“Well Done is Better than Well Said” Benjamin Franklin
I could hardly believe it. In just an hour William was picking me up downstairs at the Towers, the dorm I had just moved into for my Freshman year at UW-Madison. It had already been an exciting week since I had just become a new Kappa Kappa Gama pledge. William and I had met casually on the street the evening before. I was walking down Langdon Street with my friend, Susan, and William was walking with his roommate heading in the other direction. There was really no reason that we stopped, but our eyes met and locked. “Hi—I am William and this is Mitch. We are sophomores and roommates. What’s your name?” He asked us both, looking at me. Swiftly, I shoved my two fingers into each pocket, hoping he did not notice my imperfection. Without seeming to notice my gesture or waiting to hear my name, he touched my shoulder. “Where do you live?” “The Towers,” replied Susan. Mitch responded without a pause, “Wow, we live in the Ann Emery building right across from yours on State Street.” “Nice to meet you both.” Clearly Susan had had enough chat with strangers. Although both guys were attractive, I had felt the heat between me and William rising. As they began to walk again in the opposite direction, I turned around and hollered, “Hey, my name is Meg!” My stomach tightened instantaneously; butterflies began to do summersaults. Later that night, after Susan and I had dinner downstairs in the dorm cafeteria, I got off the elevator and found an index card from William and Mitch taped to my door. It read: “Hi Meg. It was great meeting you tonight. Give us a call!” I stared at the note and the number. I tensed. Maybe they noticed my hands before I shoved them in my pockets? What a relief to think they wanted me to call despite my difference. I couldn’t be sure, and figured if I called, I would soon find out. I dialed and waited nervously, unsure of which roommate would pick up. “Hello?” It was William.
That night the conversation flowed easily, and before I knew it we had been on the phone for almost three hours. Never once did William raise my physical condition. Toward the end of the conversation, before we hung up, William had asked me out to go to the movies the following night.
He arrived the next night at the Towers and at first I forgot myself, and smiled widely. But then immediately I grew bashful, and once again shoved my hands in my pockets. As we walked down State Street toward the theater, William attempted to grab my hand to hold. I flinched, making sure to continue to hide both of my small hands, deep in my pockets. He turned to me. “Meg, what’s wrong? Did I do something?” I spent the entire date, even while sitting in the theater and as we walked all the way to my dorm, hiding my hands. Later that night, after we had parted, I got into my room, climbed onto my bed and cried. There seemed to be such a connection with William. I feared that if he discovered my difference, I would lose my chance with him.
But I wasn’t able to hide any longer. Later that night, after I had fallen asleep, the phone rang. It was William. “Meg. I really like you, but you have to tell me what is going on.” Up until that moment in my life, people typically noticed my difference and then I would have to manage their reaction. Now, for the first time, I described my condition over the phone to the guy that would become my boyfriend in college. It felt like I had just hurled myself over a cliff, not knowing how exactly I would land safely.
“We’d been once before [to Disney], the difference this time being that we were now a family of four, and that Isabella, our eldest child, would be old enough and tall enough to brave some of the more hair-raising rides; one in particular, Thunder Mountain…We were not surprised to see her picked out from the line to check her height. With a thankful sigh, she eased over the limit. But as we moved to step back in line, the guard motioned for us to return. ‘She cannot go on this ride.’ Enquiring why, we were bluntly told in an equally untactful manner that ‘She cannot go on this ride because she does not have two hands.’”
The above is an excerpt from a Guest Flaunt called, “Along for the Ride.” It was written this past summer for my Don’t Hide It Flaunt It site by a parent who lives in the United Kingdom. His words came flooding back to me this week as I watched an episode of my guilty pleasure, “The Bachelor” (ABC). One of this season’s romantic hopefuls, Sarah Herron, was born missing half of her left arm due to amniotic band syndrome. In the episode, Sean the Bachelor invited Sarah to a bungee-jump off of a skyscraper. I watched Sarah getting fitted in her harness and couldn’t help thinking to myself, “One arm, one finger or whatever, I don’t care how cute a guy is. You couldn’t pay me a million dollars to jump off a building!” Clearly not sharing my (slight) fear of heights, Sarah was game for the adventure.
When Sean and Sarah arrived safely on the ground, Sarah revealed why she was particularly grateful to have been invited to make the jump. She recalled a memory that had clearly haunted her. Years ago on a trip to Las Vegas she had planned to go bungee jumping with her father. She was excited and got as far as the harness before being told that she couldn’t jump since she has only one arm. She had been deflated and humiliated. It was an experience remarkably similar to that of the 5 year old waiting expectantly to ride Thunder Mountain but destined for disappointment.
As someone who experienced the dating scene for years with my version of a limb-difference, Sarah’s reflection gave me the chills. It reminded me how often I have encountered people whose reactions to my appearance leapt quickly from mere curiosity to audacious assumptions about my abilities and limitations. In some respects, Sarah’s willingness to jump off the skyscraper reminded me of what it is like to be born with a blatant difference. It is effectively a free-fall, where the minute your difference is noticed or revealed, you never quite know how you might land. Your greatest hope is that they will simply treat you like everyone else. But sometimes they don’t.
I would like to dedicate this post to Sarah Herron. With her willingness to go on national television in the hope of finding love she may inspire others to similarly flaunt and find a new self-confidence. And with her courage to make a 35 story jump, she may provoke some people to rethink their assumptions of what “capable” looks like.
Thoughts from Aviva Drescher (RHONY)
You couldn’t pay me a million dollars either to bungee jump!!!! In my opinion, dating is the hardest part when you have a physical difference. I spoke to a journalist this week calling Sarah “courageous” and “amazing.” I can’t imagine being 25 years old, dating and competing on a reality show with lots of women for one guy!!!! I don’t think I could have done it at her age. I was too self conscious. I didn’t have the confidence or the guts. After I told the journalist that I thought Sarah was “courageous”, I regretted it. I realized that the last thing Sarah wants to hear is how “courageous” she is because she just wants to be like everyone else!!!! She said it on air to the bachelor (Sean) and I know exactly how she feels. “Don’t look at my arm,” she is thinking…”Look at me, and my character.” Having a missing limb and having participated in a wacky reality show, I believe in my heart of hearts that the cameras, the press, the other ladies in the house and all the stupidity that comes with doing a reality show will be harder for Sarah than her missing arm and dating.
So in closing, I do think Sarah is courageous. But not because she is dating with one arm publically. That’s ultimately very manageable. Sarah is courageous, like all the other women on the show, for putting herself out there at all. Like everybody else….