Monday, January 31, 2011

Phantom Limb

It's not something you notice at first, except the old guy in the marines t-shirt walks with just a hint of a limp. Barely that, it's more of a slight drag in his step. One leg is just a little out of sync with his pace.

Of course, if you follow the man's leg, you can't miss it. He doesn't hide it, doesn't cover it up with by wearing track pants or sweats. It is what it is. At the knee his leg tapers sharply before becoming a dull aluminum pipe that burrows like a screw into a tennis shoe.

It's something to watch him work out. Others his age conserve their strength. They step onto the treadmills like cows drowsily being led through the chutes at a slaughter house, but not him. He fights. He rages. His fists are clenched around the handles and he swings like he'd fucking kill you if you tried to stop him.

I understand.

Every now and again, someone asks him about it --his leg. It's a curiosity at the gym, though he isn't the only man to be missing a leg. There's another man, much younger, also ex-military, who comes in on crutches. He's still getting the hang of his, but the old marine is practiced. He lost his leg a long time ago. He's used to it.

"Does it hurt?"

The marine smiled and shrugged. "The funny thing is I still feel it. I can feel if it's turned the wrong way and just yesterday, I was sure, I was absolutely sure, somebody was standing on it."

Phantom pain, phantom sensations, he talks about and the mousy old man's eyes grow huge. He could not imagine.

"It still feels like it should be there," he said. "It's just not."

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