Body memory fascinates me. The ways we are marked by our pasts, literally, on our skin – bruises, scars, tracks, tattoos – and invisibly – memory of genocide over generations, phantom limbs. My entire collection explores these themes.
The title story explores the unexpected encounter between a tall, thin high school history teacher, Harriet, who hates her body and Callahan, a bilateral above-knee amputee who aims to compete in a track race at the county fair in her small Colorado town in 1999. What could go wrong?
Read the story to find out!!
I am an able-bodied woman. So what compelled me to write about a double amputee? Perhaps the seed of this short story was planted when, at 20, I had a bad car accident in Italy. I was thrown out of the car, which rolled over and landed on top of me, my body jack-knifed in a ditch. I broke my pelvic bones, two ribs and an ankle all on the left side, and was laid out flat in a hospital in Florence for two months. I had been a sprinter on my varsity track team in high school and was a trained modern dancer. Alone in a hospital, so far from home, I didn’t know if I would ever be able to walk again.
But I did walk again. In fact, I danced like a wild woman for decades and jogged for miles with my dog until, ten years ago, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic arthritis in the left hip. Shortly after the diagnosis, I saw a TED talk, by chance, of Aimee Mullins speaking about and displaying her twelve pairs of amazing prosthetics. Like a lightning bolt, my own experience of physical trauma and the stunning visual image of Aimee’s legs came together, inspiring me to write The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs. Once I got Harriet and Callahan alone in a room, surrounded by prisons and the rugged Rockies in a landscape cleaved by the Royal Gorge, the story slowly but surely unraveled and grew over the next six years.
A fiction writer’s job is to be able to imagine being almost anyone, but to write about someone different than her, she needs to listen and learn. I looked up every article I could find online about limb loss. I watched dozens of videos of bilateral amputees learning to walk, getting up from sitting and lying down, putting on and taking off their prosthetics. Once I felt I had a strong enough draft, I reached out to the National Amputee Coalition. I wanted to be sure Callahan’s portrayal, though fictional, felt authentic and true.
Nico Marcolongo, who works with vets at Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego, immediately agreed to read the story and pass it along to Paralympic athlete Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a double- amputee who has completed the Iron Man Triathlon. My heart was pounding when they both gave the story a thumbs up! What a great story about the love of challenge and the challenge of love, Nico wrote.
I believe a writer always writes what she, and she alone, needs to write. I call this the writing faith. The soul of this love story arises from my own body memory (broken bones, physical pain, and healing); from psychological issues I, like my character, have struggled with: body image, intimacy, and self-esteem; and questions about the human condition that fascinate me: is there a difference between visible and invisible suffering? do artificial enhancements make us more or less human? is it possible to love deeply across difference?
YOU CAN LISTEN TO ME READING THE FIRST THREE PAGES OF THIS STORY HERE!!
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