When I was in Jr. high a classmate, Annie Jurgensen,* showed me her webfoot one day in the locker room before our mandatory swimming lessons. As she so blithely pointed out her abnormality, I felt a surge of envy. Not envy of her webfoot, but of the enormous sense of matter-of-factness with which she conducted this spontaneous show-and-tell.
While she so cheerfully displayed what should have been a point of shame (in my family, at least, it most certainly would have been snickered at, and become pivotal to every family joke), any thoughts of repugnance on my part, or embarrassment on hers, were diffused by Annie’s easy acceptance of her deformity. I felt a new respect for my friend as I realized that she had managed to keep her dignity intact by accepting herself, webfoot and all.
And I, so self-conscious of my own feet, my “Flintstone feet” as my step-dad had long ago so cruelly dubbed them, took pains to hide my own monstrosities, so sure that such a physical defect could only lower my worth in another’s estimation.
My younger half-sibling had his own brand of deformity: a huge distended belly-button which became his one claim to fame. When he was about 4, he’d perch on our front curb and lift up his tee-shirt, flashing his abnormality to any neighborhood kid willing to shell out a quarter. This he did to my horror, yet I couldn’t help but admire his pragmatic audacity, his willingness to exploit the one feature of his anatomy which set him apart from everyone else–and all for filthy lucre.
My first high-school boyfriend, Rick Kendall,* had a younger brother who was a midget. This was not something we ever discussed, but I seethed with curiosity, dying to know the answer to questions such as, how does it feel to live among giants, and where does he shop for clothes? I couldn’t help feeling a combination of fascination and disgust upon seeing Rick’s midget sibling darting through the halls of Grant High, playing pranks and acting the role of class wit. Why doesn’t he keep a low profile, I wondered, no pun intended. He seemed determined to be on center stage where you couldn’t help but notice him, whether you wanted to or not. And perhaps that was the point of his antics–to get noticed, even if in doing so he called attention to his different-ness.
My own deformities (and I’m not counting my feet, because they really aren’t deformed), subsist deep within where no-one but me is aware of them. Not wanting to exploit them as my sibling did his freakish belly-button, I have struggled all my life to keep them hidden, underground. I don’t care to exploit them, neither do I care to wield them as an attention-getting tool, with an in-your-face kind of aggressiveness.
What I would like to do with my deformity is to find that easy-acceptance I so admired in Annie. I’m not referring to my DID, though. It goes deeper than that. It existed before that; it’s what I’ve come to think of as that infinitesimal moment in time when my abuser looked at me, deemed me unworthy of any kind of respect (let alone love), and having decided on my worthlessness, began the process of destroying me.
There are times when I know without doubt that it was he who was the freak, not me. But on a deeper level, and at moments of raw self-honesty, there is the monolithic certainty that he could not have brought out the freakishness in me, had there been no freakishness to begin with.
Today I’m pondering this whole subject of deformities, and how society looks at them. And I should add, what society considers to be a deformity. And I wonder how much it matters, bottom line, what others label as deformed or freakish. It’s really not about my feet, after all, or solely about the sexual abuse. It’s that heart-wrenching certainty I am never free of, and never will be free of world without end, that I am, at heart, deformed beyond redemption.
(*all names have been changed)