"If you think there is any difference between people who walk around talking about how sensitive they are about people like me and the people who pay a quarter to look at the freaks, you're as stupid as they are."
I had been working in a nursing home for four months when I first met Julie. She had been hired as a nurse's aide, a position with a tremendous amount of turnover, and when I first saw her I was smitten. She had the face of an angel and these brilliant blue eyes that looked straight through to your soul. My interest in her was pure and had nothing to do with anything aside from those "normal" romantic inclinations a man will sometimes feel for a woman.
When I was born, the doctor told my parents,
"Well, she has ten toes."
I did not really notice, at least not at first. For weeks I followed her around, asking her to let me take her to lunch, all but begging her to let me get to know her better. There was just something about her that kicked up sparks inside of me. I would not give up, and eventually she stopped turning me down and agreed to let me take her to lunch. After that we had lunch together every day for two weeks.
I really did not care and it made no real difference to me that she had been born without hands. We never even talked about it until she brought it up. She caught me off-guard when she started telling me she needed to get a job where she could make enough money to afford "alternative accessories." While she was masterful with the metal "claws" she wore, able to make a bed in under thirty seconds, she joked that she needed the kind of extensions movie villains had. Then she told me about the "rubber hands" she had at home, which were supposed to enable her to look "normal," but really just made her look "extremely creepy," in her own words.
"I put them on when I graduated from high school, just to freak out all the people who shake your hand after they give you the diploma. It was fun."
Julie hated charity and she held an especially deep hatred for those people she knew from the hospitals and rehabilitation centers she grew up with. They were, in her view, only increasing the glare of the spotlight. "You are as normal as you think you are, and if you play the, 'Look at me, I'm disabled,' you're screwing the rest of us over. It is easy to play it up for money and attention, but then you aren't moving past it. You're moving into it. Fuck those people."
"When I was younger, my little brother was riding his bike while my mother and me were on the porch watching. He takes his hands off the handlebars and says, 'Look mom, no hands!' That was probably the best moment of my childhood, except my brother ran away for two days after that."
Julie was accused by many of having a serious attitude problem and of being a bitch. She did and she was, but this wasn't the point. She was very tired. She could not stand "special attention." In her eyes, people who devoted themselves to charity were part of the problem. She told me a story about when she was younger and people tried to recruit her into organizations where people with so-called disabilities competed against each other in sporting events. It pissed her off. "You know what, I'll arm wrestle any son of a bitch who wants some. We'll see how tough they are when I break off their fingers." Always snapping the claws to make her point. She was serious. "Whenever they focus on what's wrong with you instead of letting you live your life like everyone else, it is just another name for a freak show. At least the people who pay a quarter for the carnival freak show are honest."
Our lunch dates finally led to a dinner date outside of the work environment. I made a mistake in not making reservations, but I wanted to impress her by taking her to a really nice restaurant. She had this edge that made mortals cringe. After we waited twenty minutes, she walked over to the maitre d' and loudly spat, "What, does a person have to have leg braces to get a table around here or what?" We had a table ten seconds later.
"You've got to know when to use it," she told me. "People get all crunched up inside when you point out shit like this. They're afraid someone will accuse them of not being sensitive." Always snapping the claws to make her point. She knew how to use it. Her anger was sometimes filled with contradictions. She just wanted people to consider her normal, but if they were going to let her cut ahead in line, she wasn't going to turn them down.
Julie was testing me and I failed. In my reality, her lack of ordinary hands did not make any difference to me. Her reality was one where the only guys who ever dated her were "sensitive" types who thought they were doing their good deed for the day. I couldn't figure out how to prove I wasn't like them. I made the mistake of ignoring that which made her different, at least on the surface.
The truth was that I was very insecure in those days and I had a defeatist attitude. Julie was too pretty for me, and as much as I loved her sarcasm and dark humor, I was always convinced she was too good for me. She was the one who turned her hands into an issue. I didn't really care. The way I saw it, I had my limitations and other people had theirs. It was the differences in people that made them interesting to me. Julie was interesting to me because she had depth of character and these brilliant blue eyes that looked straight through to my soul. I couldn't convince her. She thought I was just like everyone else, trying to make myself feel better about myself by dating the poor handicapped girl. Maybe she was right. The subconscious plays funny games with you sometimes.
"Sensitivity is the problem, not the solution. I can play it any way I want and get anything I want. Why? Because people think they owe me a favor and when they do something for me it makes them feel better about themselves. I have no use for parasites. They have a use for me."
Then she would snap the claws to make her point.
"You should see what I do with a lobster."
I can't tell you if she was right. I can only tell you she was real. I have no opinions, only recollections. Julie was just another lost angel in my city of night.