First it was the nose, which fell off while I was ordering a coffee. It landed on the counter. The attendant picked it up with the thin paper he normally used to pluck baked goods from the display. I think that was a reflex. I think at the time he didn’t know he was picking up a nose. No one’s nose had ever fallen off in front of him before.
When he did finally notice, he went through a range of emotions: befuddlement (his eyes told him he was holding a nose, but his brain couldn’t believe it); then satisfaction (he “figured out” he was holding a nose); then terror (all the psychological ramifications of what was happening had awakened from their slumber). By that point, he wanted desperately to flee from what he feared, but you can’t run from what you hold in your hand, so he threw my nose across the room.
“I hope you don’t work for tips,” I said, but it probably didn’t sound like that. It probably sounded more like Ah whope ew dahnt wok foe tits.
It didn’t matter. The young man wasn’t listening to me. He was staring past me at the large gentleman who’d just been hit in the nose by my nose. That gentleman was rising to his feet.
“What. The. Fuck,” he said. I pointed at the attendant.
“Don’t look at me,” the attendant said. “It’s his nose.”
“But I didn’t throw it,” I said.
The large gentleman looked down at the table. Next to his eggs, right on top of his bacon, sat my nose. He looked up and noticed for the first time the oddity of my face.
“Where’s your nose?” he said.
The attendant and I looked at each other and then back at the man, waiting for him to put things together. He didn’t.
“It’s on your bacon,” I said.
The man looked back down at his plate. He extended his hand slowly towards it and touched my nose with the tip of his finger. The untethered piece of flesh spooked him. He scooped my nose into his hand and threw it away from himself.
“What is wrong with you people?” I said. “Stop throwing my nose!”
This time, my nose came to rest on the floor, outside any particular person’s jurisdiction. I rushed towards it and snatched it up. I turned to everyone and held it up between the thumb and index finger of my right hand.
“See?” I said. “It’s just a nose.”
Then I looked at it. I began to feel queasy. My knees grew weak.
Holy shit, I thought. My nose fell off my face.
The next thing that fell off was my left ear. Then one of my eyebrows. I can’t remember which one, but it fell off intact. I stuck it all back on with crazy glue and let a few more days pass. Then both my pinkie toes fell off at the same time and I finally went to see a doctor.
“You put it on crooked,” he said, referring to my nose. “I can fix that, if you want.”
“Ok,” I said, “Can you tell me what’s wrong with me?”
He sent me to another doctor, who adjusted my eyebrow and sent me to someone else who readjusted my nose. I went from doctor to doctor, and none of them could agree on where my nose was supposed to be. In the meantime, my right foot fell off while I was getting out of the shower.
“I’m pretty sure it’s psychosomatic,” said the final doctor, as he was regluing my nose.
He recommended a shrink whose office was decorated with photographs of the psychologist fishing with different people. I don’t know much about psychology, but looking at those photos, I was certain that no one found them comforting.
“It might take us a few sessions to get at the cause of your condition,” the shrink said.
I nodded and he continued.
“We’re going to start with a basic test. I am going to say a word. I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Ok?”
I nodded again.
“Let’s begin,” he said. “Nine.”
“Nine,” I replied.
The shrink shook his head.
“You’re not supposed to repeat the word I say. I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Do you understand?”
I nodded a third time.
“Ok,” he said. “Here we go again. Wolf.”
The shrink looked puzzled.
“I thought you said you understood. Why are you still repeating me?”
“I’m not repeating you. When you say wolf, the first thing that comes to mind is a wolf.”
“Then say the second thing.”
“It’s not my fault. You got me thinking about wolves and now I can’t stop.”
The doctor wrote something down on a pad that was in his lap. I leaned forward, trying to see what it was. My left eyeball popped out and rolled across the floor, coming to rest against the doctor’s shoe. I watched it happen, hoping the doctor didn’t notice, but when I looked up, he was staring at me.
“Please don’t write that down,” I said.
The shrink didn’t respond. He stared at me quietly, and I could tell he was analytically reducing me, trying to find the hidden nooks and crannies wherein all my deepest fears were hatching plans to ruin my life.
