STORIES ON DISABLEDPLANET

 

 


EX BALLERINA


Like countless other little girls, I dreamed of being a
ballerina, but with a difference. I had no urge to become famous
star, to perform solo for admiring crowds or to make a fortune.
All I wanted to do was dance, become part of the beautiful music
and choreography, experience a kind of merging or blending and
make my body and mind an intimate part of it all. So strong was
this urge I could hardly remain still whenever I heard danceable
music, and where it was difficult for others to practice, to
adhere to diets that would assure them of staying slim and pli-
ant, I was so driven by the desire to dance that all the require-
ments related to dancing were easy to accept and live with.

My mother had been a fine semi-professional dancer and she
encouraged me in my desire to perfect my dancing... and approved
of my lack of interest in a big famous career, realizing how emo-
tionally involved I was with dancing for its own sake. So I went
on studying and practicing, and by the time I was in my mid-teens
I was a fairly good ballet dancer, with excellent potential for
the future. And about this time I began to develop a major prob-
lem that was to be painful to cope with and destined to become
more serious as time passed. Tho I inherited much from my mother,
we were physically very different in one important way; whereas
she was always slender and of a sleek trim build, I began to
develop a very womanly figure; no great problem for the average
girl... for a well-rounded bosom has never been a detriment for a
pretty girl, But as you have noticed, ballet dancers are not only
slender, they are almost flat-chested and boyish looking. This
has its advantages in rapid movement, in making the kind of agile
and sinuous movements required in serious dancing. A bosomy
ballerina endures genuine problems in dynamics, in balance, and
in motion, and as my blossoming curves grew larger and larger it
became obvious that I had a big decision to make, and soon.
Either I had to give up dancing because of my now extremely ample
bust, or resort to major plastic surgery to make myself trim and
willowy. Aside from the increasing difficulty of dancing freely
and smoothly with such a figure, there was the mortifying fact
that audiences were beginning to be amused by my outstanding
balcony. In a line with other dancers, all of whom were thin and
flat, my oversize breasts stuck out with startling obviousness,
making me conspicuous in a way that had nothing to do with my
dancing ability.

I began to neglect my practice, to mope about by myself as I
tried to decide what to do, to battle with the two opposing
forces in my nature. I like being a girl, I gloried in my ripely
abundant figure, enjoyed the very female look of myself in pretty
clothes and was terribly upset about having my dancing so marred
and hampered by this added bulk and unwieldiness. In this problem
my mother was no help at all! Studying my burgeoning curves
admiringly, she would sigh enviously... "All my life I wanted a
figure like yours... I'd have given up dancing in a minute in
exchange for such breasts!" She would shake her head sadly... "It
would be a crime to alter such a body... like destroying a natu-
ral wonder... please don't think of it!" She made me feel like
Grand Canyon or Mammoth Cave! But since I felt much the same way
about it, my choice was a very difficult one. Ultimately I had to
decide whether the ecstasy of the dance meant more to me than my
nice if very top heavy body; One day I was all for a dancing
career; the next, seeing a lovely formal, or a pretty negligee I
was just as determined to be a woman first and foremost. How this
painful battle would have turned out I cannot say, but Fate saved
me the difficulty of making either choice by changing the entire
course of my life in a split second.

Among Mother's artistic friends was a handsome older man who
was an art dealer and music lover. Martin knew a great deal about
all the arts, he was charming and humorous, had an extremely
powerful male-attractiveness and I found him so irresistible I
fell in love with him. We had been going places together for a
few months during the time when my anatomical problem was begin-
ning to become serious, and he too was on the side of saving "one
of natures most noble and exquisite works!" as he referred to my
generously formed bust. It is possible that I would have given up
dancing anyway; looking back I am enormously glad I did not
resort to surgery, for as I have matured (and my figure has gone
right on growing!) I have found that I genuinely like being
exceptionally bosomy. I like wearing clothes that dramatize
Nature's generosity, I like the way men look at me because of my
unusual proportions, I just like being a busty lady! Anyway, one
day Martin and I were driving in the country, enjoying the lovely
weather and the scenery, when some boys in a souped-up car came
roaring toward us, weaving from side to side and scaring us both.
Martin had to swerve to avoid them, and in doing so crashed into
a huge tree, totalling the car and almost totalling ourselves as
well. He survived intact, after weeks in the hospital; I was not
so lucky, for I came out of it with my right leg amputated at
about the middle of the thigh.

