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Memoir: Legs

Adam Lavallee

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From birth I came here with different legs, a different sort of way to walk.

My toes didn’t face forward.  They were turned outward 45 degrees. My left foot was at 10:00 and my right at 2:00.

I wasn’t a pigeon; I was a penguin.  I was out of alignment.

This was supposed to fix itself. I was supposed to grow out of my own feet, my own angles. I could walk. I could run. But, I was different. If I didn’t change, I would have The Operation.

I didn’t change. So, I was 9 years old when the doctors broke both of my broken legs. They called this operation “bilateral distal rotational tibial osteotomy,” and it fixed me.

And, it was an easy fix, for that.

The fix had a clear beginning. The nurse over me smiled behind a surgical mask. I needed that to be comfortable. I was.

She told me to count down from 10 while she dropped an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. Ten, 9, 8, 7, 6 (I laughed with her in a shared insanity) 5, 4, 3.

I stopped in a sleep in which I didn’t dream and woke to white tiles on which I could eat a pizza.

My underwear was missing, and a bulky, camouflaged cast encased my thigh down to my big toe. I saw my mom who snuck in, impatient. The nurse hovered over me, again. I was cared for, and I didn’t have to care much.

Painkillers.  They insisted I stay up all night. My parents took turns to look after me. They reciprocated sleep while I watched The Three Stooges. I barely ate. Then I went home.

My final casts were removed in six months. My legs were stiff when I settled in to my first bath. My legs, atrophied, muscleless, floated in six inches of water. I watched my fixed legs bob in the water as my mother peeled off the dry blood on my skin with a wet towel until my legs were no longer dry or bloody.

That was the end.  

And I was still out of alignment. Not a pigeon or a penguin, just not normal.

Prior to the fix, I went into the third grade a few weeks late.  The teacher primed the students to expect the kid in the wheelchair.

I was the spectacle kids grabbed to pop wheelies full speed down the hall. I was the cast kids signed so they could be part of the recovery drama.

After the fix, I remembered when my skin itched under the cast. So many nights it itched, and I would use a chopstick to scratch all the parts my fingers could not.

But without the scratch, I still itched. It wasn’t a phantom itch, but a real itch I couldn’t reach. Yet that itch was invisible and mine alone to fix.

I knew it was easier to be The Thing in the wheelchair, to be passive and happy and healing. Other people would decide where my life went by grabbing my handlebars and taking control of the wheelies.

I want the spotted, brown, dried, blood on my legs. I want to keep the pins in my ankles.

Still.

Sometimes, I want to be fat with milkshakes that fuel my broken bones to heal. I want to be covered in Sharpie signatures.

Now, I walk, and people see me doing what they are doing. I, fixed, am like everyone else with scars behind my socks no one can see.

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Memoir: Legs