Frida Kahlo did not accept her crippled leg and kept it hidden beneath her flowery exotic skirts. “Every year I hate it more,” she said, matter-of-fact and without complaint. I love her for that.
In public I keep peace with my withered leg, its mangled hoof. To inquiries I’ve learned to say, “It’s a birth defect,” in the sunniest possible tone, as if I’d just spotted, in the distance, a bluebird or a cardinal.
Dutifully I strap the foot into its plastic brace, like an aged relative who merits attention even though he can do almost nothing. When I’m alone it’s different—I throw a blanket over it.
Still, it is shameful to be bothered with it, here on the beach at Sihanoukville, where the mine victims crawl, tourist to tourist, across the beach and the rule seems to be that you can't be a beggar unless you’re missing at least two limbs.
I had a lover once who was paraplegic. A Vietnam vet paralyzed below (not at) the waist. He always insisted he was not crippled. Not disabled either, or handicapped. “I am only inconvenienced,” he insisted. “Some of my friends are quads. That’s crippled.”
His arms were extraordinarily strong, especially at night, when, returned in dreams to Vietnam, he grappled in combat and, howling in his sleep, hurled me from the bed.