Posts Tagged ‘Missing Limbs


Phantom Limbs

My vigilance has paid off: I saw another man with an arm missing today.

He was wearing a long-sleeve sweater (it was rather chilly and windy today), and the cuff of the empty left sleeve was stuffed into his left-hand hip pocket. (Can I even say “left-hand hip pocket” in his case?) First I thought he wanted people to think he just had his hand in his pocket. But on closer examination, I think it’s more likely because he didn’t want a swinging empty sleeve to get snagged on sharp or rough surfaces. Or to be tugged on by small children.

So, that’s two right arms and one left arm I’ve seen — or rather, not seen — missing in the last couple of days.

Why do I never see armless women?

Severed limbs are so bizarre. The moment a body part is separated from the body, it becomes something else. The body is still the body. It just weighs slightly less. But the body part becomes a dead object. Useless refuse. Something to bury. Somethign to preserve. It could even be art. We make pictures with crayons by what the crayon leaves behind on the paper. Can we make art with what we leave behind of our bodies?

Is it even ours when it is removed? We always talk about “my hand” or “my leg,” but if that hand or leg is lopped off, is it mine anymore? I can’t do anything with a severed arm it except maybe beat someone over the head with it or use it as a door stop. Whether I want to keep that arm or not, it’s sort of given back to the earth at that point, in a way, isn’t it? Relinquished to the cycle of decay and creation and everything that is outside of our bodies.



I saw two people yesterday who had only one arm. I saw the first one on the way to a rugby training that morning. His baggy tee shirt sleeve hung empty from his side shoulder like a deflated balloon. The second guy, I saw on the way home. He had his shirt sleeve pinned up.

I thought nothing of the first one. Just an anonymous New Yorker with one arm. When I saw the second one, he stood out to me because of the first guy. How many armless people will I see today? I wondered. I thought armless might be a theme for the day, and I was preparing for the third one-armed man. But I saw no more.

It was a strange way to book-end rugby training, rugby being a game that requires two arms yet not infrequently puts someone in near danger of losing them. I don’t think most people participate in activities that put them in such danger.

Today, I saw a person who I thought might be missing an arm or two, but they were actually just tucked inside his shirt. I could offer no explanation for why he might be doing this, except that maybe his arms were cold.

It made me remember pretending to be an amputee as a kid. I’d pull my sleeves off and clasp my arms under my shirt behind my back and walk around bumping into things and people and falling down and trying to get back up with my arms. My favorite part was always pushing my arms back out through the sleeves and watching them “grow” back to their normal state.

I think I will be looking at everyone’s arms today.

the untallied hours