Share something relatable about yourself,” she explains. “Maybe tell them that you like to read comics. Surely you’ll meet at least one other person who reads comics, too.”
I offer a quiet “okay” and turn my attention to the window for the rest of the drive. I know she doesn’t want to put me in public school where she can’t watch me all day, but she also wants me to be a normal girl and go to high school like normal girls do. She reminds me every day that I am just as capable as everyone else, that having a fake leg should never get in the way of being a normal kid. She probably wanted me to be a swimming champion someday like she was in school, but that’s pretty hard to do with just one leg.
As soon as the bell rings for class, the teacher tells us we’ll be doing an ice-breaker to get to know everybody, which apparently means we stand up and give a fun fact which everyone else will make fun of later. One by one, the other kids stand and fumble through their names and “fun facts” about their spots on the JV sports team or their wild vacations to the beach. I have no idea what to tell them about me. The only thing I have is my leg—my leg that I’ve gone most of my life without and I don’t really know how to miss. Nobody is going to care that I read comics. As the person next to me stands to introduce herself, I feel my anger rising, because how am I supposed to share myself with others without my leg when my whole life has been this leg?
Finally, my teacher calls my name, and I stumble to my feet and I tell them, “Hi, my name is Amanda, I go by Ammy, I’m fourteen, and I only have one leg.”
The teacher offers no smile and says, “Thank you, Ammy,” then calls on the next person as I take my seat. I turn to the girl sitting next to me, hoping that she’ll want to talk, but she just offers that small pity-smile that two-legged people get when they don’t know how to talk to one-legged people about anything other than their leg. I sigh and lean back in my seat as the next kid tells us about his new pet hedgehog.
My first class comes and goes without another word about my leg. I start to think maybe my mother was right, that people would like me if I pretended to be two-legged, and the girl sitting next to me would have given me a real smile and asked about my summer and offered me a seat at her lunch table or something.
But I decide to give it one more shot in the next class. After I stand up to introduce myself, somebody asks how I lost my leg. The teacher gasps, of course, because you can’t just ask someone how they lost their leg like that!, but I’m quick to reassure her that it’s okay, and it’s important for me to talk about it, and she really can’t argue.
I tell the class about my ferocious encounter with a wild brown bear. He grabbed me when I was hiking near the waterfalls and dragged me into the woods, but with my quick wit at my side, I never had any fear. I grabbed a giant tree branch and pried his mouth open, then leapt into the water and escaped down the river with just one leg. The girl sitting in front of me rolls her eyes and whispers to the boy next to her as I take my seat, but the kid at my table leans over and asks if my prosthetic has retractable fins. I tell him that’s a great idea and we sketch it out while the rest of the kids give their introductions.
I begin telling the girl at my lunch table the story of my solo trek through the woods after falling out of a burning plane, but before I can apply my own tourniquet, the vice principal walks in behind me and taps my shoulder but doesn’t say a word, and when I follow her to the office, she speaks to me in that responsible but indifferent way that adults always do when they get stuck with the jobs they don’t want.
She tells me that the whole school is talking about how neglectful my parents were to let me go hiking alone. I tell her that my parents know better and that is all that matters, but she sighs and says that she knows moving to a new school is hard, but I can’t just tell people that my leg was eaten by a ravenous mountain lion or whatever. I stop listening, since she can’t even remember that it was a bear, but she does have a good point. A mountain lion would make a much better story. By the time she finally finishes her lecture, I’ve almost figured it all out. The only problem is, I don’t think we have mountain lions in the south. Lunch is already over when she lets me go so I don’t get to finish my story, but it’s okay, really, because I’m sure somebody will want to know when I get to third block.
But I don’t get the chance. We haven’t even started the ice breaker before my name is called for dismissal. I have no idea why, but I don’t complain—it even gives me the chance to show off a feigned limp while everyone’s attention is on me. This one I have practice with, since every year I have to get my socket replaced and my mother is less demanding if I pretend to struggle with the new one for a few days more than I should.