Being young and healthy I healed rapidly,physically that is.
But mentally and emotionally I was a wreck! For months I was
terribly depressed and discouraged. In a very leg-conscious
world, a girl's legs are terribly important, not only for walking
but as major parts of her total appearance. I had lost my ability
to dance, my body was permanently and seriously damaged, I was
crippled for as long as I live, and my healthy pride in a nice
body was badly damaged. Always a sensitive and appearance con-
scious person, I was stunned at being disabled, crippled, trans-
formed into an object of pity and curiosity. I had been used to
admiration, now I discovered how shattering it can be to a
woman's morale and self-confidence to find herself pitied rather
than admired. A lot of well- meaning people offered comments
about the inside being important and the outside not mattering,
but none of them have ever lost a leg and had to endure the
problems related to being one-legged! In real life, appearance
does matter a great deal, no one who is observant can deny this,
and especially for a woman, physical wholeness is very important.

The loss of dancing was perhaps even more painful than the
crippledness itself and the total of all the painful and frus-
trating things that went with losing my leg combined to make me
so depressed I was almost suicidal for a long time. One of the
very worst parts was the words that refer to my condition. Crip-
ple, one-legged, disabled, handicapped, and so on. I became
almost paranoid about those words!

Another thing that hurt very deeply was that Martin lost all
interest in me. He was dedicated to beauty, perfection, normal
appearance, and the first time he saw me on crutches with only
one leg I could see in his face the way it upset and repelled
him. Not that I was surprised. After one horrified look at myself
in a full length mirror I almost went crazy! I couldn't blame him
or any man for not wanting to have anything to do with me! I felt
ugly and marred and ruined.

