MY GUARDIAN ANGEL
His name was "Tim," but he was also known as the runt, the pretty boy, the fag, and the queer. Tim worked my factory’s night shift--the dumping ground for all those management considered unsuitable to be seen in the light of day.
And there I was on the night shift myself, twenty-four years old, meeting Tim as a newly demoted undesirable myself. Six months pregnant, I had been suspended from my sit-down word processing day job as “safety-hazard.” My male supervisor obviously felt pregnant women didn’t belong in his office. I promptly filed an EEO discrimination suit.
Management spitefully said, "You’ll be waiting for that hearing for months. Years, if we have our way." So here I was, listening to the night shift homosexual introducing himself, and trying to cheer me up.
I didn't think anyone could. I was away from my three-year-old boy and husband, who slept nights, and plagued by shift-change induced "jet lag." Yet here was Tim, this strange looking boy-child trying to get me to smile.
Perhaps strange is the wrong word to use. Think of the oil paintings or frescos from the old Renaissance masters. Like them, Tim had long curly locks of gold framing a young, yet wise face. His smooth skin was a pale white that never needed shaving, his eyes were a calming green, and he was almost maternal looking in a graceful, ethereal sort of way. Tim could have stepped right off any Da Vinci or Michelangelo religious subject canvas. He had another-worldly kind of archangel look about him which was pleasant to the eye.
I ate my first graveyard shift lunch with Tim; the eyes of the others upon us. Mostly macho male troublemakers and proud of it, they couldn't wait to tell me all about, "that fruitcake Tim." After all, they already knew my story, knew why I was kicked off of the day shift, and everyone knew management was a good fifty years behind the times for women or minorities.
Nothing like "looking out” for me, they said. “You really need to steer clear of scum like Tim."
I guess they meant well, but they didn’t need to say it so loud in the crowded break room. I suddenly wondered what they were said behind people’s backs, and stayed at my table.
Later, at lunch break, Tim came up to my once again empty table alone. My cheeks were red with embarrassment, but I refused to ignore him.
“Hi,” I said politely. I introduced myself. “I’m Anne Marie. I used to be on days until...” I gestured toward my too-snug maternity top.
“I’m Tim. I’ve never been on days. Can I share your table?” Unlike the bosses, he looked at my face, not my big belly. “In case you haven't heard, I'm gay. So if you don't want to eat with me, that’s cool. I’m used to it."
But I could tell he would mind. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Tim seemed much nicer than those awful men or my old day shift boss.
“I’d love some company,” I said, meaning every word. “But I have to warn you, I'm pregnant.”
He grinned and made a joke. “I’m not. Maybe you won't want to eat with me."
I was rewarded by one of his beautiful smiles. We shared our breaks from then on.
Soon I began to notice that others liked Tim, too, and felt the same affection toward him way that I did. The women in particular trusted him. I joined the groups of gals who protected Tim from the more aggressive men's taunts and shoves. We let him use the ladies’ room for potty breaks, because some days he was too afraid to use the men’s room. He’d just “hold it.” The crueler cowards weren't afraid to rough up Tim in the staff locker rooms, but they wouldn't retaliate against women. I guess even they had their standards...?
Weeks went by. My baby grew bigger; my belly grew even more, as did my harassment by management as a “safety hazard." After I was seven months along, the factory nurse ordered me to take medical maternity leave. She was a nice older woman, and a good nurse. We both knew she’d been pressured, and I was prepared.
I produced a note from my doctor saying my health was excellent, and so was the baby’s. I got used to standing. In fact, my feet even lost some of the puffiness and my sore back felt better. I had no problem doing my fair share of the lighter lifting required of me on graveyard shift.
I told the nurse to please inform her boss that no one could legally force me off the premises, and my doctor outranked the company nurse. The nursed smiled, then tipped me off. They wanted me to see the company doctor, too—and secretly showed me the paperwork.
“I’ve been stalling, but I can’t much longer,” the nurse whispered. “I refused to sign the paperwork, but I made you a copy.”
“Thanks so much,” I whispered, and promised to keep her name out of things.
“When did you want to take maternity leave?”
“I’m hoping to make it for eight and a half months—maybe more, as long as I can handle the workload. I’m not rich,” I admitted. “Besides, even if I were, it’s the principle of the thing! Pregnant women aren’t safety hazards to others! Management is just afraid their safety codes aren’t up to standard—which they aren’t--and I’ll have an excuse to sue them.”
The nurse nodded. “That’s no secret, either. I have a suggestion. Just keep a log of your days here, for court. Write everything down. Once I tell management you won’t see their doctor, you’ll be in for an even rougher time.”
The nurse was right. The proverbial “gloves were off” after that visit. I was harassed and hounded every second of the workday. It was agony. But I noticed that Tim's soft voice, easy laugh, and gentle touch on my shoulders helped me get through each horrible shift. He really seemed to care about my problems—and he approached me, not the other way around. Usually I don’t cry on my friends’ shoulders, let alone some stranger’s.
The weeks passed. Things got worse and worse as my job situation and depression worsened. The snows came, along with the winter cold and darkness. I was now exactly eight months along. Yet even with my husband and son excited about the kicking child inside me, I sometimes felt totally alone. Only Tim seemed to understand my deep despair when management called security on my one night, forcibly walked me to the car, and took my factory badge off my neck.
