Simon taps his fingers on the steering wheel, considers getting out of the car. When he gets out, he'll have to go in. When he goes in, he'll be displaying himself for people to draw. He's not sure that he's ready. The nude part of figure modelling, he is prepared for. The open studying of his arms, that's what is truly terrifying. All his life, people have stared at him. Open stares have been rare. Usually only drunks and small children stare openly. The other looks are stolen.
When he was a kid, people would steal glances and whisper louder than they thought, "Thalidomide Baby." Then there would be knowing nods and piteous looks. His mother would shuffle him away, her face beet red. She'd be furious, ashamed, angry, and silent. He didn't know what it meant. Not then, anyway.
He was older when he figured out why she was so upset. The guilt she felt for something that hadn't been her fault. She'd been throwing up, losing weight. You're not supposed to lose weight when you're pregnant. And so the doctor had prescribed Thalidomide. She'd been relieved and felt great the rest of her pregnancy. But the rest of her life, her feelings were more complicated. "Thalidomide Baby," didn't describe it.
The saving grace in aging was that the younger generation no longer referred to him as a "Thalidomide Baby." Well into his sixties, he couldn't imagine anything more infuriating than some 20-year-old calling him a baby. Except maybe the 20 something that he'd encountered in a hotel bar one night who'd told him about amputee porn. No matter how infuriated Simon had obviously been, or how he yelled at the dumb little shit to shut up, the kid just kept on about how much money Simon could make if he made a porno. That kid hadn't known anything about Thalidomide. He'd just seen him as a youtube video or wherever kids watched things like that. Kids now just didn't know what Thalidomide was.
When he was a kid everyone knew what it was. Knew and had a story for him to make him feel better. But he felt just fine. He'd been a relatively fortunate victim of the drug. He had hands and feet and arms, albeit short ones. His hands had grown onto the ends of his three quarter length arms at an odd angle that made carrying a cup of coffee precarious, but his functioning was fine, easy even. He could even plink out a tune on the piano. There were plenty of less fortunate victims who had no arms and no legs at all or had a lone thumb on one shoulder. He remembered seeing a video once about a woman with no arms. Instead of feeling any connection to her, though, he was repulsed. He could hardly bare to look at her eating with her feet on national television. He was disgusted at the thought of her feet patting someone on the back during a hug.
He looked at his hands now. They were his. They were perfect. He loved them. His mother had loved them. She kissed her fingers and touched each part of him before bed every night. He'd loved that when he was a kid. Kiss, forehead, kiss, shoulders, kiss, fingers, kiss, legs, kiss toes. He'd felt the sacred value of his every inch. His hands worked. They were his. And to him they were beautiful and perfect. Just as they had been to his mother.
Fortified with the thought, he steps out of the car and heads across campus toward the building where the figure drawing class is being held. Two drunken Fraternity Babies stumble past.
"Whoa man! Did you see that?" one mutters to the other. Then, "I wonder if that dude could learn to walk on his hands."
The second boy, suddenly struck by the brilliance of the idea, "Maybe he'd be super awesome at it!" Then he calls loudly to Simon. "Hey bro? Can you walk on your hands? Because that'd be super badass! If not, I'd totally try to teach you if you want."
A smile spreads across Simon's face involuntarily and he laughs, "Not tonight. I'm on my way to figure model." He's really amused now.
"No way, really? I don't have the balls for that, yo." The first drunk.
"Cool, man. Have fun!" The second.
"Thanks." He says. And walks toward the building with an entertained spring in his step, feeling good about his choice. Feeling good about his body. He will think of this interchange and wonder what an art student might come up with for him to do with his hands. He'll use his hands to strip down and model.
His perfect hands.