As time passed and I got no better emotionally, I began to
look for some kind of professional help. All the "chin-up" non-
sense people had been giving me in their inexperienced and well
meaning efforts to cheer me up only made me more depressed, and I
began to avoid friends, to live more and more alone with my grief
and my depression. I consulted several psychiatrists; none had
any real experience with my kind of problem and I quickly saw
they had nothing to give me in the way of worthwhile help, Final-
ly someone referred me to a psychologist who, they said, was not
burdened with hard and fast rules and could provide a specific
kind of help for each case. When I told him about myself and the
problems related to being disabled he shrugged. "You have less of
a problem in dealing with your situation than you may think.
Mostly you are terrified of a lot of words that relate to your
handicap. From your conversation I can see a lot of word-con-
sciousness as part of your nature, and it's mainly your fear of
certain words that is keeping you upset now. You don't need a
long drawn out series of analytic sessions... what you need is to
start talking your problem to death! Use the painful words, talk
about being crippled, when you write to friends tell them about
it. Use all the painful words as much as you can, get everyone
you know to do the same. Insist on being called one-legged,
crippled disabled, handicapped, make the words so familiar and so
ever-present they are certain to lose their sting, Once you
become used to them your major problem will diminish greatly...
but don't let up. If you do, you will tend to avoid a lot of
words and soon will be hyper-sensitive to them again and you'll
go thru the same misery all over." I was stunned and upset. Yet I
could see the logic in his prescription. So I began to 'talk my
problem to death' just as he had suggested. In a couple of weeks
I began to realize I could accept those hateful words much more
easily. By the end of three months I was quite used to referring
to myself as crippled, having friends begin letters... "Dear
crippled Friend"... or "Dear one-legged girl"... and I began to
feel happier and more at peace. And the more I talked and wrote
about my handicap, in frank and sometimes harsh terms, the more I
began to feel like my old self again. By the end of six months or
so I was busy rebuilding my life, planning for the future, doing
and enjoying things I could still do and not bothering too much
about things I was no longer able to do. Being a highly emotional
person and also being very much aware of my appearance, it was
and is still difficult to cope with all the aspects of being
crippled. We live in a society that places enormous emphasis on
peoples' appearance, particularly young women, and legs are a
very major part of a woman's appearance and desirability, so I
can never forget that I'm missing half my legs, that I stand out
freakishly in any group, that I can be seen to be badly flawed as
far away as I am visible. When people try to make light of all
this by saying all that matters is what I'm like inside I want to
ask them if they have ever been one-legged, ever had to endure
the self-consciousness that goes with being young, attractive...
and crippled. I'm often reminded of the line in Romeo and Juliet:
"he jests at scars who never felt a wound!" At any rate, thanks
to my psychologist friend (and NO thanks to the countless
strangers who have made mistakenly helpful comments about being
as good as I ever was and handicaps are only mental) I've managed
to recapture my happiness and peace of mind, to create a new kind
of life and to absorb most of the pain and grief of losing my
dancing, of having my body permanently and drastically marred,
and of being an object of curiosity and pity wherever I go. I
know that many people who have no real experience with such
things think it is fairly easy to absorb a handicap. You just
keep smiling and pretty soon all will be well. That kind of
imitation bravery has no meaning and does no good. Any woman who
can lose a leg and then be unaffected by it is either a dullard
or a nut! It's basic to woman's nature to want to be admired, to
present an attractive appearance to the world, if for no other
reason than to please men. I've seen men take one horrified look
and turn away... when they used to look at me admiringly, even
hungrily. Not even my "outstanding" figure can compensate for
that missing leg when it comes to being desirable, where most men
are concerned, and even when certain men seem attracted to me I
still wonder if it is in spite of my being crippled, or if they
truly are not bothered at all by it, or if they are actually
drawn to me because I'm disabled! It is not at all reassuring in
any case. There is always that barrier, I'm different. Can any
man like me as-is and not be somewhat repelled by my lack of a
leg? Can he see me as a totally desirable woman, or will the
defect always stand between us, in his mind? I have more than
ample physical desires and love is extremely vital and important
to me, yet I cannot abide reservations, barriers, being cared
about "anyway" in spite of the way I am, Nor can I accept the
idea of a man wanting me just because he happens to find my
disability fascinating or exciting (some men do respond that
way). Foolishly, I still want to be loved just for the way I am,
totally... all of me... with no reservations and no holding back,
no "broad-minded" acceptance (inevitably with reservations) and
no condescension, You say all I have to do is take the right
mental attitude and all will be well? I say... have you ever lost
a leg, been a one-legged woman, faced a lifetime of being con-
spicuous for all the wrong reasons? If you have not experienced
all this, you have no way of genuinely knowing what it is like or
how you would feel. The brave cheery unconcerned crippled girl is
a pure myth, mostly made up by people who are uncomfortable
around cripples and who try to ease their own uneasiness by
pretending it really isn't so bad for the crippled person anyway.
And I know that a lot of disabled people, women in particular,
try to live up to that myth. But inside we all cry a lot, and if
you think that is cowardice or a bid for sympathy, you have no
imagination and no sensitivity to other peoples' problems. The
real thing is not to pretend a bravery you don't feel, but just
to go ahead and live the best kind of life it is possible to
construct, and stop pretending everything is marvelous when it
isn't so.

Let me tell you about some reality in connection with being
one-legged. I used to go out a lot. Dates, dinners and concerts,
shopping trips, visiting friends and so on. Now I stay home much
more than I go out. This is not just because I dislike being
stared at and felt sorry for (and having to put up with the
morbidly curious questions from strangers and having to listen to
their two-bit maudlin cheer-up speeches) much more it's from
actual physical fear, The odd men I referred to earlier, who find
crippled women exciting sexually... I've encountered a number of
them. A one-legged woman is conspicuous in any situation. And
since I'm not unattractive and have such a noticeable figure, I
attract a lot of attention when I go places and seem to attract
these men like a magnet. Several have followed me for blocks,
some even to my front door. A few have tried to pick me up, and
one tried to rape me! From all of them the things they said and
the way they watched me made it clear that my crippledness was
the major point of interest, My body, as such, my mind, my spir-
it, none of those seemed of concern to them, I probably wouldn't
mind if a man were bright and charming and intelligent and cap-
able of real love, if he also was in some way moved or touched or
even sexually aroused because I'm disabled. After all a certain
degree of helplessness can be very feminine and bring out the
gallant and protective feelings of men, I could accept and in-
clude that feeling and not be bothered. But to know that a man
desires me solely because I'm disabled is quite another thing.
Let's consider the almost-rape affair.

