"Do you know why you're here?"
"Yes. Well, kinda. You want to talk to me about my life, don't you?"
"Exactly. I'd like to get started now, if you don't mind."
"No, it's alright. Ask away."
"Okay. Great. Well, how did this happen? How did you end up like this?"
"I- I don't really know. I never did. But I'm guessing you want to know how I ended up like this, specifically, don't you?"
The scratch-scrape-drag of the pencil on paper stopped as the interviewer looked up. His plastic rimmed glasses were slightly skewed, but he didn't seem to care as he stared at the young boy before him: Joseph E. Ackerman.
"Yes. And anything else you feel like sharing. Just " well " try to give me as many details as possible. Be interesting. Be exciting. Let me into your life, into your head..."
"Uh. Okay. I mean, I'll try...." Silence. "But, anyway, I mean, if I had to start somewhere, I guess the best place to start would be three years ago."
If Joseph had hands, they would have been restless in his lap as he sat there, gathering his thoughts under the intense scrutiny of the interviewer. Instead, he shifted in his seat in an attempt to find a more comfortable position that suited his unorthodox looking body.
"What happened three years ago?"
"That's when I met Desi. Desdemona. She, well, she was " still is " the prettiest girl I've ever seen. I was in the library. I remember I hadn't wanted to leave the dorm that day. I " well " let's just say I wasn't feeling very well; I wasn't in the, uh, the condition to go out. But I needed to; I had a paper to get done, due the next day. But that's irrelevant. What matters was that I met Desi that day, under the flickering of the fluorescent lights. Is that descriptive enough for you?"
"Yes, yes. Please continue."
"Okay. Great. Anyway. As I was saying, she was beautiful; it was the first thing I noticed about her. There was just something about her, something entrancing, something ethereal. Her hair was reflecting the flickering florescent lights of the library, the light occasionally illuminating the golden locks in a way that made me want to reach out and touch them, to see if they were as soft as they looked. Her eyes, though, were the most captivating; as soon as I caught her gaze, I couldn't look away from them; they were a brilliant, sparkling silver, a color which I had never seen before. The second thing I noticed about her was that she had the book I needed. And then she spoke.
'Uh,' she said, shifting awkwardly in front of me as I continued to stare at her. 'Do you need something?'
I hadn't actually planned on speaking to her. I was just going to walk away and hope the book that I needed for my paper would be available eventually. But I had to respond; I couldn't ignore her once she spoke to me. So, I had pulled my sleeves over my hands in hopes that she wouldn't notice anything out of the ordinary, and I answered her " "
"Out of the ordinary? What do you mean by that?"
"Oh. Uh, I was just about to get there. Anyway, I felt like I had to answer, so I did. I just told her that I needed the book she had, but that it wasn't a big deal. I could get it later if she wanted to use it. She told me that she didn't need the book for a couple of days so I could use it until then. But I felt bad; she had it first. That, and I just felt bad taking something from her.
'Well, I only need it today. See, my paper's due tomorrow, so I just need it now. But, I mean, if you want to stick around... or look at the book with me, you can. And I can give it to you when I'm done with it so you can use it...'
'If you don't mind the company, I'd love to share the book with you,' she said, as she stepped forward, grabbing onto my arm urging me in the direction of the nearest table. 'Is this table fine?'
If we had to sit on the floor, it would have been fine. If we had to sit outside, it would still have been fine. In all honesty, anything would have been fine, as long as I was still with her. So, instead of answering, for fear that I would have shown just how happy I was that she was willing to sit with me, I had simply nodded my head twice and pulled out a chair across from where she had already seated herself.
'I'm Desi, by the way,' she said, as I took my laptop out of my bag and opened the file with my paper. 'Well, actually, I'm Desdemona, but I hate that name, so I go by Desi.'
'Why?' was the only thing I was able to choke out. I hadn't even thought to introduce myself; I had been so overwhelmed with the fact that she had even been speaking to me. She had been tolerating my company. I'm still surprised that I hadn't scared her away on that day.
'It's such an old fashioned name. And, after reading some Shakespeare, well, you find out that Desdemona really isn't a character that someone should be named after. I mean, she was weak and nave and eventually got suffocated by a pillow. What was my mom thinking when she named me?
