Thursday, August 26, 2004

Mutate or Perish

Mangos at Haymarket, Boston North End. On the bus this morning I saw a young woman with no hands and no feet. She had some flesh and partial phalanges above the wrist and full wrist mobility which she used to hook herself into one of the handhold straps as she politely refused a seat. Her legs were not built to resemble actual legs, but more for efficiency of movement - black rectangular rods ending, incongruously, in black Converse sneakers. She wore her dark jeans with the cuffs rolled up, a black t-shirt and a messenger bag. With a scrubbed clean look and freckled cheeks there was a sweet buoyancy about her, but also a tinge of something else. Something friendly but tough. Independence born of necessity. I was not at all surprised that she didn't take the offered seat - I doubt she can afford those small compromises. Usually I would look at someone like this, someone unusual in my space, in my field of vision, and wonder what their story is. But I didn't have to wonder about this woman because even though she has no idea who I am, I already know her story. The woman I'm talking about, let's call her Terry, used to live across the courtyard from my ex-boyfriend in the same complex of buildings. I would sometimes see her walking her dog, the looped end of the leash wrapped around her wrist, or walking to her building with a basket full of laundry balanced on her forearms. I finally asked him if he knew her and he said he didn't but our friend G. did and had told him the story of how she came to lose so may parts of herself. I grant you it's second hand, but I've heard from several people now that these are the facts. Terry used to be a stripper for a club around here. Unfortunately, she was a stripper with a problem. She couldn't make as much money as a lot of the other girls because although she was lithe and pretty, she was flat chested. Eventually, the owner of the club offered to buy her some breast implants. Fabulous day! It was the answer to her monetary woes. The word is that the owner had a contact in Canada who would do the implants on the cheap, so he sent little Terry up north to get her boobs done. By the time Terry got home after the operation, she wasn't feeling so hot. Sick, nauseous, ouchy. But with no health insurance, she wasn't about to go to the hospital. So she waited. And waited. And didn't get better. I don't know how long it took her to seek medical attention, but whatever the time frame, it was too long, and it was too late. She had a massive systemic infection caused by her botched implants. Her extremities were rotting from gangrene and there was no way to save them. She lost her legs below the knees, all of her fingers, most of her knuckles and, of course, her breasts. About a year after I first heard this story, my ex-boyfriend called me one night to tell me that he had just found out that Terry had a website. As it turns out, there is a hefty market out there for people with amputee fetishes. Her website features nude pictures of herself in all her partial glory. Good for her, I say. What is the old adage? Mutate or perish? Seems as though Terry has found a way to adapt to her situation and exploit a niche. From the look of her on the bus this morning, laughing with a friend and flipping her ponytail, I'd say that after a long haul she's doing just fine.