“Don’t come back until you’ve had your baby,” I was told, “Or we’ll have you arrested.” My EEO lawyer said not to go back. She’d add assault and forcible ejection to the EEO complaint. Tim gave me a cheerful wave.
“Don’t you worry,” he said in his soft, sweet voice. “I’ll keep in touch. I promise.”
Yeah, right, I thought. You have enough of your own problems. You don’t need mine.
Tim was true to his word. He asked me and my husband over to a get-together with friends on his next day off. Privately, I was a bit nervous.
“I’ve never been to a gay party before, Tim,” I said. By now, we were close enough to say anything. “And I’m so obviously pregnant now, too. I won’t fit in. What if your friends don’t like hanging around...?” I stammered, and broke off.
Tim only laughed. “It’s not a gay party, it’s just friends and chips and dips, not some orgy!” he laughed. Then his laughter abruptly stopped. “Unless that’s what your husband thinks. He doesn’t want to come, does he?"
“He has to work.”
“Oh. So I guess you’re not? I understand,”
“Wrong. As long as the buses keep running, I’m coming. Just give me directions. I'll be there."
I kept my word. My husband was only too glad to see me show some enthusiasm for life, for he was worried about me too. In fact, he'd even taken me back to the obstetrician. I was told, "It's stress from changing shifts and going back to regular hours again. Here are some mild sleeping pills—just a few weeks worth."
Just what a troubled pregnant woman and unborn baby don’t need, I thought. Not that they worked anyhow. I know. I threw them out. They didn't help me sleep any better--nothing did. Tim promised that this party would cheer me up.
“Trust me, you’ll love it. I have a lot of friends."
Nice friends. He introduced me to them at his party. It was in a lousy part of town, but then, there'd been a stabbing during a liquor store robbery near our little house, so who was I to talk? I braced myself to be cheerful, and nervously dressed in my stretch-belly jeans and prettiest maternity top. I found Tim the center of a comforting atmosphere of friends, food, and easy talk. I met his sister, and his sister’s boyfriend. It was the best time I'd had in months. I even managed to relax a little.
There was one odd note...a cello, a REAL cello, standing in a large pot of sand with fake plastic ivy climbing all over it. I was surprised at the strange combination. I commented on it, and later, privately, Tim told me the cello's story. Only it was actually his whole family's story.
"You see," he later began in that beautiful voice of his. "We never had any money. My mother worked all the time, but life was hard."
It was the old story, Tim said. His father had been a drinker who came home only to steal from Tim's mother for booze. One day the father disappeared with the rent money and never came back. Tim, his mother, his grandmother, and his two younger sisters were turned out onto the streets.
"Fortunately for us, it was summer. Mom always worked, and we'd sleep on the beach until she'd saved enough for rent. Grandma was our baby-sitter. We showered every day in the public stalls. Then, we spent the rest of the day dodging the police until fall, when we went to school."
I didn't understand. “Why didn't you go for help?"
"Because they would have taken us away to foster homes," Tim explained. "Mom said we could live in a nice place without her and Grandma, and we three kids would be split up. Or we could live in the park and stay together while she saved enough money to rent us a new place. Grandma said camping was more fun anyway, and most kids would trade places with us. Grandma always made things fun."
There was more. He spoke of his mother's unbelievable stroke of luck meeting a cello player from the symphony. The widower was very much in love with his mother, and she with him.
“Did you know that violin, viola, cello and bass players name their instruments? They’re female, like ships are female, and are named after tree or flower blossoms,” Tim said.
“I didn’t know that!”
“It’s true. The cello’s named Cherry, and the musician’s name was Bob. Not only did he treat Mom with respect, he had a good job AND money--enough money so that she didn't have to work unless she wanted to. Or, she could stay home with his little boy. It was her choice. The man actually wanted to marry her and adopt me and my sister. We were all so happy," Tim remembered.
I thought of the cello named Cherry in the clay pot, and knew this story didn't have had a happy ending. I was right. A month or two before the wedding, the fiancé, tripped while going down the concrete stairs of his apartment complex. Bob carried the cello case in one hand and briefcase in the other. The cello and briefcase survived the fall. The owner did not.
“He was dead on the scene," Tim said. “Mom was hysterical when the police told her. We all were.”
The family's hopes and dreams died that day. His mother kept the cello--her only keepsake, for distant out-of-state relatives inherited Bob’s little son and everything else. Bob planned to change the will after the wedding.
"Mom was never the same after that," Tim told me.
I shared with Tim my childhood—no tragedies, happy family-- but Dad’s well-paying job always kept us moving, moving, moving, from one state to another. We lived in so many different houses, went to so many different schools, I couldn’t keep track of them. And we moved every other summer until my father retired. My parents were happy, but I wasn’t. Without roots, I had never felt like I belonged anywhere until my husband came along. He’d lived his whole life in his New England town.
“We were married here, just like his parents, my son was born here in this same town.”
"You're so lucky. You have something I'll never have...children of your own. Single gay men aren’t on the top of the adoption lists.”