When I couldn’t take it anymore, I bent over and picked up my eye. I returned to an upright position and brought my hand towards my face. My loose eyeball was then level with the one still lodged in my head. It was an odd feeling, looking into my own eye. I forgot about the shrink entirely (he was probably buzzing with psychiatric delight, ogling a patient staring into the window of his own soul). I just gazed and gazed until my good eye became dry and started tearing. I didn’t see anything, though. I didn’t see a god damned thing.
Where, I thought, are all my secrets?
I brought my free hand to my face to wipe the tears away. That’s when the shrink finally spoke.
“If I were you,” he said, “I’d wash that thing.”
A few days later, I lost my right index finger. I don’t just mean it fell off. I couldn’t find it. It was my favorite finger, and I couldn’t find it.
I didn’t always know my right index finger was my favorite finger. For thirty-five years, it was just one of ten, part of a hand I took for granted. But as soon as it was gone, I was sure of its special significance, though I couldn’t say why.
Everything in my house reminded me of the finger, all the things I’d touched with it (the doorknobs, the TV, the handle on the toilet, the jar inside the fridge from which I’d crudely finger-swiped some mayonnaise), so I went to the mall. Half my face was glued on, and my left eyeball got stuck and then unstuck sometimes when I looked left (I’d seen this happen in the mirror, having spent an embarrassing amount of time since the session with the shrink trying to find what I’d been unable to find in his office). It was a busy Saturday, so it took me an hour to park. I was tempted on several occasions by the wide-open handicapped spaces.
I don’t have a placard, I thought, but maybe I can hang an ear from the mirror.
When I finally entered the mall, I was engulfed by the swarms of people. Their rapid pace was somehow magnetic, and I found myself carried along, which was fine, since I had no destination of my own in mind: I’d come to the mall to feel normal.
I walked with them for close to an hour, round and round the mall’s endless circular strollway until a clumsy shopper kicked my right foot loose. I was forced to sit down on a bench and reglue it with the crazy glue I now carried with me all the time. The bench was located directly in front of a little shop that sells glass figurines. On any other day, I would have ignored it, but the mall had spit me out here, so I decided to take a look around.
As I entered, the shopkeeper smiled. I tried to smile back, but my glued on lips (I don’t remember exactly when they fell off) were no longer attached to the thing that empowers a smile with meaning (whatever that is, the brain, the heart, something else). Based on what I’d seen earlier in the mirror, I probably looked like someone obligated to smile for a photograph.
I don’t think he noticed.
“If you need any help,” he said, “let me know.”
I proceeded to walk around the store, pausing here and there to study some of the figurines. Hundreds of them lined the shelves. A woman and a man drinking a milkshake from the same glass. A child holding a balloon. A mermaid sitting on a rock. A man doing nothing, who looked like he had nothing better to do.
I picked that one off the shelf.
What are you supposed to be? I wondered. A collector of glass figurines?
I put him down and stumbled towards the counter, which was also a display case that contained more figurines. These seemed to be just as bland as all the other ones I’d already seen: same size, doing x bland thing, made of glass, etc…
Then I came to a female figurine standing at the center of the case. The woman was holding a baby gently in her arms. Many of the other figurines in the shop held things: swords, baseball bats, telephones, newspapers, but she alone held another person. I looked more closely at her. The craftsman had spent a considerable amount of time on the features of her happy face. Her lips made the glass look tender, her cheeks seemed almost rosy, her tiny nose sat sturdily, confident of its placement. What caught my attention most, though, was her eyes. I really liked how softly she was looking at the baby.
I bet she feels warm, I thought, not temperature-wise, but like she’s in love.
My hand shot out.
“I want that one,” I said.
“Which one?” the shopkeeper replied.
“No. That one.”
“You’re not pointing at anything.”
The shopkeeper was right. I wasn’t pointing at anything. I was using my right hand, waving what I now perceived as a long, slender emptiness at the figurine. I knew this, but I didn’t know what else to do, so I continued.
“That one,” I said, changing the emphasis I was placing on my words.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“Yes. Yes, it is.”
