That’s what I was told I have today by a man whose business it is to measure bodies.
Lady, you DO have legs for days!
This guy, whom we will call Al, came by to measure me for a wheelchair (its only been almost 7 months since I joined the footless few and I’ve been using chairs that are not fitted to me).
Wait. I bet most of you didn’t know that wheelchairs are made to order. I mean, you can get those awful, foldable, one size fits everyone up to 300 pounds and the next size fits everyone up to 500 pounds chairs that you usually see in hospitals, it is true. But for those of us who wheel, we get chairs that are made *just right* for us as individuals and with all the things we want or need on them. Mine will be silver, and long enough to accomodate my legs, and will have a cushion to make my butt happy. Cause that’s how I’ll roll.
Anyhow, Al was visibly impressed with my leg to body ratio, so much so that he felt it necessary to remeasure me to make sure he was correct. He was. My legs are very long. How long are they, you ask?
Men weep at the length of my legs, that’s how long they are.
I’m not exaggerating.
They’re that fabulous.
I prefer to wear leggings, dresses, and skirts because pants long enough are just not easy to find. And let’s not get started on how short skirts and dresses look when there’s that much leg sticking out the bottom.
So as Al held up a tape measure to all different portions of my body to properly fit me for a chair, I learned a few things.
I learned that the optimal width is for wheeling a chair is having wheels that are as wide at the top as your shoulders are wide.
I learned that having a fabulous hourglass figure means my wheels will be an inch wider than what is optimal.
Ah… the price of beauty.
I learned that the backseat of my little hatchback will not exist as long as there’s a wheelchair in the back of ye olde GTI. Oh well. No backseat, no backseat to fill with stuff and no need to drive people places! Win, win.
Most importantly, I learned that all that work I did in the ballet studio for all those years is still paying off for me now. You may recall that I wrote in To Leap, Or Not To Leap (only one month ago) about how disoriented I felt in space not having that left foot to ground me, to add an equal counterweight, and to provide physiological balance. I wrote in that piece about the thought process and muscle activation that every good dancer has not only every time he or she stands up at the barre or at center but every time he or she feels that they are physically out of balance. It’s automatic. It’s maddening at times. It’s made a difference.
Many years ago I broke the transverse processes off one side of three vertebrae in my lower back and tore all the muscle on that side of my back from below my shoulder blade to my hip. That I avoided being paralyzed and having surgery is actually documented as nothing short of a miracle. However, because of the nature of the injuries I sustained, for nearly 10 years I had a twisted spine and uneven hips leaving one leg shorter than the other. I was able to hold my body well enough that it wasn’t immediately visible, but I spent those 10 years pursuing a means to straighten my spine and hips again in order to regain the perfect posture and physiological balance I had before my injury: swimming, yoga, Pilates, weight lifting, chiropractic care, tai chi, and dancing, you name it, I tried it. Only after I threw myself into ballet as the be all and end all and stopped doing everything else in addition to it did I find my perfect posture and physiological balance returning.
Today I learned that unlike what happened with that back injury so long ago, my body is not uneven whether I am sitting or standing, not in the least. I have one leg but when I stand I don’t sink into it or allow either hip to sink or lift. When I sit I don’t lean one way or the other. I am symmetrical despite the fact that I should be struggling to be so. Al was incredibly surprised. He had to remeasure those things too.
Ballet, how I love you!
Alright, I get that this seems like an incredibly odd topic to write about – legs and physiological symmetry – but bear with me for a few more minutes.
You’ve been living in the same body for __ years. You’re used to it. You know where the sags and dimples and wrinkles are. You know where it pops and creaks on cold nights and when you get up in the morning. You know how to look your best in clothes that fit *your body* just right. It’s not just a meat sack being given shape by your skeleton and holding your soul. You like it… a lot. Despite the extra __ pounds you’re carrying around the middle or on your thighs, despite your not quite 6-pack abs, despite the odd little things you would like to be better you really do like your particular meat sack. You know you do. You and that sack have been together for a long time.