"Maybe some day,” I assured him. Suddenly it all seemed too sad, and I started to cry.
Tim put his hand on my shoulder in that way he had, and insisted on riding the bus home with me after work--a ride that was directly opposite to his usual bus route.
It was dead winter, cold, and snowy. We watched the homeless shove the after-five workers to get on the bus, pay their fare, and ride around in circles for a few hours of warmth. The bus driver thumbed the homeless to “move in the back, where I can’t smell you. You, too, fruitcake.”
I waited for Tim’s reaction, but as usual, his lips moved in a smile, nothing more. I gave the driver a dirty look, and pulled Tim down into the nearest empty seat. We chatted quietly until suddenly, Tim yelled out to the bus driver. "Pull over! Stop the bus!"
We all looked at him in shock--me especially--for I'd never heard Tim raise his voice before.
The bus driver cursed and swore as he jammed on the brakes. "You'd better have a damn good reason for this!"
Tim nodded. "That woman out there." We all turned toward the street-side windows. She was young, had groceries in her shopping bag, and was trudging home through the snow, not in boots, but plastic trash can bags filled with newspaper, and duct-taped around her feet and ankles.
"What about her?" the driver growled out.
"Please let me give her something!" Tim begged. "I'll be right back!"
The driver swore even more, but said, "Hurry up! This isn't even a real stop!" He opened the doors, and out Tim ran.
He hurried to the woman, and untied his laces and removed his shoes. Standing in socks in the New England snow, Tim handed his sneakers to the woman. She began to cry. The driver beeped the horn, and Tim ran back inside.
Shivering. In wet socks. The bus driver couldn't believe it.
"Why the hell didn't you give her some money?" the driver asked. The standing-room only, rush-hour bus crowd was silent, waiting for Tim's answer.
"Because she had kids. Because she would have spent every cent on them. But she can't spend shoes, and those shoes are too big for her children. I know. I asked."
We all watched as Tim made his way back to our seat. “What about your feet, you idiot?" the bus driver mocked. “It’s winter.”
Tim shrugged, his gaze focused on his window, still on the women. "I know. I've got more shoes at home."
“You’re a queer and an idiot,” the bus driver swore--unable to accept such an act as charity. Insanity? I didn't agree.
My stop came up. I said good-bye, and Tim waved to me from the bus window. Just like he'd waved for that woman as she cried over those shoes--Tim's black sneakers hugged tightly to her chest.
The next night, it was off to the salt mines again. My husband was off, and I had the car. At shift's end, Tim asked if I would give him a ride home. I wasn’t surprised, because like the men’s locker room, obviously it wasn't always pleasant for Tim to ride the bus.
"No problem, but I'm not sure I can find your apartment again." It was pitch black, two a.m., when our shift ended, and his party had been held in the light on our day off.
"You'll have to give me directions. Oh, and do you know if there's a clothes box on the way? Those big metal bins for charity?"
"Why?" Tim's voice was strange.
I told him I had two bags of clothes to unload. "My church's drop box is locked at night, and I don't like to take the baby outside in the cold unless I have to."
"Oh," he said, still in that strange voice. "Those boxes...you don't know what kind of people use those things. People dump clothes you wouldn't use to wipe your nose in there."
“Well, I don’t!” I was immediately defensive.
Tim's opinion meant a lot to me by now, and I quickly explained how I mended any rips in torn clothing and sewed on new buttons. I washed everything, including my kids’ outgrown shoes, and folded the clothes. I then put new laces in the sneakers, tied them together, and carefully loaded everything up in clean green trash bags with twist ties, everything safe from dust and mold.
"I'm no saint," I said. Face it, I'd never given the shoes off my feet to anyone. Never even considered it. "But just because management thinks I’m scum doesn’t mean I am."
There was a long silence after that.
“Turn left," Tim said. "There's a box at the corner."
He was right. A few more blocks and we stopped. I turned off the car so I could use the keys to get into the trunk. "Here, I'll do that for you," Tim said. I gave him the keys, but he didn't get out into the darkness immediately. Instead, he talked about his childhood again, without Bob.
He told me how "back-to-school shopping" meant sneaking around at night with his grandmother and sister. How they would lift the smaller girl into the pull-opening of charity boxes just like these, and have her start tossing out clothes and items.
How they would go through the unprotected items full of rat feces and cat urine...or shattered glass from a wino's discarded bruise bottle...or smoker's butts from the homeless who made the box a bed on a cold winter night.
How they all would go through the piles, only to find unwashed clothes...unwearable rips...women's jeans ruined by blood stains...T-shirts full of mucus from runny noses...or motor oil from some car engine.
And how the family would strip down to their underwear in the cold darkness, Tim’s dressing room on one side of the clothes box, his sister’s on the other, while their grandmother watched with her flashlight for the perverts or the roaming police patrols searching for "vagrants and bums."
Tim told me how they would try on clothes with no zippers, no buttons, no sleeves...shoes with no laces...used filth...and how excited they became when finding the occasional treasure.
Tim said they never, ever complained, because as bad as trying on--and wearing those washed clothes to school, splitting up into foster homes without their mother and grandmother would have been worse.
