Fair to Middling by Mia Kang

Fair to Middling by Mia Kang

He was hot, and he had lost his legs in a battle overseas. He would have been hot even with his legs and without the heroic story, but without them and with it, he was even hotter.

It wasn’t really that heroic, the story. It was kind of accidental, in that he hadn’t done anything heroic per se, besides becoming a member of the military out of a confused sense of patriotism and a frustrated sense of masculinity, and in fact the blast that had destroyed the lower half of both his legs was one of these more or less routine explosions, just some idiot’s amateur car bomb in the middle of a plaza one sweaty Middle Eastern afternoon. In reality, it wasn’t even a battle, it was just the prolonged occupation of a place that our country – his and mine – wanted to maintain access to. But the fact that his muscled, shiny body had been there, in that faraway land full of conflict and upheaval, and had survived massive injuries in a violent bombing incident seemed to me to have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with sex. It was sex that drove him there, that drove our country there in the first place, and it was sex that drove me to talk to him in the bar one night, already halfway drunk and horny in the destructive way of a bored young female.

“Hey,” I said.

It was hard to tell if he was frequently hit upon by sad lusty things like myself or if he lived a life of awkward legless celibacy. Though he responded to my greeting and allowed the conversation to continue on from there, he seemed a little hesitant or wary, like he saw me for the mess that I was or like he felt a mess himself. Maybe both. His name was Ryan, and a few drinks later, his hands were on my knees, my hands were on his wrists, our eyes played the darting games of mating creatures.

What did I not love about Ryan? There was his perfect body, toned and fluid. There was the squareness of his face, the bigness of that head and the cheekbones and forehead that looked like sculpture, with the soulful eyes deep set and wide, their slow blinking. He was childlike, alternately serious in the way of a child and silly in the way of a child. In bed, he was a melty romantic who was sometimes overridden by animal instinct, flipping me this way and that, pushing and pulling, then growing tender again, gentle.

Why was leglessness sexy to me? I helped Ryan from the bed to the bathtub to wash off our joint deeds. I wheeled him into and out of restaurants, through the aisles of the grocery store, up and down the busy streets of my neighborhood. He told me about the day he lost his legs, told me about the friends he lost “over there.” He reflected on his mixed feelings about the military, and I thought it was brave that I didn’t hear regret in his voice.

Mostly, though, we fucked. Sometimes it frustrated him that he couldn’t wrap his legs around me, contain my body with his interlacing calves and shins and ankles and toes. But I liked it that I could touch both ends of him from one position. I could reach down the length of his thigh and place my palm on the stump of his amputation, grasping it like the end of a lever or the knob of a door. It was a magical, mute shape that anchored me to him, specifically, because it was something no one else had. And I thought I was special for appreciating it. I felt older, the possessor of an obscure connoisseurial taste.

But that always wears off. Once we had been at it for a while, Ryan began to irritate me like any other friend or lover. He was full of emotions about war and loss. I accused him of not even trying to be more independent of my assistance, not even trying to heal his psychological scars. At the same time, I believed he was the only person who could or would ever fully understand me, so I could not leave him.

"Sand Solidiers" image by Flickr user vgm8383

“Sand Solidiers” image by Flickr user vgm8383

I started a research campaign, reading everything I could get my hands on about post-traumatic stress disorder and the psychological effects of amputation. I arranged appointments with a therapist, drove him to a weekly support group. Despite my annoyance, I did feel bad for him, and I wanted to help him.

Maybe Ryan was right, and I could never comprehend the experiences he’d had or their ongoing effect on his daily life. Maybe I was right, and he wasn’t trying. Maybe both.

After we broke up, I started dating a perfectly ordinary, tall, medium-good looking nine-to-fiver. He took me on dinner-and-a-movie dates and waited the appropriate amount of time before inviting me back to his place. I found myself reaching down his thigh during sex, seeking the round protrustion of Ryan’s stump. Not finding it there distracted me from the act, and I couldn’t come. The tall man kissed me goodnight, not worried that he would make it happen next time.

One day on the street, six months or so into my new relationship, I met a handless man while waiting for the bus. He was medium-amputated, less than Ryan, but more than the tall boyfriend. I swooned. The bus came, we boarded. I wasn’t drunk, but I was bored. He had wonderful small dark eyes and beautiful runner’s legs. I took him home and called the other thing off.

MiaKangPicMia Kang is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She is interested in the acts of looking away, willfully obscuring the truth, and carefully examining all things blurry. Right now, she is working on flash fiction and a book masquerading as a novel.