Lately Eliza has been suffering from a series of maladies. A broken arm, a broken leg. She hobbles around on sticks fashioned as crutches and wears her arm in a makeshift sling. She tucks one leg into her shorts and steadies herself on the wall, the stairs, the kitchen chairs as she tries to make it in this modern world with a peg leg. While her bones are actually still in tact, you wouldn’t know it by watching her limp across the yard with the aid of a snow shovel under her arm. I can hear her coming — clang, clang, clang — hopping on one foot, stopping to rest because the trek from the swings to the tree house is just so exhausting when you have a fresh tib-fib fracture or was it a crushed ankle this time?
Yesterday I stepped over the shapes of kindergarteners traced in chalk on the sidewalk outside of her classroom. As I studied them I began to be able to make out the shapes of the children in Eliza’s class. Then I saw one drawn to look as though someone had had an above-the-knee amputation and I knew that was my girl.
“Look Mama, that’s me!” she said as we passed the shapes on the way to the car. “My leg stops at my knee and my arm stops at my elbow!”
She bounded off toward the car, my little amputee, thrilled that her chalk outline represented the maimed child of her daydreams.
At home, she wears ten or so socks on one foot to affect the look of a cast and she’s gone through so much toilet paper trying to create one that last week I broke down and bought her an Ace bandage. She’s wrapped it around every part of her body and begs to wear it to school. I’ve held my ground on this front but she wears it everywhere else.
“Is he okay?” strangers ask because inevitably she’s wearing her bandage under a pair of little boy denim cargo shorts that hang down past her knees.
“Oh, he’s fine,” I say. “Just fine.”
We went to Utah last month and on the car ride down Eliza tied the arms of one of her long-sleeved t -shirtstogether and made herself a sling for her right arm. She wore it the entire trip. In the car, to the hot springs, in the tent at night. I think she even wore it into her first slot canyon. Her faux broken arm was such a constant on our trip that normal things like buckling her seat belt became a negotiation. When we’d insist, she’d raise her arm, cloaked in that grubby skull and cross bones shirt and say, “But mom, my arm.”
In preparation for our trip Seth had, of course, been listening to one of his podcasts. I suppose he chose Canyons of the Colorado by John Wesley Powell because we were headed straight for that river. As we passed one stunning desert landscape after another Seth would share tidbits of Powell’s journey.
“He’d get out of the boat and climb to the tops of these canyons to take measurements,” he said. “All with one arm.”
Somewhere along the way Eliza caught on that this Powell character lived a long time ago and did some pretty amazing things in desert country. But, really, all she cared about was that he did it with one arm. By the end of the trip we were calling her John Wesley Quackenbush and she beamed at the honor.
It’s a little like living in a David Sedaris essay around here these days with our own little one-armed explorer. Next thing you know she’ll be licking the neighbors gnome and the light switch covers at school. But for now she just looks like she’s returning from the Civil War battlefield, just as Powell did, with a hastily wrapped bandage around her ankle, her arm in a homemade sling, ready, it seems, for her next adventure.
This essay originally appeared on mamalode.