By the time Tim finished his story, I was in tears. He abruptly left the car, took those bags of clothes from me and put them in the bin. As he returned to hand me the keys, he said something that shocked my soul.
"Every single night, I get down on my knees and thank God for people like you."
Me? At the icicle-laden frozen bin, for a brief yet infinite moment in time, those words outshone all the terrible darkness in my life. And somehow, Tim’s courage in his own life continued to keep me going. A few weeks later I went into labor and had my daughter, then returned, still nursing, and still on the night shift. But this time, the strength Tim had given me remained. I did my job, I valued my friend, and I refused to let management bother me. I turned them out.
Two months after that my EEO lawyer held session with me and management. Their disgust with the big boss and his “case” was evident. It took the board only twenty-minutes to decide I had been discriminated against as a female worker due to my pregnancy.
All my forced vacation time and sick leave I’d used were to be replaced, and I was to be reimbursed for the rest of my forced, unpaid time off when I’d wanted to work. I received back pay plus interest, along with the end of forced nine to ten hour shifts during peak seasons twice a year for all pregnant and nursing mothers. Plus I’d be given a flat settlement slash shift differential bonus for being forced onto graveyard despite my seniority, in return for me dropping assault charges. The security guys were nice people; they were very kind while doing their job. Most shocking of all, that EEO session resulted in nation-wide changes in my employer's other factory chains as well! Maternity leave policy was up to the mother-to-be and HER doctor, no one else.
“If you don’t agree,” the EEO staff said, “We guarantee that this young woman will be the only factory employee left hired in this room. We’ll be back with the court orders in three days. She wins, whether you sign anything or not.”
I couldn’t believe it! I mean, even in the movies, it was never this easy! I expected this to drag on for at least another year. I was wrong. Management had no choice but to obey. I signed out as a witness, the lawyers took over, and it was over. I’d actually won!
When I stepped out of that room and told Tim the good news, we hugged each other in happiness.
“A victory for you is a victory for me,” he said. “So when do you return to your old shift?”
A slight cloud cast a shadow over my triumph.
“In two days” I said. “The nurse gave me tomorrow off to help adjust to the time change.”
Tim smiled. “We’re all so proud.”
I nodded, and called my husband. We had our own little celebration at home, but I kept thinking about Tim. What about his case? His situation? At least I proved discrimination. Could Tim? And now I’d be missing my dear friend.
“It’ll be okay,” Tim assured me. I nodded.
We were both wrong. My victory was a hollow one. After the pats on the shoulder from other mothers stopped, my whistleblower harassment continued on my old day shift. I didn’t get my original job back working in the office, either. I’d been “relocated” to the factory itself. My coffee and lunch breaks were timed with stopwatches, and quality control buzzed my workstation every hour on the hour. Without Tim around, it was more than I could take.
I found myself driving home in the sunless evening on a deserted highway, in a dark blizzard. Not even the snowplows were out, it was so bad. When I finally made it to my driveway and went to switch off my headlights, I found I hadn't even turned them on.
It was then that I realized the factory was killing me. I could have been killed on that highway. If I kept on working, I was a dead woman. Pure and simple. I sat in that cold, dark car, and prayed to God for strength to tell my husband the truth. I couldn’t work there anymore, which meant we couldn’t make the mortgage payments.
We would have to say good-bye to our dear little home, which we’d saved up for five years for our first child. Our second would never play in the flowers or swing set in the back yard. My husband would have to leave his lifelong home and family. I prayed he wouldn't walk out on the crazy woman I’d become, and take the children, too. What if they’d been riding in the car with me? What if I’d killed us all?
I finally found the courage to open up. God bless him, my man stuck by me. At the end of that week we made a joint decision to sell our house. We put it up for sale that very weekend. I cringed at the outcries of disbelief and doom from my in-laws. My husband had been born here, as were our children. Some blamed me. Some blamed my “queer friend” for putting “queer ideas” in my head. I only knew my sanity and the happiness of our family was at stake. Everyone we loved lived in town.
My husband said it was our marriage, a joint decision, and to please make our last days in town as happy as possible. You know something? They did.
The house sold in the middle of a dark February evening to the second family who toured it. In spring the escrow closed, the last papers were signed, and the new mom asked if I could please leave the curtains I’d sewn for the two children’s windows. Their little boy loved the sailboat curtains that matched the wallpaper I’d hung in my boy’s bedroom. Of course I said yes, nor would I let her pay for them.
That day became my turning point. After everything I’d been through, I couldn’t believe how easy the rest was. We loaded up the rental van, and in the beginning of slushy, icy New England early spring, we moved south to a state with lots of sunshine to start our new lives. Yes, we lost a lot, saying goodbye to my little nieces was especially hard, but we gained as well.
My new doctor gave me a proper diagnosis of double depression; post-partum depression coupled by my abrupt sudden change of shift. I was temporarily put on anti-depressants, told to stay in the sunlight as much as possible, and take a few months off. I felt much better in a few short weeks.
My husband and I found a new house, we found new jobs, and we put my son in kindergarten. I finally had time to teach my daughter to say, "Ma-ma." I made new friends at my new job in a light, comfortable office doing word processing. No one counted how many times I drank from the water fountain or counted my ladies room breaks.
