I was approved for the loan on Tuesday. Fifteen-thousand dollars. I told the lender I was buying a car from a private owner. The interest rate was something like nineteen percent, but I didn't care. My hand shook as I signed the application. I had no choice; the doctor would only do cash. I tried to talk him into calling it something else — gangrene, complications arising from diabetes — a fucking farming accident. Anything. Just write it up so it would be covered under my health plan.
He got real close to my face and said, "Do you know what kind of risk I'm taking for you, you ignorant shit?"
"It's not like you're not getting paid for it or something," I said. "You're not doing me any favors." I didn't tell him the last fourteen doctors had thrown me out of their offices. "Look, all I'm saying is, why not finagle a little something-something with ICD-9s and the HCPSs and the ABCs and 123s and write it up so that my employer's plan will pick up the tab. It's not like I'd be getting something for nothing. I've still got a thousand dollar co-pay. You'd get paid, maybe even more than ten-grand, and I'd have my little procedure and we'd all be happy."
He just stared at me. For an anxious moment, I thought he might hit me. "What kind of idiot do you think I am?" He said it quietly, slowly — each word bearing its own weight. "Do you think I'd waste my medical career on a piece of sludge like you?"
I didn't quite know how to answer that. I didn't regard myself as sludge, though he was risking his career by agreeing to perform my procedure. Just because I was paying cash, with no insurance paper trail, didn't mean he still couldn't take the hit for it, if I decided to blab or, God help me, I died on his operating table.
"It's going to be a bit more than ten-thousand, I'm afraid."
"How much more?"
"I got other people to pay," he said. "I've got a nurse, an anesthesiologist. You want anesthesia, don't you?"
"Of course I do."
"People expect to be paid for their services. After all, this is a black market."
"All I was approved for is fifteen," I said.
He nodded. "We'll cut some corners and get it done."
I was afraid to ask him what. We scheduled a day — the time and place would be decided right before, in case I was with 60 Minutes or some other news agency intent on blowing the lid off his black market.
I called Annette when I got home. She said, "Fifteen grand? That's like a fucking car."
"At nineteen percent, it's like a good car."
I heard her exhale, imagined the stream of smoke from her nostrils, her lips. "Look...know you’v' wanted this for like ever, and who am I to down a guy's dream, but have you ever stopped to really think about what it is you're doing?"
"Little late for this speech, isn't it?"
"Christ, Dean... never thought you’d'go through with it. I mean, I know you're into that kind of — I guess I just didn't realize how into it you were."
As she spoke I looked unconsciously down at my left leg folded at the knee and tucked beneath me. A perfect stump.
"I want to feel whole," I said.
"You always say that. What does that mean?"
"Whole," I said. "I just want to be whole like everyone else."
"By cutting your fucking leg off?"
I stared down at the rounded edge of my knee cap, traced my fingertips lightly over it. "By cutting my fucking leg off," I said.
People get off to all sorts of things — shoes, panties, rape fantasies, animals, role playing, domination, you name it. For me, it has been a beautifully cauterized limb. Ideally, I'm most attracted to amputations below the knee. BK. LBK for amputations below the left knee; RBK for the right. Minimal scarring, white lightning streaks across browned flesh. Watching a woman remove her prosthetic can be erotic — especially when she doesn't know you're watching, or better yet, when she does. That slow unveiling, the stump fluttering like a pink naked piglet in the light, unfettered by foot, ankle, shin. Its vulnerability — like a mole pawing blindly at the sun — it's enough to make me ache.
As a child, I'd often dismember my action figures, cutting old GI Joe off at the knee, and I was drawn inexplicably to films involving amputation. I can still recall the moment in the theater when Darth Vader sliced off Luke's hand in The Empire Strikes Back, can still recall the hand falling helplessly down the chasm within the Death Star, still futilely clutching the light saber. But I didn't fully realize the orgasmic potential of a severed limb until I was fourteen.
I would've placed the woman's age at thirty (my age now). I was skateboarding down at McKittrick Park, circling aimlessly around the stone fountain where the water shot sporadically out the top of a pineapple-looking fleur de lis. She had a magnificently smooth false leg, aesthetically perfect, a sandy color striving for the tone of human flesh, but failing in its bid to achieve assimilation. Nonetheless, it had an otherworldly loveliness like an H. R. Giger creation, a fusing of machinery and flesh. She boldly wore a skirt. This was a woman with no hang-ups, a someone who had a definite understanding for the concept of wholeness — of the paradoxical completeness that can only be found in what is not complete.
She crossed the perfect leg over the other — the one comprised of skin and bone — oh, but that leg was no less equal than its prosthetic counterpart! Perhaps, it comes down to preference, though it still somehow paled when made to support its plastic perfection, an engineering marvel of streamlined molded polymer, of precision balls and joints, subtle curves and sleek styling.
I stood staring at her in the square. If she noticed me staring, she paid it no mind. She moved her skirt back on her thigh, but not so far that she revealed anything reserved for the doctor's office. Here, nature met head on with human ingenuity, an abrupt collision of archaic cell replication and the startling beautiful future of man.
She wasn't aware of me, I'm not sure she ever was. I stood there, the mist of the fountain on my face, one foot on the skateboard, one on the ornate pavement comprised of Spanish tile.
