A few years ago, a new tenant moved into my apartment building. She was super-friendly and funny, but in an awkward sort of way. I just assumed she used humor to distract people from getting a good look at her hands ~ the middle and index fingers of each hand were missing, and the rest of each hand was so scarred it looked like perhaps she had survived a fire. Then the landlord told me that she had some sort of illness or genetic disease, and so perhaps that's why her hands looked like that. I never really thought about it ~ I mean, who am I to ask? It's not my business. So, I never asked and she never told me.
As I saw her more around the building, though, I realized she is a very expressive speaker ~ she waves those hands around wildly to tell a good story, even if that story is, "My first husband, no wait, my second husband drives the Ferraris."
Every once in a while, from her studio apartment two flights up, I would hear her wild laughter, or screaming matches with her "business partner, or maybe fiancé." In the hall, she would stop me and talk my ear off about politics or perfume, the weather or her weltanschauung ~ sometimes her sentences were as erratic as the wild waving of her hands in front of my face.
Somehow, I assumed that the the state of her hands had something to do with her sometimes-strange behavior. I never asked.
Today though, as I walked into the apartment building, she was walking out. She asked me how I am doing, and something about the election. I wasn't really paying attention because I was juggling two bags, and walking, and reading a book, and hurrying to get inside for the strawberry mochi I was craving. Then she asked, "You know, I keep waiting to ask when I'm going to get to vote for you." ~~ I looked up.
In the past 3 or 4 years, I have had maybe 3 or 4 conversations with her ~ she knows where I work and what I do for a living, and around election time I include her in my usual "YOU MUST VOTE LIKE THIS" email rants recommendations. I was just so struck by how much she feels she knows me, all contained in that one question. All I could mutter was, "Well, when there is an election for wackiest neighbor in the neighborhood, you can vote for me then!" She laughed and said she would beat me hands down.
I tried to keep walking inside but she said something about having just sent in her absentee ballot since she is registered in another county, "because of this," and she held up her hands. I must have looked really confused because she asked me, "What, don't you know about this? Remember ~ in 1999, I was carjacked and held hostage for 19 days and shot."
Um, NO ~ I think I would remember that.
I told her it had never occurred to me to ask "WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED TO YOUR HANDS?" I thought that would be rude. She waved away my embarrassment, and explained how one day in 1999 she was delivering a new car to someone in the Bay Area, she took a wrong turn, and carjackers pulled her out of the car. She put her hands up and told them they could take it ~ but one guy pumped the 12-gauge shotgun and shot her at point-blank range ~ just as she crossed her hands in front of her face. I didn't ask how they held her hostage if they shot her first.
Then she showed me how she was shot.
YOU ~ right now, put both of your hands in front of you, palms down; now place your right hand over your left hand; and now raise both hands together in front of your face, at about nose-level. She did that for me, and there was an almost perfect hole, the size of a 12-fuckin'-gauge shell, through her hands.
She said her hands and arms absorbed most of the shot ~ and then she made me feel in her left hand where so many of the pellets are still embedded. You can't really tell, by looking at her face, that she was shot straight-on like that. Her hands and arms, though, tell a different story. When I realized that the shot pellets would have exploded into scores of burning embers, I understood why her arms looked like they had been in a fire.
Then she explained how they tried to rebuild her hands through skin grafts, but it required getting the palms of her hands surgically sewn to her hips, for the grafts to take. She waved her left hand in the air, laughed, and said, "But I'm too animated for that! I told them to only sew one hand to my hip!"
She told me that she considered getting prosthetic hands ~ they would create a winter version and a summer version for her (lighter and darker skin), and could even add beauty marks and tiny little hairs, just like real hands. "But I eat out A LOT," she explained, "and what if the prosthesis flew off at dinner!?"
And she laughed.
Then she said, "But I can still do this," ~ she put her hands up and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "Whadda ya gonna do?"
And with a big smile she told me, "And I can still marinate my steaks."