Then I ran from the store like a monster.
I was so sad about the incident, I made another appointment with the shrink.
“I want to talk about my finger,” I said.
The doctor started to write something down on his pad. I leaned forward, just like last time. The doctor saw this and stopped writing. He looked up. I leaned back. The doctor seemed relieved.
“What about it?” he said.
The doctor looked at my hands.
“Oh,” he said. His writing hand, which still held a pen, quivered a little, but he repressed the impulse. “I presume it fell off. Why didn’t you glue it back on?”
“I can’t find it.”
“I see. How does this make you feel?”
“Why do you think that is?”
“That was the finger I used every day to point at things I wanted. Without it, how do I tell the world who I am?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? Have you tried to answer it?”
“Maybe try harder then.”
“It’s as good a time as any.”
We sat in silence for a number of minutes. I don’t know what the doctor was doing, but in the quiet on my side, I was thinking as hard as I could without fracturing my skull. Nothing came to me. I started to look around the room, hoping the world might offer some insight. What I found were those stupid fishing photos.
“Don’t you think those are maybe a little insensitive?” I said.
“Some of us have actual problems.”
The doctor put the inkless end of the pen in his mouth and bit down. He stared at me for a few moments. His eyes swept me up and down. I wanted to tell him to stop, but without my finger, why would he take me seriously?
Finally, the pen slipped from between his lips and he cleared his throat.
“I suppose you’ll just have to get over that,” he said.
The doctor and I sat in silence again. This time, I just stared at the pen he’d been chewing on and the hand that held it. Every so often, the hand quivered as before, betraying his desire to write something down. My left eye began to twitch.
“Can we do that exercise again?” I said. “The one where you say something and I tell you the first thing that comes to mind.”
“That’s an assessment exercise. We’re past that point.”
“I’m paying you, right?”
The doctor sighed.
“Ok. Are you ready?”
I got up to leave. As I turned away from the doctor, my left eye popped out again. It fell to the floor like a marble.
“You can keep it,” I said, without turning back around. “It’s empty.”
Down a finger and an eye, I went to a party to blow off some steam. I didn’t bother to cover up the eye socket. Even if people couldn’t see it, I thought, the hole would still be there.
I knew only a few people: the host – a friend of mine from college named Becky – and three or four people I’d met through Becky over the years, people with whom I’d exchanged mostly forgettable fragments of conversation. I arrived about three hours into the party (I left my house to arrive on time, but wandered the dark streets like a depressing thought for a while), so everyone was somewhat drunk. They took little notice of my entrance or my approach to the make-shift bar in the kitchen. I found a coffee mug in a cabinet and filled it with vodka, which I drank in three painful gulps. Ten minutes later, I was numb. If my head had fallen off, I wouldn’t have noticed.
But I did feel someone tap me on the shoulder. I turned around. It was some blur of a person I’d met at another one of Becky’s parties (without my left eye, everyone’s faces were blurry; apparently, that eye was the one that saw people as individuals).
“How’s it going?” said the blur.
“Splendid,” I replied.
What I really meant was “why do you care?”, but he didn’t understand.
“You look different,” he said. “Did you get your teeth whitened?”
“My teeth are the same color today as they were the last time we had a stupid conversation.”
“They look whiter.”
He called over another blur.
“Doesn’t he look different?” the first blur said to the second.
“Yeah,” said the second blur.
“I can’t put my finger on it, though.”
“Have you been working out?” the second blur said to me.
“No,” I replied, “but I recently bought a pair of new shoes and for like a week, it was kind of hard to walk in them.”
The second blur started asking me questions about the shoes I had sarcastically invented and when he ran out of questions, he started talking about himself. He was a pickle enthusiast in size eleven shoes who had two days prior gotten a haircut.
“Excuse me,” I said, six minutes further into a conversation about pickling eggplant than I ever wanted to be. “I need to get another drink.”
The next hour or so was a blur of blurs. Every conversation I had made sense but was otherwise unintelligible. I drank my way into a deep, invisible solitude and ended up on a table, making a pronouncement.