She worked her fingers into her thigh, first massaging, then kneading as if reshaping it. Then she un-strapped the prosthetic, slowly unsheathing the stump. She suffered (suffered?) an amputation just below the knee. The last bit of her shin, with no hint of calf, curled beneath like a comma — an infinite pause — as if the knee were unconvinced the rest of its leg was gone. It was red and irritated from its internment within the prosthetic, and it flexed, as if it were breathing in the warm air. She wrapped both hands around the stump, held it firmly with all her fingers then proceeded to wring it like one would wring out a washcloth.
I was deeply moved by her actions, by the nurturing yet stern way in which she handled the leg. It was as if the abbreviated leg was going to get no special treatment by its owner, that she was determined to regard it no differently than its corporeal partner.
She removed a bottle of lotion from her bag, drizzled a generous amount onto her palm. She anointed the stump with the lotion, slathering it on her kneecap, down the curling question mark of the withered limb. Then so not to display any partisanism, she gave the other leg the same treatment.
I'd never seen her before, nor since, but that memory stayed with me like you remember your first lover —
I remembered the auburn hair falling down onto her face, the fountain raining down, the lilac-smelling lotion as she stroked her lame leg — the prosthetic resting by her side, as venerable and acutely crafted as a Stradivarius. In her presence, the pins of the Universe clicked, and my purpose became unflinchingly certain. I wanted to lift her up, to hold her lame leg in my hands, to possess it. No, more than just possess her and her leg, I wanted to become her. I wanted a leg that was part appendage, part tentacle — something that curled and probed and questioned.
Annette dissects her scone with a fork, carefully extracting blueberries with the tines and depositing them on the side of the plate.
"Why do you do that?"
"I don't like blueberries," she said.
"They're possibly the healthiest food you can eat."
"They give me the shits," she said.
We sat in a café at the busy intersection of Anniversary and Chase Avenues. Annette amused herself by scrutinizing passersby. I've got my notebook computer open and I'm clearing out my emails — mostly work-related — though there is one in there from a cute amputee (RBK) named Carly. We'd gone out a few times, had moderately pleasing sex. She'd kept the prosthetic on, despite my best efforts to separate her from it. She wasn't yet sold on the concept that losing a limb can oddly make you whole. Instead, she cling madly to the prosthetic, diluted herself into believing it was her leg. She refused to be seen without it. That was no good. I needed to see the stump, I couldn't live with her denial.
"I'm getting fatter," Annette said. She speared a corner of the scone, broke it off, held the fork up to her nose.
"You're still beautiful," I said.
"I've got too many legs for you." She stuffs the scone in her mouth.
I didn't answer Carly's email. I screened her calls, too. Though physically she is obviously my type, we are otherwise wrong for each other. Being denied access to her stump was the deal breaker; it was like being married to a baker, but getting your birthday cake from the grocer.
The days leading up to my procedure are happy ones. I've long since ceased associating myself with the leg, and I have no doubt this disassociation is behind my lack of concern for the safety of the procedure, or any sentimentality I might feel for this left leg, its size-ten foot, or any of its toes. I'd been involved in sports requiring the use of both legs (I was a semi-decent midfielder for my high school soccer team), was for a time an avid runner.
In the remaining time with my leg, I go about my normal business making sales calls to prospective clients of my employer's financial products, having dinner with Annette who I love (though secretly wishing her ballooning weight might ultimately lead to diabetes and the loss of one of her own limbs so that I might really love her), and imagining how it might look — feel — in a few days when the lower part of my left leg turns up missing.
I break down and answer the phone when I recognize Carly's number on the ID.
"I've been trying to get a hold of you," she says.
"I've been having health problems," I tell her. I have decided to tell people I'd contracted a rare form of cancer to explain the sudden but necessary disappearance of my leg. I haven't told anyone yet. I try it out on Carly.
"Oh, my God," she says. "Oh, my God."
I assure her I'll be alright — after they take my leg.
She says Oh, my God again — at least four or five more times. "You'll be fitted for a prosthetic?"
I can't help but smile at the suggestion. It has now become real to me. In less than a week I become one of them.
The Saturday before my procedure, I'm awakened by the phone. I lay in my bedroom beneath the down comforter. The sun is filtering in through the slats of the mini-blinds. My piss-induced erection shoots up through the blankets. I wonder how long my leg — my soon to be detached leg — will feel pain? For the first time I'm struck by something almost on the level of sympathy for it, for my limb I've not wanted. The phone continues to ring. I suddenly regard the leg as a child — a second child I did not plan for, did not want. I unconsciously reach for the leg, stroke it. I'd never thought about where it might go after the procedure-
A landfill, maybe? How long will it go on feeling after the surgery, after it has been successfully severed from the rest of me? I imagine the nerve endings hysterically reporting the damage, but their message never reaching the spinal cord — the brain — because the line has been cut.
I paw clumsily for the phone, answer it as my machine picks up.
Hey...is is Dean. You know what to do...
There is that hesitation. The machine beeps.
"Dean?" I hear the voice simultaneously in the handset and the machine broadcasting in the other room. It's Annette. "I had this terrible dream...
"You should keep a journal."
"Please don't go through with it," she says.
I realize I'm still caressing my leg, comforting it. I immediately stop. "I have to," I tell her.
"I dreamt you died on the table."
"It was just a dream. In Freudian terms, it probably has nothing to even do with me."
"You left me all alone. You're the only one who loves me. I'm such a fat cow."
"You would look good in a prosthetic," I tell her, only half-joking. I imagine the white squishy flesh of her plump thigh, her chubby knee, disappearing into the unblemished plastic, the polished metal of the prosthetic.
"Jesus Christ," she says. I hear her inhale on her cigarette. "Is that what it would take to make you like me?"