"I " I don't know? But, I mean, it's a lovely name and Othello is a brilliant play..." She looked as if she was going to respond, but that was when I bent down to get my laptop. I guess my sleeve had slipped off of my hand when I bent down, because as soon as I got my laptop on the table and looked up, she had a question on her lips, a question which she seemed hesitant to ask. I followed her questioning gaze and saw that she was looking at my hand " the one that was missing a thumb.
I could tell that she wanted to know what happened to my thumb, and I knew I should give some sort of explanation to her unasked question. But, I couldn't tell her the real answer. She would have definitely run away as if her biggest nightmare was chasing her. And she would have never come back. So I made something up. It was my only option.
'Lawnmower accident when I was seven,' was all I said. It wasn't completely a lie. I had lost my thumb when I was seven. But it was definitely not due to a lawnmower accident. It just... happened. It was right after my best friend Max moved away. He and I were inseparable; my mom tells me that it was nearly impossible to get us go to our own houses to go to sleep. And then one day, he was gone. I asked my mom why, but she refused to give me an answer. She said there were issues in the neighborhood that resulted in Max's family having to leave, but that was it. That night was apparently a rough night for me. I was told that I had been kicking and screaming the entirety of the night, but I can't remember any of it. My mom thought it was just a nightmare, but she was wrong. Because the next morning, I woke up without my right thumb.
Desi accepted my excuse, though. Her hand covered my thumbless one as she softly rubbed it. I have to admit, I was shocked that she would be so forward, but I definitely wasn't complaining. Nor was I complaining when she continued to talk to me as if I was completely normal, as if I had both of my thumbs. She accepted me. And apparently, she liked me enough to ask me to coffee the next day.
The next morning, I woke up to someone shaking me. My roommate at the time, Ben, had heard screaming through the wall and went to see what was going on. When my head finally emerged from the labyrinth of blankets, he seemed to forget exactly why he was on my side of the room; instead, he only had one question for me.
'What happened to your eyebrow?'
'Something happened, dude. Go look.'
And so I did. Which was when I found that I was missing an entire eyebrow. At the time, it seemed like that was the worst possible time for a body part to go missing. I was meeting with Desi later that day, and I had wanted everything to be perfect. But, obviously, that's just not how my life works.
'Fuck. I... I guess I must've had a wild night. I don't really remember much of it...'
Obviously that was bullshit, but I couldn't tell him the truth. Just as I wasn't able to tell Desi the truth when I saw her later. When she asked about it, though, I just told her that my roommate and some of our friends thought it would be funny to shave off my eyebrow when I was asleep.
'Boys will be boys,' was her rather flippant response. She obviously didn't care that she was drinking coffee with an eyebrowless, thumbless college freshman, even though she was perfect, and a college sophomore. And if she didn't care, I would pretend to care that I wasn't an eyebrowless, thumbless college freshman, but rather an 18-year-old boy who had all of his body parts and was sitting with a beautiful girl because he deserved to be with that beautiful girl.
Thankfully, my relationship with Desi didn't stop on that afternoon. Not long after our first coffee date, we began seeing each other exclusively. She was my first real girlfriend; I didn't really have an opportunity before college to meet many girls. After we went to doctor after doctor about the thumb incident when I was seven and received only baffled and entirely unhelpful responses, my mom thought it would be best if I were home schooled. She didn't want the other parents to start talking about how her child came to school without a thumb " and eventually without some other body parts as well. It would ruin her reputation and possibly cause the involvement of child services; neither of which were reactions my mother wanted.
Finally, I had a social life. I had a girl. I had friends. I was happy. And for a while, I was able to pretend I was completely normal. The eyebrow issue was forgotten, even though it never grew back; I just used a fake eyebrow so that others didn't notice. My lack of a thumb was explained to everyone just as I explained it to her: a freak lawnmower accident.
But a couple months later, things got a bit more difficult. We were together, alone in my dorm. It was right before summer break and we wanted to spend some... quality time together before not seeing each other for four months, because I lived in Connecticut and she was from Arizona. That was the first time we went farther than kissing; it was the first time she saw me with my shirt off. And it was the first time she saw the fact that I didn't have a belly button.
'You... why... you don't have a belly button?' she asked, halting what she was doing as her silver eyes caught my gaze.
