Limb-It-Less, a support group for people with missing limbs, is holding its monthly meeting in the basement of St. Luke’s church.
There is pizza.
Next to the pizza is a man with no arms.
He is wearing jeans and a long sleeve sweater that hangs from his shoulders.
He is looking at the pizza longingly.
I imagine picking up a slice and gently feeding it to him with the care of a mother bird to her baby.
I would chew it up and spit it into his mouth if he asked me to.
There is no judgment at Limb-It-Less.
The armless man watches me as I pour myself a cup of coffee.
He says, “The thing I miss the most about having arms is lifting a cup of hot coffee to my lips and taking that first sip in the morning. I don’t drink coffee anymore on account of how many times I’ve burned myself trying.”
He gestures his nubs as he talks, and I imagine his hands moving up and down, pointing to the spot on his mouth where he burned himself.
The armless man’s name tag says, “Andy.”
“Hang in there, Andy,” I say, patting him on the back more times than seems necessary or friendly.
“Thanks,” he says, shrugging. “So was it an accident, or are you a lifer?”
“I had an accident, though part of me feels like I was always missing a piece of myself,” I say, feeling insecure and reaching for the pizza, then stopping myself.
He says, “Interesting.”
“Yeah, like, ever since I can remember,” I say.
People begin sitting for the meeting.
Andy sits next to me.
A couple enters the room.
He has his prosthetic hand around her prosthetic hip.
I say, “Do you think they met here?”
Andy says, “That’s Mike and Nancy. They’re the best. I’ve never met such a cool couple in my life.”
And I believe him.
I say, “I want some of that action.”
“Don’t we all,” says Andy.
The way he says it suggests that he has not been in a romantic relationship for quite some time.
Andy deserves love just like the rest of us.
He doesn’t even realize how uniquely beautiful he is.
He is like a cartoon character.
If he were a cartoon character, people would draw sketches of him in their notebooks and then take their sketch to a tattoo artist, who would do another sketch of the sketch, and then tattoo Andy’s picture on their left butt cheek.
The chairperson signals that he is ready to start.
He starts the meeting by telling the story of how he lost his hand in a lawn mowing accident.
The chairperson seems nervous.
I think that at any second—after explaining how the nerves in his arms are completely dead—that he will start screaming, “The lawn mowers must be destroyed!” and then lead a charge to the local Home Depot where he will set the outdoors section on fire.
Other accidents that the chairperson says can cause limb loss are: blowing your fingers off with fireworks, hanging an arm out of a car window and opposing traffic rips it off, fumbling a power tool with a sharp edge, engaging in military combat and tripping over a land mine.
I picture him losing limbs in these situations—lighting a firework—losing his other hand—trying to operate a power tool without any hands—dropping the blade on his foot—hobbling into military combat with no weapons or protection—losing everything he has left except for his head—and his head is preserved in a glass jar where it continues leading meetings at Limb-It-Less.
A guy in a wheelchair keeps interrupting to share his opinion.
He says sometimes people are just born without limbs; it doesn’t have to be some kind of freak accident.
Everyone nods in agreement.
Except for me.
Tell me something I don’t know, wheelchair guy.
Birth is pain, life is pain, death is pain.
The Buddhists call it dukkha.
Next to the wheelchair guy, there is this man in camouflage pants who appears to have all of his limbs.
He just sits there and stares—at his lap—and plays with the excess material on the crotch of his pants.
I wonder if he lost what was underneath.
This is a support group for people who lost limbs, so I am not sure if a penis counts.
Technically, the penis is considered an appendage, not a limb.
Arms and legs are appendages as well but are also referred to as limbs because they come in pairs.
What that means for the balls, I am not sure.
Maybe an appendage, as they are in one scrotum.
I think about raising my hand, and with a very curious tone, asking the chairperson for an answer.
And the chairperson would respond, “At the end of the day, who really gives a fuck?”
On break, Andy tells me how he lost his arms.
He hadn’t been born that way.
“It was all because I was trying to spice up my love life,” says Andy.
I say, “That’s the thing about spice, sometimes you add too much, sometimes too little. It’s hard to get the spice just right.”
He looks at me without blinking then says, “I suppose so.”
The story goes that Andy hired a dominatrix to come to his apartment.
She brought leather straps and tied him by his wrists to the headboard.
The problem came when the dominatrix received a phone call from her son’s school.
Her son had been caught selling drugs to other students and was being threatened with expulsion and legal action from the district.
The dominatrix, being a loving, single mother who would do anything for her child, left immediately, without untying Andy first.
Andy figured that she would come back and untie him eventually, but he was wrong.
Hours passed, and after a while, he lost all feeling in his arms.
He screamed for the neighbors, but nobody came.
It wasn’t until his roommate got home from working an overnight shift that Andy was found.
By then his arms were completely blue.
His nerves were dead.
Amputation was the only option.
I feel really insecure during Andy’s story, and keep saying, “I’m sorry,” throughout.
Really though, I am jealous.
Losing my arms to a dominatrix sounds like just the spice my life needs.
When the break ends, the chairperson goes around the circle and asks each person for an introduction which states how they lost their limb.
Whenever someone tells their story, I want to yell, “That’s the craziest thing that I have ever heard,” and throw my chair in amazement, trying to run out of the room, pressing on a door that says “pull,” and taking way too long to figure it out, and after realizing my mistake walking back into the circle, dusting off my chair in shame, and sitting back down.
I want to stand up and tell a long story that is pronounced and completely rambling and I will appear really eager and vulnerable afterward.
I want to interrupt the chairperson by saying, “Sorry, I think I am in the wrong meeting,” then limp out on what is clearly a prosthetic for a missing limb.
Andy winks at me when it is his turn to introduce himself.
He says, “Hey most of you know me—my name is Andy—and I lost my arms putting a box in the baler at the warehouse where I used to work.”
The people around the circle nod.
Wheelchair guy introduces himself and says he had congenital amputation from birth defects, and never knew what it was like to have legs.
Then he references, once again, that freak accidents are not always the cause of limb loss.
A sacred, and universal truth.
When it is my turn, I say, “When I was in college I went drunk sledding with some friends. On one of my runs, I hit a bump and rolled into the street at the end of the hill. My leg got run over by the tire of a garbage truck and was completely smashed.”
Wheelchair guy leans forward and says, “Now that is a freak accident,” really sternly and points his finger toward my chest.
He makes a face at me like he is judging me for being negligent and losing my leg because I was drunk.
I think about losing my leg, and how the most painful part wasn’t having the remains of my limb scraped off, but the realization that it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.
It makes me feel guilty.
I can’t dwell on it though.
I was young and stupid when I lost my leg.
Now I am old and stupid.
There are new and complex problems to think about, like how to make enough money to feed myself, and how to do to so in the least challenging way possible.
Benjamin DeVos is the head editor of Apocalypse Party. He is the author of the forthcoming novella The Bar Is Low (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018) among others.