Now, choose a bit you’re fond of, a bit that looks particularly attractive, a bit that you use all the time, a bit that without which will mean a complete and total lifestyle change, a bit that seems to be completely necessary for whatever brings you the most joy in your life, a bit that somehow inside your head is a part of what makes you YOU.
Have you chosen it? Are you picturing that bit? Are you sure?
Hack it off. I don’t mean actually take a saw to your body, but I want you to really try to imagine what it would be like for that bit to be gone.
Define yourself now!
Do you need something to help you now? Cane? Crutches? Wheelchair? Prosthetic? Something to hold your spoon and toothbrush?
Do you need a caregiver to do things to you or for you?
Are people looking at you the same? Are you sure? Cause the *poor you sad face* is not a conscious thing to make; the rest of the face can say *hey friend* while the *poor you sad face* shines irritatingly from just the eyes.
Are they treating you the same? Are you sure?!
What is sleeping like? Driving? Doing dishes and cooking? Cleaning? Moving from here to there?
What are showering and dressing like? Can you do them by yourself? Are you sure?
How has work changed? Can you even get to your workspace anymore? Are your coworkers going to look at and treat you the same? Are they really?!
Can you open doors? Cabinets? The fridge and pantry? Food containers? The car and all its doors?
What is it like to go shopping? To a restaurant? To a public bathroom? To a concert or bar? On a date?
What’s it like to park in the handicap spots because you’re handicapped now? What’s it like to not park in the handicap spot because someone who doesn’t need it but was in a big hurry and was only going to be 5 minutes did park in that spot you actually needed?
How has your relationships with your spouse or significant other changed? Trust me, there can’t be trauma like that without impacting your relationship somehow. What about relationships with your children, friends, and family?
What is it like to have someone look at the what’s not there knowing it used to be (there)?
What is it like to have someone touch what is left?
What is it like to look at yourself in the mirror… naked?
What do you feel about yourself as a person without that bit of you there?
For the last 7 months I have lived everyday under the umbrella of those very questions. Because I don’t have a prosthetic at this point, I’ve grown used to being “the one legged woman” because I didn’t think I could think of myself as “Legs” anymore. I was the ballet dancer in pink tights and a black leotard with the long legs. I was the chick at the gym lifting weights in cute shorts and the toned legs. I was the girl laying by the pool or walking down the beach in a bikini and a sarong with the gams and sandy, freckled legs. I was the teacher who wore pretty little dresses, sexy high heels, and fabulous accessories being hated by the moms who never bothered getting out of their pajamas because they could see my fit legs. I was the one at the club who danced the night away with crazy legs. My legs were a big part of all that I was and I thought I had to reframe my concept of self because a foot is no longer there.
Except that in my reframing and reevaluation I managed to miss something important. Granted, part of one leg is negative space at the moment but negative space isn’t a negative thing. The leg is seen in the reflection of it’s pair. The leg is seen in the space below the knee where the prosthetic will eventually go. It is absent but it will not be a permanent absence, not really. It’s negative space for now until it won’t be negative space anymore. There’s still a symmetry and a balance. My body feels them and it’s not fighting or hurting itself trying to find them. If my body can feel the symmetry and find the balance, what’s stopping my mind?
One part is negative space, but so what?
(Henri Matisse. Danseuse Bleue, 1952. Retrieved from The Art Stack on 15 Nov 2017.)
Henri Matisse never had a problem with negative space. He invented an entirely new style of art using negative space as the focal point. He didn’t cut away what wasn’t there, he cut away what was.
Should I have a problem with my negative space?
Should I let the absence of something hold me prisoner?
“An artist must never be a prisoner. Prisoner? An artist should never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of style, prisoner of reputation, prisoner of success, etc.” ~Henri Matisse
I thought I was missing a part of myself yet somehow Al showed me that I’m not actually missing anything at all.
It was amusing.
It was unexpected.
It was refreshing.
And as it turns out I’m still Legs…
Legs for days.
Originally published 15 November 2017.