Life is good these days. I’m myself again, and off the medication. My son has made new friends, and my husband has a challenging new job. My baby daughter starts pre-school next year. But four years later, I still find myself remembering Tim, and our last day together.
The rest of my co-workers didn't know I was leaving, because I didn’t tell them. Except for Tim, “friends” on either shift had distanced themselves from me. I cashed in every cent of my employer's pension plan, too.
"I want my last paycheck cut today," I told personnel. “If it bounces, I’ll go straight to the EEO lawyer,” I warned them.
Then I went straight to management and told them about Tim getting beat up in the men’s room, and how the nurse had arranged for him to use her office bathroom. I also told them I’d given Tim the phone numbers of the EEO lawyers who represented me, so they’d better get those gay-bashing men off Tim’s back.
After one last flurry of paperwork, I was free. But I had to say good-bye to Tim, and had timed my visit to meet his shift getting out. We hugged each other, and I gave both the cheeks on his dear face a kiss. The lunchroom male bullies buzzed with disgust at that, “trouble-making bitch sucking face with that faggot."
They couldn’t see the tears of tears of sadness running down my own face. I continued to cling tight to him.
"Tim, I'll miss you so much. We’re leaving the state. Please promise we’ll keep in touch. I’ll call as soon as I get settled."
"Don’t," he said kindly, tears shining in his own eyes. “It won’t do.”
“It won’t do?” I echoed. “What kind of answer is that? I thought we were friends.”
He smiled. “We are friends, but you’re free. I need to believe there’s such a thing as happy endings. If there isn’t, I don’t want to know. No one here does. Don’t you see?”
I didn’t. I was confused. Hurt. For Tim's sake, I took his refusal with as much calmness as I could muster. He had given me so very much. The least I could do was accept his decision--not make a scene in front of those bigoted excuses for men or those sadistic supervisors. I lifted my chin in the lunchroom, promised Tim I would send him a postcard in case he changed his mind, hugged him hard one last time, and walked out into the sunshine and never came back.
Only when I was in my car did I sob at leaving behind the one good person, the one true friend, I'd found at the factory.
I didn't understand Tim's actions then. I do, now. It was time my husband became the number one man in my life. When Tim pulled away, he deliberately forced me to turn toward the man who loved me and our children so much that he gave up his life-long hometown, his relatives, his job he loved, everything. Tim knew what I later figured out. He waved when I left; his beautiful smile and warm blue eyes framed by long blond curls the last thing I saw.
I did send him a postcard. I never heard from him again. From that day on, my husband became my number one guy. But I still missed my friend.
His name was "Tim." I think of him every time I see a charity box for clothing. He had a sister, owned a cello named Cherry, and continued to work the night shift; the dumping ground for those deemed unsuitable to be seen in the light of day. But Tim rose above all that. His personal light shone through the darkest of times.
At that hell hole, a gay angel with a beautiful heart ministered to a troubled young woman, and any else who needed help. Tim was that factory’s saving grace… And mine.
(Below for mature audiences due to sexual context.)
Which is worse? Missing limbs… or falling in love?
SEINFELD & SHRINKAGE meet THE TOE FETISH
Its kind of funny, really. I used to love hospitals. Wanted to work in them. Then I didn’t after some old bitch had a heart attack at the wheel and plowed her lifeless body but very lively car into my legs. There I was, twenty three years old (I’m twenty four now,) just finished shopping for a gift for my girlfriend since we were both graduating from UMASS- and some lady in her nineties with an expired license and worse yet, a cast iron battleship of an old Buick misses everyone waiting on the sidewalk for the crosswalk except me.
I lost my girlfriend’s gift under the right tire, lost most of one leg below the knee from the other tire, and have no idea how or where I lost the big toe on the other foot. Oh yeah, lost the girlfriend too. Missed my college graduation with a degree in sports medicine and lost my entry-level job with Larry Bird’s old team, the Celtics, before I even got to stand on those green floorboards.
Everyone was great while I recuperated, considering I was a real shit for a while. “They” said it was normal: my family’s concern, my temper tantrums, my bitch of a girlfriend, and the requisite visits from shrinks, clergy, and whoever else thought “they understood.” I will say that I had fun screwing with the physical therapy department and their staff. I mean, that was part of their major, right? And they couldn’t pull any fast ones with me because I knew too much about their job.
But that’s not important. What’s important is how almost I got my big toe--and my life back. Once I got over the worst of the initial trauma surgery, I was fitted for a peg leg. Prothesis, they call it. I named mine CAPT. AHAB, but after the shrink told my parents that piece of info, I renamed it MOBY’S DICK to piss off the female shrink who said our sessions would be “private.” Another bitch of a women, like the ex, or that old bitch who screwed me over with her car. Okay, so I still had a lot of anger to work through back then. Because of my mom and sister, I couldn’t hate the entire sex. Just about everyone else not my family though, who was female, or had two good legs.