My mother waits for me in the office. She’s twirling her hair around her finger and tugging at it, and when she finally sees me she turns and walks out of the office without a word. I debate dropping the limp so I can keep up with her, but the secretary looks horrified that my mother walked out without me, so I might as well keep up the act.
Mom doesn’t speak at all during the drive. We have to stop for gas and she takes a lot longer to pump than usual, and I think at one point I hear her smack the car and shout something, but I can’t understand from inside. She climbs back into the car without a word once she’s finished, and I think better of asking any questions. I made that mistake the last time I got fitted for a new prosthetic. When I asked her why she was so mad that I had to get the cheaper-looking leg this time ,she cried during the entire drive home. When we finally make it home she tells me to sit down on the couch so we can talk, but I tell her I want to stand and she doesn’t argue. She sits down and looks at the back window for a moment, then takes a deep breath and says she was wrong for trying to put me into public school so quickly, and that I’m going to do one more semester of online school, while she finds a counselor who will try to try to help me learn social skills.
Maybe she expects me to agree with her. Maybe she wants me to feel bad because she’s taking the blame. Maybe she expects me to sink to my knees with my prosthetic leg raised to her in offering, and worship the very ground she walks on as a single working mother of a crippled child who only has one leg, and cry, yes, yes, of course, whatever you say, because you know what is best for me and I will love you forever for pulling me out of that wretched place where I can never make friends who will understand me because I care too much about my fake leg!
Her eyes focus on her hands as she taps her fingers against her leg.
I drop my bookbag on the floor, walk back through the front door, and slam it shut behind me.
My mother doesn’t follow me right away. I don’t think she expected me to stand up and walk out the front door, especially when she just told me that I could stay home. I didn’t have to go to public school anymore! I was a pitiful, one-legged, homeschooled girl who didn’t want to be thrown into the wild, right? Shouldn’t I want to come back home? I don’t really know why I’m leaving, either, but I wonder as I start to jog a little if there are other girls out there who had their legs cut off so long ago that they don’t remember what being normal is like. Did their moms want them to be normal? Maybe not. Maybe other one-legged girls have fun moms who laugh when their daughters do one-legged dances in the living room and let their daughters wear shorts in the summer when no two-legged girls would ever be caught dead in jeans. Maybe other one-legged girls are lucky.
We have a small pond in our neighborhood, about a ten-minute walk from my house. During most summers the neighborhood kids will come play in it when the sun gets to be a little too hot. I always wanted to go when I was younger, but that meant I would have to wear a bathing suit and Mom thought the shower leg I had was really ugly. I can’t disagree—it’s a bright-blue, shiny plastic leg that gets shoved in the cabinet under the sink when I’m not using it. Yet I can’t help but think about how fun it would be to splash around in the water as I approach the pond. I stop at the edge of the water and imagine myself leaping into it in a perfect diver’s position, my shower leg shimmering in the sunlight.
Right now, though, the pond is lower. It looks more like a puddle, down to the dirty brown water. I sit down and rip my sneakers and socks off my feet, then roll up the cuffs of my jeans and stick my real foot in. I place the big plastic foot of my fake leg in right after and try to imagine how cold it feels. If I look hard enough, I can see smooth rocks at the bottom of the pond, just below the water’s surface. I think about swimming down into the pond to get them, but that’d be hard to do with this leg, so I decide against it. But as I look down at my prosthetic, I can’t help but resent it, this stupid metal leg that has shamed my mother and kept me from being anything other than a kid who can’t be seen. I take off the fake leg and drop it into the pond, then sit back and watch as it sinks to the bottom.
It isn’t long before my mother catches up with me. She grabs the fake leg from the water with ease, then rips her sweater from her shoulders and wipes the leg down as best she can. This time her face takes on a much different look, one where her eyebrows are smushed together into a furry caterpillar and her lips disappear into a thin line because she’s trying not to curse at me. I like this look a lot more. It takes a lot of work to get this look.