“No one understands what I want like my finger did,” I said. “You’re all a bunch of asses.”
All the blurs looked at me briefly and then returned to whatever they’d been doing. I thrust my hand out at one of them.
“You!” I said. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”
Without my finger, my indignation was diffused into a harmless cloud of whining.
Still, I tried again, aiming my rage at Size Eleven.
“Are you some kind of moron?” I said. “Your haircut is terrible. It looks like something chewed on your head for a while.”
He too was unimpacted. And then, I fell off the table. Surprisingly, I remained completely intact, but a few minutes later, when I was heaving desperately into the toilet, one of my eyebrows slipped softly into the half-digested muck and became lost to me forever.
“Fuck you,” I said to the toilet and stood up.
At the sink, I rinsed my mouth out and then looked at myself in the mirror. My nose was slightly crooked, but my face wasn’t blurry.
“Fuck you,” I said to my face.
The mirror was the front surface of a medicine cabinet. I opened it. This is what it contained:
Shelf 1 –
toothbrush in need of replacement
Pez dispenser (black base, Frankenstein head)
Shelf 2 –
empty pill bottle (I picked it up and shook it)
Shelf 3 –
a desiccated rose bud
a wooden toothpick in a plastic wrapper
I picked up the Pez dispenser.
“Hello my little friend,” I said to it.
With my thumb, I made Frankenstein’s head flick back and forth.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the crazy glue. I wasn’t really thinking at this point (I was less drunk than when I stood on the table, but more defeated). I spun the cap off the crazy glue and applied some to the knuckle on my right hand from which my index finger had previously sprouted. Then I pressed the base of the Pez dispenser against the glue and waited.
Four minutes later, I opened the bathroom door. People waiting for access to the toilet had formed a line that stupidly blockaded my egress. The first person in line was the blur with the idiotic haircut. I pointed the Pez dispenser at him, right between his eyes.
“You,” I said, “are in my way.”
He jerked to the left. The she-blur behind him had apparently missed what I’d said to him, so I pointed the dispenser at her in the same fashion.
“Move,” I said.
She jerked right.
One at a time, I parted the sea of blurs that stood between me and the front door and left the house triumphantly.
The next day, I returned to the mall seeking revenge on my previous experience. The first thing I did was buy a large purple gumball from a giant gumball machine. I put my quarter in, turned the knob and watched the gumball descend from the gumball bank down a long, spiraling gumball slide. It came through a shoot at the bottom and I picked it up and popped it into my eye socket. I looked around. The faces of all the people were still blurry, but every blur seemed happy.
From there, I rushed through the mall like an ape on the loose at the zoo. I was totally outside the flow of the pedestrian currents, which disturbed a lot of happy blurs, but every time someone tried to say something, I targeted them with my Frankenstein finger and their jaw locked up.
I was on my way to the glass figurine shop, and I suppose I was moving too fast, because my right foot came loose outside what you could call an eccentric general store, a shop filled with colorful things – handless watches, twisty straws, an enormous collection of Pez dispensers, etc. I abandoned my foot and limped my way in. I found a section dedicated exclusively to lunch boxes. I picked a plastic one that celebrated a cartoon I was unfamiliar with (from the images I deduced this premise: two high school-age monkeys secretly share a superpower that allows them to become human and bumble their way through the solving of mysteries). I sat down in the aisle and took the tube of crazy glue from my pocket, applied it thoroughly to the stump and pressed the stump against one of the wide flat edges of the lunchbox. I stood and walked to the counter.
“Ring me up,” I said, throwing my leg up on the counter. “I’m going to wear this out.”
I was free again to walk as I pleased. I moved quickly, charging to the section of the mall where the store was. I entered and went directly to the counter where I had previously seen the glass woman.
I waved the happy blurry shopkeeper over.
“I want that one,” I said, pointing with the Pez dispenser and staring with the gumball and stamping my lunchbox foot on the ground.
A tiny lightning bolt leapt from the figurine into Frankenstein.
“What the hell was that?” the clerk said.
“That,” I replied, “was the world letting me know it heard me.”
Then I smiled and it made everything whole.