I love to go walking late at night, I like the cool fresh
air, the sense of peace and quiet, the whole atmosphere of night.
Also, I can enjoy more privacy than if I go walking in the day-
time. I was living in a quiet neighborhood and had never had any
trouble, so I was swinging along drinking in the cool air and
sort of drifting blissfully. I sat down on a low retaining wall
that ran around an old house, just resting and looking at the
stars and sort of fantasizing about enjoyable things, when a car
slowed down and a man stared at me in the intense greedy way I
have become used to seeing. Then he drove on and I sighed with
relief... just another starer. Not so! He drove by a second time
and called out, "want a lift?"

"Thank you, no, I'm just out for a walk and live nearby." He
hesitated, then drove off a second time; The third time he came
by he stopped the car, leaving the motor running, almost ran to
where I sat, grabbed me and began to drag me toward his car. My
crutches fell to the sidewalk and I was fighting back as best I
could. But he had me off balance and I was only kept from falling
by his strong grip, with both arms around me.

"You one-legged blank blank... I'm gonna blank the hell out
of you!" he said softly. He managed to get me into the car in
spite of my struggles and the one hefty scream I was able to give
before he put his hand over my mouth. He pushed me in oil the
driver's side and shoved me over to the passenger side with a
rough push, I tried to escape by opening the door but it wouldn't
open, He drove off, swerving and swaying. I tried to make him
stop but the harder I fought the worse he drove and I had already
had enough car crashes in my life so I sat still, hoping for a
chance to get away. He drove into a dark little side street and
began trying to attack me. I fought back as hard as I could and
managed to hurt him enough that at last he dragged me back out of
the car, gave me a shove that sent me sprawling, and drove off
like a madman. I lay there crying with fright and anger, then
realizing I was in the middle of the street decided I'd better
get myself onto the sidewalk and out of danger.

It is one of the ironic and maddening things about my handi-
cap that my once fine sense of balance and my former agility and
co-ordination seem to have been cut off with my leg. Although
I've spent hours working to regain these things I still cannot
hop freely unless I have things to hold onto or lean on, I am not
able to get up from the ground or the floor without help, or
without a good solid something to hang onto, and I am literally
and totally stranded without my crutches. In fact I get very
uneasy and panicky if someone "thoughtfully" takes my crutches...
"I'll just put them over here our of the way...." and there I sit
feeling as tho I've been cast up on a deserted island! So there I
sat in the middle of the street unable to get up (and unable to
hop to the sidewalk if I had been able to stand up) so I dragged
myself to the curb and sat there still crying and looking around
for help. No one was in sight, there was no traffic, I might as
well have been in the middle of the Gobi Desert! And my crutches
were about three blocks away! There was a tree right behind where
I sit. I considered holding onto it and helping myself up, then
realized there was nothing I could do if I did manage to stand. I
couldn't hop to the next one which was a good twenty five or
thirty feet away with no support to lean on between "my" tree and
the next one. So I sat there and hoped for a miracle. A police
car! A private car! A late-night walker? Nothing! Finally I gave
up my hopeful waiting and began to crawl. Did you ever crawl
three blocks? Can you imagine the feelings you'd have if you had
to, if you simply could not stand up and walk, or even hop on one
foot? Even with no one around to witness my humiliating struggle
it was a very upsetting experience; The feeling of helplessness,
the fear of the man returning, the horrible mortification of
being that helpless even tho I was healthy and strong. It was a
long three blocks. Usually I have very negative feelings about my
crutches. They are the big and ever-present reminder of my one-
leggedness, the symbol of everything bad that has happened since
that terrible accident six years ago. But when I finally got back
to where they lay on the sidewalk I could have kissed them!
Suddenly I was mobile again! I managed to get up and lean on
them. I was very tired, more from shock and anger and humiliation
than from physical exhaustion, and tho I wanted to sit down and
rest I dared not, so I went home as fast as I was able to travel.
When I was safely in my apartment I took stock. One ruined nylon,
one hopelessly scuffed shoe, one badly battered skirt, two very
dirty and scratched hands and one very bedraggled ego. I was too
worn out even to take the hot bath I wanted, so I fell into bed
and slept for many hours.