Thanks to my sister’s foot figuratively kicking my ass and my mother’s tears that made me feel worse; which was pretty bad already, I did get up standing onto MOBY’S DICK. I quite enjoyed the next visit from the shrink and the hospital clergyman. My sister was in the room and she told him what she thought of my “patient privacy.” She blasted them both, but I won’t repeat it. Suffice to say that the clergyman blushed worse than the therapist, and she got put on 30-days probation at work. I was so proud of her--sticking up for me, that is. Since I was too embarrassed to thank her, I remarked that her mouth was fouler than mine. She said, hey, a guy would never survive a woman’s locker room. Then she said that both the female shrink and male preacher were so stupid, she doubted either could tell the difference between a Bible and a urinal. I laughed at that one, even though I didn’t want to laugh.
Anyways, to get back to my missing toe… What I truly wanted was to walk without crutches at all. Figured I could still do sports medicine if I had my hands free- which, thank God (who I didn’t believe existed for a while, but I’m back to believing again) were undamaged. Ever tried to walk with a fake leg? They aren’t wooden anymore. They are all plastic and metal and shit, and you have to go through so many fittings because of limb shrinkage, scarring, swelling, etc. Even the good stuff they legally shot into my veins didn’t help with that pain. Ever tried to walk without a big toe for balance on a good foot? With no feeling on the other leg save a bloody, stitched stump that you CAN still feel, grinding skin against the peg leg? And don’t forget the phantom pain as well.
It’s horrible. The pain is God awful horrible. So is being in a wheelchair. I fell all over my face trying to walk with or without help. Bad for my male pride, my ego, and my libido. Especially my libido. I couldn’t get up on MOBY’S DICK any more than I could get up with my own dick. The doctors said it was tied into my girlfriend walking out, plus possible side effects of all the drugs. Hell, you’re talking about morphine, they said. All I knew was that I couldn’t walk erect or swell to erection. But if I could get a big toe back, I could walk on the fake leg without crutches. I would have balance in ONE leg instead of NONE. Then everything else would be okay. I could get a date, right? Maybe a roll in the sheets down the road after they got to know my charming self, right? I just needed to hide my mutilated legs and MOBY’S DICK.
I also called it my reminder to prosecute the doctors for lack of privacy, which got me a male shrink instead of the old female one. The clergyman gave up on me, too, but not before I gave up on the clergyman. Mom cried some more about that, but by then I had told my sister to give her ass-kicking foot a rest and go back to school and catch up, since it was her senior year in high school. She refused. She swore she wasn’t graduating from high school until I graduated from college. So I got up, got on the walkers, and tried to ambulate with and without them. But without my big toe… well, let’s just say my ego remained as low as my personal dick.
My sister said fine, then I could have HER toe. Then my mother said no way, he’s my son, he can have MY big toe. As I told them both I didn’t want any wimpy, polished, hairless girlie toes, I could feel what was left of my penis shrinking even further into what I swear was fetal size. Dad said for everyone to shut up and let the boy nap and let’s go home. They did. Thank God dad knew what I meant when I said I wanted to be alone. Thank God women never listen. Because that night on the idiot box I happened to catch my sisters favorite show: SEINFELD. My mother and sister and I watched it together. My sister laughed while I every few minutes explained to mom what was so funny, since she’s from the THREE STOOGES “assault and battery is entertaining” generation.
The show starts out funny, lobsters and Hamptons and all, and we’re East Coast people so we were into it. The mountains and beach looked better than the hospital. Mom just got more and more shocked. Ever seen that episode where the George Constanza character goes swimming and the cold water causes genital shrinkage? And his girlfriend goes topless while he’s shopping for Hampton tomatoes for his own mother? Then, just before they have sex for the first time, he thinks he’s alone and drops his trunks just as Seinfeld’s girlfriend walks in and sees, and then blabs to George’s girlfriend, and the girlfriend dumps him? And everyone has seen his girl naked except him? If you ever get a chance to see that episode and you aren’t a big prude like mom, it’s a riot. I mean, now I can laugh at it.
Only of course it wasn’t funny to me then, and I started sniffing. They crying. I mean oh my God awful, gut-wrenching sobs until I thought I was going to puke up my stomach and intestines and what was left of my shriveled manhood. If only some TV idiot’s cold-water wiener shrinkage and two whole legs could be me. ME! I wished I were dead. I said out loud I wished I was dead. I said if I had a gun, I’d put it to my head and pull the trigger right now. This time my siter started sobbing as she killed the TV, because she’d turned it on to cheer me up, and my mom ran for the nurse’s station because, THREE STOOGES generation or not, she IS a mother and figured out everything going on with me in two seconds or less. What a night. What a nightmare. That’s when I hit rock bottom.
But strangely enough, I started to get better emotionally. I worked with the new shrink and apologized to the therapists and worked with them. Stopped wishing I were dead. Stopped the pity party and also stopped watching SEINFELD, that asshole show for losers. However, my story got around--I swear that hospital never did learn the definition of confidentiality--and suddenly everyone knew about shrinkage and Seinfeld, about how I needed a toe to feel like a man again so I could have one good leg back…
How the Buick’s driver and my ex and the blabbing bitch ex-shrink were women, and how I couldn’t slice a thumb off my hand to go on my foot because I wanted to go into medicine… And then the staff talked and the PATIENTS I knew heard about it. Especially the long-term patients.