'Uh... no?' There was then silence. I didn't know what to say. I couldn't tell her the truth, that it disappeared when I was twelve, after my dog Percy died. I had to make up something that was relatively plausible. 'I " uh. I don't usually talk about this, but when I was a baby I "uh " I needed surgery... to " to place my insides back where they belong. See, I was born with most of my digestive tract outside my stomach and I needed surgery, and, well, when they sewed me back up, there went my belly button.'
'But there's no scar,' she said, her delicate fingers tracing where my belly button would have been, her large silver eyes filled with sympathy and confusion. I didn't know how to explain that; I couldn't think of something even remotely plausible. And then she removed her hand as her gaze fell from mine. She began to pull away; she was no longer resting on her stomach, her body flush with mine, but she was kneeling by my feet, looking me up and down, as if she was trying to figure out my secret. 'Well, I guess you had a very good doctor, didn't you?'
'Y-yeah. I guess I did...'
I don't think I could tell you just how relieved I was that she bought my story. It was by far the most far-fetched thing I told her; I didn't even know if what I told her was possible. And even if it was, I had no clue if that would result in my belly button disappearing. But I didn't care. She believed me. She still cared. And she didn't care that she was with a thumbless, eyebrowless, belly buttonless college freshman.
And she continued to believe me. Lie after lie, excuse after excuse. Year after year. Every time another missing body part was discovered, I gave her an excuse. She would contemplate the excuse, sometimes probe at the details, sometimes she would question the logic of my story, but eventually, she would accept it. It was wonderful, glorious, the best thing that could have ever happened. She thought I was normal " just prone to accidents. And that, at the very least, was all I could have ever hoped for."
"Well then, what happened to make you look like this?"
"Oh, I don't know. Fate? Or maybe my luck just ran out. I don't know. But it happened over the course of a few months in my junior year of college. Most of the time I would lose a fingernail, a toenail, even a toe. It was nothing big; sometimes she didn't even notice. But then I lost my ear. At first I thought I could cover it up. I wore a winter hat all the time and my hair was long enough to cover my ear " or lack there of. Of course, she noticed. And obviously, she asked about it.
'What happened to your ear?' These questions were getting very tedious, at least on my end. It's more difficult than you think to figure out how you're going to answer them without sounding absolutely ridiculous. And there are only so many excuses that can be made. Only so many unfortunate things can happen to a person's body without arousing suspicion.
'My " uh... my dog. He got sick. Irritable. And I annoyed him one too many times...' Thankfully, this was right after winter break. I was able to pretend that it happened a month ago, which was why it was healed.
'Why didn't you tell me?'
'I just didn't want to make you worry. I'm all right now, though. Nothing terrible happened. I can still hear and everything...'
'And you're sure your dog did this? Are dogs even capable?'
'I... I guess dogs are capable. I mean, my dog did this... and then... well, and then we had to put him down. My mom refused to let him live after this... and... I'm fine. I promise.'
I sniffed, pretending to hold back tears that just weren't there. This seemed to do it. Her accusatory gaze finally broke, and within a second, I had my arms full of Desi.
'Oh. I'm so sorry, baby. You should have told me. I would have come to Connecticut. I would have been there for you...'
My nightmares kept getting worse and they were much more frequent. Even though I was living alone, my neighbors were able to hear my screaming through the walls, and everybody was getting sick and tired of it. But I couldn't help it. I tried to stay awake so that I wouldn't lose another body part, but if a body part was meant to disappear, I would fall asleep anyway. This was the case about a week after the ear incident. That nightmare was apparently the worst it has been; people three doors down were able to hear my screams clearly. My throat was throbbing when I woke up. And when I went to get up, I saw that my foot was missing. Completely. I was supposed to meet Desi in about an hour, but obviously I couldn't. I had called her, told her I was violently ill and that I would see her when I felt better. But she wouldn't listen. She wanted to see me, to take care of me. I couldn't dissuade her, no matter how hard I tried.
When she got to my room, I was under about four blankets. I hadn't gotten up yet; I couldn't quite figure out how I was going to walk without my foot. She walked in and gave me a kiss on the forehead; her hand trailed down my body as she made her way into my room completely, sitting down right near my foot. I wanted to move my legs, I knew I should, but it would just draw attention to that area of my body. And I couldn't do that. She then put her hand down, right where my foot should have been. At first she didn't notice anything. She merely asked how I was feeling and if there was anything she could do.
But then her eyes left my face and ventured toward my legs. Her fingers wiggled, digging into my bed; and then she moved her had upward, to my ankle. I couldn't speak. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. I just watched her as my heart pounded so violently that it almost escaped from my chest.
