I used my mom’s pink razor to shave my leg because I was too afraid to use Dad’s black one. I sat in the tub running warm water over my smooth calf. It was beautiful. That night, I rubbed my leg against my sheets until the pleasure of it was overwhelming.
I wore pants every day after that, even though it was hot. I knew how things could go. One day, Mom asked me to roll my pants up and show her my leg. I showed her the hairy one, and she said, no, the other. I did, and she breathed it out, asking if I knew what the other parents would think when they saw me at the volleyball game at Park the next day. I couldn’t know a thing like that, and I told her so. She asked if I knew what they’d think of her.
We won that game, then won every other game, then the volleyball season was over. It was winter and I started shaving again. It was easier wearing pants all the time. My leg was angry at me, though, about the neglect, the long periods away. I tried to explain that I didn’t know what else to do. I was only 12. I didn’t have money or anything.
Anyway, I tried to be better for my leg. I didn’t know a lot about love, but I knew that trying to be better all the time was a big part of it. For years, I tried to be better. Sometimes, Mom saw, and said shaving would only make the hair come back darker and thicker. I read online that that was a myth, though. Mom sent me to my room, said not to tell Dad. I listened to her. It was funny, because the things I did with my leg behind closed doors—
In high school, I became a swimmer, but my coach said I had to shave everything, not just the one leg, which made our relationship more complicated. I was being pulled in many directions. My arms and head and chest, all alive. In the water, I felt unbelievable, like I was bursting with light, like my whole body was sneezing forever into cool air. My leg got jealous, though, and I understood that. I couldn’t be doing whatever I wanted. That wasn’t love. I tried to do better. I told Coach I couldn’t shave everything anymore because I was getting rashes. He asked what kind of pussy-excuse that was, so I quit the team. I worked on the school’s newspaper instead. Mom was disappointed.
She got drunk one night and threw all my shaving gel and razors under the deck. She said she’d tell Dad about my leg if I shaved even one more time. I actually didn’t think anything of that, because it seemed like Dad knew and just didn’t care. He was so busy working, anyway. Still, Mom said he’d cut it off if I didn’t quit dicking around. I just went out back and tried to find my stuff.
That was summer, so the spiders were out. I tried to be careful, but wouldn’t you know it? I got bit. A widow got up my pant-leg and got my leg right in the calf. I was so pissed off and sure that Mom planned it all out. I accused her of wanting me to die. She cried and got me into the car before I passed out. I fell backward into the angry, deep black. She got a DUI.
I woke up to a nurse wrapping gauze around my leg. He was kind and soft and, he said, actually only a student at the college. Was I a student, too? I said I would be next year. He gave me a card with his name and number on it, and said to contact him when I got to the dorms. I said okay, if he let me slip out before my mom or dad showed up.
His name was Lance. He was overjoyed when I called him. But then the thing was, he wasn’t interested in me. He was interested in my leg. He said he’d never seen anything so smooth and strong in his life. So resilient. So warm to the touch. He asked me what my leg’s status was. I said my leg’s status was me, it was mine. We were each other’s, my leg and me. Lance respected this and asked if we could at least be friends. But I didn’t think we could.
That was on me, my mistake. My leg thought that acting on jealousy how I did was, frankly, terrible. To let a good person like Lance go? Because of my own insecurity? I reminded my leg how jealous it was back when I tried swimming. My leg thought that that was a long time ago, that it was high school, that we were past that now. Perhaps, I thought. We were past it, yes, but not that far past it. At any rate, I tried to do right for my leg, and for myself. I apologized to Lance and invited him to a movie. It was fun, I could admit, until his leg brushed against mine as the credits rolled. My leg flexed and cramped, in a way it hadn’t for years, and in that moment I knew. I did. Two months later, Lance showed up at my dorm and asked if I was the kind of person who got in the way of love. I wasn’t.
I told Mom and Dad that I got an infection from the showers in the dorm. Mom was crying so loud when she saw me that I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Dad called me a “legless pirate fuck” and asked how in the world I was going to drive trucks with him now, with only one foot. I said I never wanted to drive trucks in the first place. He looked at Mom like somehow she’d done something wrong. I told him not to look at her like that. He said I didn’t know anything about his looks or about anything else, and then went over to prove it. He hugged Mom and patted her back and said it was true what she said that one time, years ago, when she said that no matter what, despite everything, they’d have each other, which was okay, even if it was just the two of them against the whole entire world. I said fine, if that was how he felt. I rolled my chair to the stairs, then stopped. I wanted up in that bathroom. I tried to crawl up the steps, but I was still weak from the operation. I lay there, until I felt myself suddenly rising, being lifted. I looked down and saw Mom’s hand wrapped around my one knee. She said not to leave the bathroom until I had something to say.
I had lots to say. I was bursting with things to say, but she closed the door and went down and had a shouting match with Dad. He thought people couldn’t change. She thought they could. Something sounded like it fell off the wall, then Dad’s truck started up, and then he was gone. Upstairs, Mom helped me take off my clothes and get in the bathtub. I was uncomfortable with it, but she didn’t seem to care that I was naked. The water was so hot. I looked at her cheap, pink razor on the edge of the tub.
Mom checked the water and asked if the temperature was okay. I said it was. She said, “I’m trying, sweetheart.” I said I knew she was crying earlier because she was happy that my leg was gone. Right? She said, “Right.” She said again that she was trying. But what was trying, exactly, if it came 10 years too late? I said, if she believed that people could change, who was she hoping would change, me or her? Or Dad? Or all of us? She told me she got another DUI, and that if there was a third, she’d go to jail. My first thought was, good. She checked the tub and turned off the water.
And said to me, “Sweetheart, love is—” but I stopped her right there, because I wasn’t about to let someone like her talk to me as though I didn’t know about love. I was young, but I knew a thing or two about hearts. Boy, did I. I knew that love was about trying hard, and doing better, and not a decade after the fact. I knew that love was about sacrifice and compromise and forgiveness, not feeling lonely and scared. I told her that, and she said, okay, then maybe think about forgiving her. I asked for what, and she couldn’t even say. I told her to get out of the bathroom, and not to come back until she had the words. I said I wouldn’t even be in their house if it wasn’t winter vacation. I said, next vacation, boy, next time.
Which, I meant that, or I didn’t. I didn’t want Mom to leave the house, though. Just the bathroom. I sat in the tub in there, thinking about what loneliness really meant. Because, truly, I was now alone. I took that razor and held it to my leg, and imagined how the life there would bloom. It would bloom, and I’d feel it, I’d feel the rush and the support, if only I removed that hair. The feeling would last a second and then be gone, because that wasn’t love, it was need. I was alone at that moment, like she was, but I was not my mom. I was something else. And I had years and years ahead of me, years full of blood and muscle.
Eventually, the water got cold.