So get this. One of the patients on the floor missing two breasts went to therapy at the same time as I did; her for shoulder and arm movement, as they’d carved her up pretty good, and she actually offered me her big toe. By this time no one could embarrass me any more than I’d already been embarrassed.
I just smiled and said thanks, but you worry about yourself, okay? Cancer is no joke. The Buick that hit me won’t be back. Your illness might. She shed a few tears for me and gave me a nice smile. She had a motherly maternal air that was kind of sweet, actually. Cute, to use one of my sister’s words, but she wasn’t “cute.” I mean, this was breast number two they’d just hacked off after attacking the other one six weeks ago, and instead of looking her age in her fifties she looked like she was in her nineties. I felt bad for her. Said she was going through it all for her daughter and to give her kid hope. But figured she was worm meat anyway and that was okay since her husband had already died. Worm meat! Her words, not mine. And if I wanted her big toe, I could have it right this second, right now while she was still alive so it would be good and fresh. It seemed to mean a lot to her. Almost as much as that stupid toe had once been to me. Of course I couldn’t take it. Her body was riddled with cancer, but she was drugged up and thinking loony, even more so than me. I told her thanks, I’d uh, think about it. She acted so damn happy I fibbed and told her I’deven ask my doctors about using her toe down the road, okay? But only when I felt better, because I wasn’t up to more surgery yet; a whopper lie, but what else could I say? She was dying. Everyone could tell but her daughter.
Next, I told the shrink that this whole hospital has a foot fetish, and he told me I’d started it, so I should stand proud. Stupid pun, bastard, I threw back. He said with dying women throwing themselves at me--or rather their toes--maybe I should start worrying more about the important things I still had left. I agreed but didn’t say so. Still, I insisted the shrink ask the families permission to play along. The daughter even agreed. She then went so far as to do pretend blood tests for a donor big toe match. Back in therapy (physical, that is) I offered the lady my pecs in return for her toe if she didn’t mind some hair on them or a no-cup size. And told her electrolysis was doing wonderful things these days and New Jersey plastic surgeons were a dime a dozen. Or was she into padded bras and ripping and tearing off hair with the wax?
She laughed at that—which made the daughter cry--and asked me if I’d read Seinfeld’s book, SEINLANGUAGE. Said he had this bit in there about how women could rip out their bikini-line hair by chunks but still be afraid of spiders. I said I only did Seinfeld TV, but not lately. She figured I liked the guy so she put on her Seinfeld CD since I could get into the wheelchair, and we listened and laughed like hell with my sister, the taxi driver, and her daughter the watchdog in the room. That night was the last time we spoke. The lady died, breast-less, before morning. The daughter told me through my sister that the women has left me her Seinfeld book and CD, and that if I wanted her toe, I could have it. Not attached, that is; too much danger of cancer since the mom was a metastasized nightmare, but I could have it preserved if I wanted. Seems the daughter was the sole family, heir and trustee of the estate. I didn’t know what diplomatic response to make to that, but sis actually came through and said I would love to have photographs of the mom and the mom’s big toe, separate or together.
The shrink said you have enough problems, distance yourself before you go home, but by then I was sane enough to make my own decisions. A few weeks later, I went home to mom and dad and sis with my picture of her mom (while still alive and nice looking) barefoot at the beach, all toes exposed and painted proud. And literature on new methods of breast exams for women. They don’t do spiral circles, now. It’s now a “new and improved” up and down pattern. So much for the innovative, hi-tech world of modern medicine, but mom didn’t want to take any chances with herself or Sis. Especially Sis.
The dead women’s daughter, name of Evie, came with the breast cancer literature…and never went home. She and my sister had bonded, even though Evie was closer to my age. Then mom bonded with Evie because Evie was lonely and had no parents or family left. Dad jumped in to handle the dead mom’s will and settle the estate, my mom mothered her, and Sis played sister. Dad put up her old house for sale for Evie couldn’t bear to go back there. Guess her father had died at home. Me? I just tried to be her friend. I told her something I didn’t tell anymore, not the shrink, not even my sister, who I used to tell everything to.
I told Evie that her late mother had restored my faith in women as a whole. That her misplaced generosity--no matter how weird it seemed to healthy people--had helped me be myself again on the inside. A whole man again. That as long as I lived, her mother would hold a special place in my heart. And that Evie was now as precious to me as my own mother, sister and father. She fell into my arms with terrible sobs like the ones I had sobbed during Georges shrinkage episode. I just held her and held her and held her, even though she’d knocked my stump end and it throbbed like a son of a bitch. I held her for as long as she wanted. And needed. That was a long, long time.
She later told me she’d fallen in love with me then, and vowed to be my wife. The whole family silently, and then not so silently, cheered her on. (Thank God. I told you I believe in Him now, didn’t I?) I’d graduated from using MOBY’S DICK in my conversation to adult words like generosity.) Then weeks later, she told me she loved me, and wanted us to be together forever…as man and wife.