'Y-you.. you don't have a foot.'
What was I supposed to say to that? There was no plausible explanation as to why my foot literally disappeared overnight. I knew that. And she knew that.
'No. I-I guess I don't...'
'You don't have a foot,' she repeated, as her hand continued to feel for what wasn't there, her hand probing harder, more insistently at the mattress with each passing moment. 'Why don't you have a foot?'
I couldn't answer. I didn't want to answer. Because whatever I would say would be thrown back at me. I just couldn't do it anymore. Lying to her again would just be too much. And telling the truth would be too painful. So I just didn't say anything at all.
'Why don't you have a foot?' she repeated, her voice growing louder and more panicked with each syllable she uttered. Her eyes were wide with horror, unable to look at my face, unable to leave the place on my bed where my foot should have been. 'Where'd it go? You can't just... lose a foot. Not overnight. It's not possible...'
What she didn't know was that it was possible. It had to be possible. I was proof that it was, indeed possible. But I couldn't just tell her that, could I? No. I couldn't.
'Tell me, right now, what happened to your foot. Just " just tell me...' And she was crying. I wanted to reach out, to touch her, to tell her that everything would be okay, that we could work through this. I wanted to tell her that I didn't know how I lost my foot. I wanted to confess everything. I wanted to, but what I want is never what I get.
'You're not going to tell me, are you?'
No, I wasn't. I couldn't. So, I just looked up at her, wondering what she was going to do next. I knew I wasn't going to do anything; well, I wasn't going to do anything but hope that she would still accept me. The ball was in her court, and all I could do was sit silently and wait. As I watched her, though, I saw her begin to understand. I could tell that she was remembering about my thumb, my eyebrow, my belly button, my ear, and everything else. She was remembering what I told her. And it seemed that all of the sudden, my excuses for those things were no longer good enough for her.
'This... this isn't the first time you just lost a body part, is it? Your thumb. That wasn't from
a lawnmower. And your ear. There would be scarring; it wouldn't be completely healed.'
She paused. I wanted her to look up at me. I tried to will her eyes to meet mine. But they wouldn't budge from my foot " or lack there of. I watched as she took a deep breath, as she tried to control her voice that had been threatening to leave her completely in favor of the silence of tears. And then she finally did look up. Her eyes met mine and she spoke, her voice so quiet I could barely hear it.
'Did you ever tell me the truth?
I wanted to say yes. I wanted to say that every time I told her I loved her, it was the truth. I wanted to say that everything I told her, besides what happened to my body parts, couldn't be more true. And I wanted her to believe me. I wanted her to believe me so badly. But she wouldn't. She couldn't. Not after how many times I lied to her. Not after three years of lying.
'I " uh " well... not really about "'
'I guess that's a no,' she said as her eyes fell back down to my blanket. And even though she had stopped looking at me, I was able to see sadness and horror etched into her features. 'I " I don't know how I didn't realize this sooner. I... I... I wish I never let myself fall for you.'
With that, she stood up and walked out. She didn't care that in my heart, I was screaming for her to stay. She didn't care that I was unable to stop the tears streaming down my face. She didn't care that she was the love of my life, that she was a part of me that I will never get back. She didn't even look at me as she left, closing the door softly behind her. I haven't seen her since."
"But how did you get like this?"
"Like I said before, I'm not really sure. But after Desi left, I began to lose body parts, one right after another after another after another. I would wake up to people banging on my door because my screams " presumably from my nightmares " got too loud, but I couldn't help it. I couldn't really do much of anything besides lie in bed. I couldn't do very much but hate my very existence and wish that the next part of my body to go would be my heart. It was already broken anyway..."
Joseph looked down as his emerald eyes filled with tears, his voice cracking with his last few words. And then his tears fell, the salty liquid falling upon the blanket covering only his right thigh. He had no hand to wipe the tears, no sleeve to cry into. He had no leg to curl up and hide behind. He tried to hide his head in the one shoulder he had left, but was unable to make himself disappear from the room he was in. His chest heaved as his tears turned into sobs, but he only had half a chest to heave with. His heart was beating, but he only had half a heart to beat with. His soul was keeping him alive, but he only had half a soul to live with. He was half a man, with half a life, and half a soul. And there was nothing he could do about it.