The next day I moved. I sent a friend for my personal things
and a moving firm for the furniture. I gave up my phone and got a
new one under a different name. I put a different name on the
mailbox in the lobby and told my close friends to address mail
accordingly. And I stopped my enjoyable late night walks, Now I
go out with a friend or I stay at home. Unless I happen to be in
a location that seems very safe, such as visiting friends in the
country. For all those who take the unrealistic view that being
handicapped is only a state of mind, and for all those unthinking
well-wishers who like to shower me with their well meant but
wholly inexperienced advice and cheery platitudes, I suggest
serious re-reading of what I have just written. Maybe the next
one-legged person you see will be spared the annoyance and embar-
rassment of having to listen to cliches about his or her condi-
tion. It's not the greatest tragedy in the world to lose a leg,
but it isn't a heck of a lot of fun, either!

* * * * *

None of this information about my experiences is meant to
evoke sympathy or to exaggerate my problems. I just wanted to
give unthinking do-gooders some hard facts to think about in
place of the sugar-coated myths they like to believe. As for the
men who are attracted to crippled women... I do strongly object
to being desired simply because I have lost a leg, but as I said
before, that has nothing to do with the other kind of men who
might be attracted to me in all ways and also happen to find my
disability appealing or charming. That I can accept quite readi-
ly. If there are any such men about!

* * * * *

One of the less thrilling aspects of being an amputee is the
curse of so- called "phantom-limb" feelings and pains. An ortho-
pedic doctor told me my assorted pains and muscle spasms were
normal and that most amputees have them to some degree. No cure
has been found, so we 'enjoy' them in our various ways. In my
case I have occasional sensations of still having my leg. There
is an occasional itching of my big toe that cannot be scratched.
An occasional twinge of pain in the long-lost knee joint. All
these I can take. They are only occasional, not too severe, and
they go away after a time, What is a big nuisance is the energe-
tic jumping and kicking of the brief remnant of my thigh that
happens without warning. Suddenly it will be twitching and jerk-
ing madly and I can do nothing to stop it. I flee to the ladies
room if out in public, or if at home I try to ignore it and busy
myself with some kind of activity. The spasms last from a few
minutes to a day or two, and sometimes drive me half wild; even-
tually, if the spasm lasts very long, the unused muscles become
sore from the violent jerking and kicking, then each added kick
hurts a good deal in addition to being a nuisance. When people
assume all it takes to cope with a handicap is a stiff upper lip
and a cheery smile, I suggest having a leg amputated and experi-
encing it all first hand. I doubt if many of the cliches and
platitudes would hold up long under the reality of actually being
an amputee.

* * * * *

One of the things I am most thankful for is that I am pri-
marily a mental and not a physical type. Much as I loved dancing,
I was never much for other forms of physical activity and even my
dancing was more related to mind and emotion than to a desire for
physical activity as such. So it is easy for me to center my life
on reading, doing various kinds of art work, listening to record-
ings, carrying on serious correspondence with various friends,
driving about in my car and enjoying a lot of other things that
do not require two legs and a lot of co-ordination. Two other
popular myths about the handicapped come to mind. One is that the
mind and body develop extra abilities to compensate for what is
lost. Not only is this nonsense (any competent physiologist can
attest to this) but from personal experience I can say that I
have experienced some actual loss of former bodily skills and
abilities over and above those directly connected with being one-
legged. The second myth, also full of holes, is that there is
something ennobling about being handicapped, as tho one's mind
and spirit went into high gear just because a leg has been
whacked off or an arm or the eyes have stopped working. The plain
fact is that being handicapped is just a plain damned nuisance as
well as an embarrassment and does not in any way bring on lofty
thoughts or make the soul more beautiful. Since a lot of handi-
capped people seem to work hard at being cheery and unconcerned
(merely to comply with what do-gooders expect of them) this silly
myth has gained a solid foothold in our society. But it is a
fraud and does more harm than good. Its main purpose is to keep
the non-handicapped from feeling too uneasy around the handi-
capped.