Mom sits next to me at the kitchen table while my fake leg dries in front of the standing fan in the living room. Now I realize that throwing the prosthetic in the pond probably wasn’t the best idea. Not that I mind the wetness to be honest, but it’s really not supposed to get too wet or it can get damaged, and mom gets anal about this because she still has to pay a couple hundred dollars with insurance when I get a replacement, but it was only in the pond for a few minutes and she’s already sopped up every drop of water with every towel we have. Still, my mother insists on waiting to let me use it until she thinks the leg has fully dried, which means I’m pretty much trapped wherever she wants me unless I want to hop past her on my one leg as she stares me down, and I really don’t feel like doing that.
The neon numbers on the microwave timer tick backward minute by minute as I wait for her to let me put the prosthetic on. My mother simply watches me as I watch the clock, neither of us speaking. After an hour, the timer reaches twenty-seven minutes, and my mother finally clears her throat and asks me why I threw my leg into the pond.
I shrug and remind her it’s my fake leg. She pauses, and I add, “Right? It’s not my real leg. I only have one real leg.”
She shifts a bit in her chair and meets my eyes, then asks why I thought she was making the tough decision of pulling me out of school.
I shrug again.
My mother reaches over and rests her hand on my half-leg, which she hasn’t done in a very long time and I squirm away from her. She pulls her hand back as if I were fire, and she doesn’t reach for me again. She grabs the hem of her shirt in her fist and tells me how difficult this has been for her, the whole process of setting me up for public school even though I’d been doing school from home my entire life where she didn’t have to worry about me all the time because she loved me, her only daughter, so much and she just wanted to protect me from kids who might be mean to me because I was different. See, she was bullied in school because she was short and she never wanted me to have to be scared to go to school every single day like she was.
I sit up and shout at her that I wasn’t scared. I was doing fine. And I remind her that being short is not even close to the same thing as not having a leg, and as a last bit of bite, I add that I bet her mother was never ashamed of her for being short.
She draws in a sharp breath, then pushes her chair back and stands and tells me she is just doing what’s best for me right now. She walks into the living room and returns with the fake leg. She sets it down next to me and leaves without another word.
I wait until the timer runs out to strap the prosthetic back on and leave the kitchen. I lock myself in my room and dig the worthless school scissors Mom gave me this morning out of my backpack, then grab every pair of jeans I’ve strewn throughout the closet. It takes hours to tear the legs off of each pair, so long that Mom has knocked on my door for dinner and I’ve ignored her and the sun has long since set. It’s relaxing, though, tearing each thread apart.
In one pair I carve out a jagged line for the hem, and in another I decide to cut one leg shorter than the other, thinking it might be more unique than normal shorts. When I’m finally done, I pull on a pair of newly-cut jeans and slip out of my room and into the bathroom where my shower leg waits for me in the sink cabinet—my big, clunky, shiny blue shower leg that never leaves my bathroom, that never gets to swim in the pond with the neighborhood kids on the Fourth of July or splash around in the middle of a rainstorm. It shimmers in the dull bathroom light, almost begging to be seen, to be submerged in the water where it can serve its purpose and be appreciated for what it does.
I take off my normal prosthetic and set it down in the bathtub, then fill the tub high enough to cover the leg. I pull the shower leg into place over my knee, then examine myself in the mirror on the wall, turning and admiring the way the light glimmers on the surface of the waterproof skin for the first time. Content, I turn off the light and slip outside into the night.
I decide to walk toward the pond and sit in the water for a while. After all, that’s what this leg is for, right? And maybe in twenty years when I have my own family, I can go to the beach with my husband and our three kids wearing a bikini that compliments my swimming leg, and everyone will be fascinated and tell me how brave I am to put myself out in the open like that. And then maybe I’ll turn my leg so the sun bounces off the metal into another passerby’s eyes and draws them in. Maybe they’ll wonder just what that beautiful light is coming from—a precious gem, perhaps? And they’ll come closer and see that I wear that precious gem on my leg and they’ll be amazed by me too.
Anslie Vickery is a candidate for a BA in English and professional writing at Winthrop University. This is her first publication.