I swear to God I never saw it coming. I wouldn’t even entertain the idea. So my family started in on me. I felt bad enough hurting such a sweet person like Evie. But mom dragged out the guilt tears and silent treatment anyway. Dad called me a spineless coward, even Sis asked me if I had a lobotomy along with my amputations. Nasty little bitch. For the first time in my life I really hated them all. The whole family stormed out of the house that day except Evie. Told us to work it out in private.
I told Evie she deserved a healthy man who could support her. That brought real tears to her eyes, not fake ones. First, she stripped in front of me, sobbing all while, until tears ran off her chin onto her taut, bare belly and down to the hair that hadn’t been ripped out with wax. Then she knelt and took off my shoes and socks. I tried to stop her but despite her crying, she was determined. When she kissed every inch of what was left on my bad leg through my jeans, I closed my eyes. When she kissed the hole that was once my toe on the good one, I had to open them.
There she was; shadows from my hated walker crisscrossing her perfect body. What was left of the ruined textured carpet (despite the tennis-ball accessories on the legs) had scratched her flawless breasts and put sleep-like creases into her knees. When she stood and wiped my face with her fingers and begged me to accept her love--promised she wouldn’t ask for a thing in return--that’s when I lost it. There’s a big line between being noble and being an idiot, and I was the always the idiot.
I let her undress me, even the stupid sock for the stump that still wept and cracked and oozed into the lambskin if I stood for too long. Then she cried and hugged me and kissed me over and over while I cried. I don’t remember when the crying turned to loving, but we had such a passionate joining that we ended up with rugburns, not just creases. And on that ratty old carpet, no less, I held her naked body in my arms while she held my naked soul in her hands.
One week later we were married. And according to the doctor; her doctor, not mine, she must have conceived then, even though she moved into my bedroom that night. The baby’s due in a few months, exactly nine months from that wild joining. I know it sounds soap opera-ish (excuse ME, daytime drama-ish) but it’s true. Evie goes in every month to check up on the baby and her breasts and the rest of her parts. Family history and all that. Pregnancy hormones can start ticking time bombs if you have Big C seeds inside you. But the new doctor; not her mom’s old cancer doctor but a hi-tech expensive guy with a whole staff, says her lab tests so far are clean as a whistle. No one worries much except me, so I guess I’ll have to trust them in that respect.
Dad also says he wants a grandson because he’s sick and tired of three women ganging up on two men. Everyone says I can’t move out of the house yet. Dad’s having the garage changed into a handicapped accessible “granny flat.” Says no one moves out on their own until he says so, and that includes me and Evie and the baby. But I know this was the women’s idea, because Evie’s paying for it all and mom has both hands right in there with the builders. Sis can’t wait to take over MY room. I don’t argue too much. I keep busy working as a hospital volunteer, still can’t pass a physical for a pay job, but I shoot for spending three half-days a week with the other limb-less in the physical therapy department. Dad says I should quit after the baby is born, at least for a while. And then he said that if Evie has a boy, he’ll give me HIS big toe to replace my missing one. Said he’s family and the blood type should match.
Mom got angry whether the baby is a boy or a girl, and says Dad will give me his toe, anyway. He’s an old fool who doesn’t need it, since he sits around watching ESPN and CNN all day. Then five minutes later they argue over the morality of cloning parts vs. whole people. Dad says parts won’t work. That you need the whole package. Ask Dolly the sheep. Mom said, how could she bear stealing a leg from my future clone and letting the doctors kill him off afterwards?
They really get into it, religion and politics and sheer stubbornness. All I have to do is say “bad vibes for the grandkid, and maybe Evie and I should find our own place,” and they shut right up. Evie knows what sex the baby is, but she won’t tell anyone else because I really want to wait for the delivery surprise. I’m happy enough in the meantime.
Yeah, I miss my leg. I’ll always miss it. But at least my story had a decent ending. I’ve lucked out better than most gimps.
I mean, I’ve got a beautiful wife, who makes my groin stand at attention every single time.
A healthy baby on the way, and yes, Sis and I are cleaning up our swear words.
Parents who can’t bear to see me move out, but let’s see how it goes after all those two o’clock feedings.
A job I love, even if I don’t get paid.
And maybe even a big toe on the way? Not that I’d ever let dad do it, but dad swears he’s leaving it to me in his will.
I finished up my degree by mail. Even my sister graduated from high school with the cap and gown ceremony. We were all there. She says she wants to go into pre-med and be a shrink. Well, she has the balls for it, that’s for sure. How many other seventeen-year- olds can answer questions from hysterical women about pickled versus photographed toes without a missing a beat?
Shinola! I said balls. Oh well, the baby's not born yet. I have a few more months to get rid of my last verbal vulgarities. Sis says it’ll never happen in this lifetime. Must be the opioids I’m on for bad days. She’s wrong. I’m so happy, despite five plastic toes and a missing flesh- and-bone one, I swear I could do cartwheels. Maybe I’ll even try one someday- but right now I have another urge to satisfy.
Did I tell you Evie’s the most beautiful pregnant women I’ve ever seen? And that she has the most beautiful feet of any women I’ve ever known? Even better than her mother’s? Evie may be very pregnant and off “regular” sex right now, but that’s only temporary. Still for a "whole lover,” she’s wonderfully inventive.
All I can say is… George Constanza, eat your heart out!