* * * * *

A lot of people seem to believe that a handicapped girl is
some sort of cool passionless saint, above ordinary human
desires. This may well be the most silly of all the myths about
us disabled damsels! From my own experience I'd say the opposite
is true! I was always very "warmhearted" if you like euphemisms,
and since I lost my leg a number of things seem to have combined
to intensify my natural urges. For one thing any woman who feels
defective is going to need to be loved and admired more than
before, in order to soothe her damaged ego, For another any
serious disability limits many kinds of activities and pleasures
and gives one a lot of time alone in which to think, thinking can
lead to a great increase in romantic thoughts and feelings! Then
there are intangibles in the area of subtle and not so subtle
increases in "warmth" due to a variety of feelings having to do
with trying to convince one's self that one is still a real
woman, worthy of love and desire. All these things added together
mean that a handicapped girl may well be one of the most romance-
oriented and desire filled creatures on earth! Being denied
something does not cool the appetite for it! I suppose this myth
got started because some men may feel guilty about not wanting to
date or marry crippled girls, so they invented the notion that we
are all more or less sexless and pure ... and dull! Maybe... but
don't bank on it!


Magazines that cater to the many who want everything sugar-
coated have published a lot of sob-sister articles about the
marvels of artificial limbs. In those charming tales all an
amputee has to do is don one of the miraculous fakes and presto,
he or she can run and dance and be as good as new. All such
articles hint at still more miraculous limbs ready to appear on
the market, and the main theme in all of them is that artificial
limbs are just about as good as the real thing. These writings
are not realistic and are not based on actual fact, but are
written to make money; written by hacks who will write from any
point of view an editor will buy. The major purpose of artificial
limbs is an attempt at hiding the un-hideable. No one is ever
fooled by them and only the wearer is in any way convinced it is
a good camouflage. They are obvious, ugly and corpse-like, they
do not work very well and they are painful to wear. The "experts"
advocate them because they are highly profitable. Further, the
various therapists who deal with the disabled see them only in
the clinic environment, rarely in real life for an extended
period. Many who are chalked up as "successful" wearers abandon
the limbs after struggling with them, enduring pain and falls and
if they wear them long develop ulcerous sores on their stumps and
have to abandon the limb temporarily or permanently. I know this
first hand for I tried hard for many months to master the use of
two different makes (each was the best in the world!) All I got
from the long nightmare was several very bad falls, a lot of
misery and disappointment and finally so many sores on my thigh
stump, I had to go back into the hospital for a re-amputation,
lost another three inches and wound up with a stump about six
inches long. During my periods in the hospital and in conversa-
tions outside the hospital I found that other amputee have much
the same experience. The "experts" are robot-happy, eager to
count their "successes" and quick to gloss over the failures.
They have carved out a respected and well paying niche for them-
selves and do not want to know the realities of artificial limbs.
To face the truth would cancel their life work and force them to
look for another job; few people are that brave!

* * * * *

In closing this rambling narration about myself I'd like to
propose a little mental game for you, the reader. What I have
written is the hard facts of being one-legged. I have not been
trying to wheedle sympathy from you and have not been trying to
make my lot seem worse than it is. BUT, considering the whole
thing, do you feel it has been factual or merely an exercise in
trying to get sympathy? Your reaction to what I have written will
tell you clearly if you are genuinely realistic or if you, too
are afraid to face the realities of being handicapped and still
want to gloss it all over with cheery platitudes about courage
and fortitude and what's inside is all that counts. Most people
are uncomfortable around handicapped people. (They could get used
to us if they would mingle more with those who are disabled) so
they invent, believe and pass along a host of silly myths that
imply that being handicapped is nothing very serious. This does
no good at all for the handicapped and only acts as a curtain
meant to obscure the facts so the non-handicapped will not feel
so guilty and uneasy about us. Getting the facts is the first
step toward dealing with the subject honestly and constructively.

* * * * *

P.S. Many people have asked me what kind of man I prefer.
That I can answer easily. I prefer an older man, one who is
intelligent, who knows a lot about the things I love, fine art,
serious classical music, good literature (and no, I do not con-
sider "Book of the Month" or "best sellers" as necessarily being
good literature!) a man who has a great many interests and may
kinds of knowledge, one who is fully grown up, original, his own
man and not a carbon copy of the usual male. And I definitely do
not want a man who is a habitual loser, one who has been married
and divorced a number of times, has a batch of kids and needs a
nursemaid, housekeeper, baby-sitter and free bedfellow, I am not
in the least domestic or maternal and I am certainly not inter-
ested in marrying a laboring man and settling into dull homemak-
ing for the rest of my life. What can I offer to the sort of man
I envision as a suitable mate? You would be astonished.


from: anonymous
e-mail: anonymous