I know enough to realize that my identity, my story, and my life are one and the same. To that end, it’s more important to travel a path than it is to clearly define a sense of self. I’ve told you who I am, and it’s all true, but I can’t keep in that place for too long—I need to move. I want to grow and growth is a movement. If my flesh is words, my blood is grammar. I want to spread. A trickle to an ocean.
I need an arc. Me and my surplus of bones and my contempt for the cowardice of nature, clenching ancient codes, we need a thrust, to launch ourselves at a right angle against gravity. To make an arc.
I’ve applied numerology to my polydactyly before. Twelve months, twelve Zodiac signs, twelve seats of Odin. Six days of creation, six virtues of Buddha. Twenty-four hours. It’s no use. No thoughtful discussion has ever controlled the visceral shock people have once they learn of my distinction. The conversation goes something like this:
I’m a polydactyl. I have one extra digit on each of my hands and feet.
Really. You can see if you like—
I can already see. Wow. That’s amazing.
Are you sure it doesn’t bother you?
Wow. No, it doesn’t bother me. Not at all. But that’s amazing. That’s very rare, isn’t it?
And they all work?
Yeah, all your fingers. They all work the same? You can feel and move all your fingers?
Yes, they all work fine. Exactly the same. See?
Oh my God! Wow. So cool. That’s such a cool thing to have. Having extra pinkies.
Oh, it’s not the pinkies that’re extra. It’s the middle fingers.
How do you know that?
By x-ray. You can see I have two middle fingers on each hand, not just one. See? You can pretty much see. Look.
Wow. That’s crazy—I mean, it’s not ‘crazy,’ it’s just…it’s pretty awesome, actually.
You think so? Awesome?
Yeah. It’s totally awesome.
It’s just such a cool thing. It would be less cool if you had, like, saggy little extra fingers that didn’t work, but yours are perfectly fine.
They are perfectly fine.
Do you want to feel th—
No, that’s okay.
And from that moment on I am The Man With Extra Fingers. I am nobody. I become a concept akin to embarrassment, a grotesque, subhuman figure. Every introduction, every reveal is like a lobotomy. The flaw expenses an asset of humanity. From that moment on, from the moment they see it for themselves, I slip into the scapegoat. The politeness is surface; deep down they want to cast stones. Clap my throat in irons, strip me bare, whip me out of town. They do. They don’t know it but they do.
Sometimes they want to take a picture, a photo. A gesture of celebrity one might think. But in truth, it’s documentation. Evidence. A report to the others. They want to capture me. They’ve never seen such a thing and never will again, but I meet people every day. I know that look. It is the sneer of survival. It is the species mocking me. A kneejerk death sentence.
Part of what troubles them is their rigid definition of a person. Because it’s so implicit to their psyche, so rarely challenged, a moment like meeting me compels them to think in ways they never have. What they see in me is a human being who has extra human parts grafted onto himself, and what their subconscious wants to know is, What did he do with the rest of the body from which he stole those pieces?
The collective psyche thinks I’m a murderer. That I’ve killed off one of our own to flaunt a perverse excess.
They regard me as an amalgam of parts. That I am whole does not compute. That notion is like a hieroglyph from a dead language.
When you stare at a light for a while and then look away, the spot stays darkened. It’s the same with people’s implicit understanding of humanity. Bipedal, laughter, clothing, a name, a language, ceremony, ten fingers and ten toes. It’s been branded onto their minds. When they regard me, they can only see the darkened spot. When it wears off, they have questions, they feel shame, they wonder why they are agreeing to let me live. They want to seek higher ground. They want me erased. They want to go back in time.
Sometimes I want to go back in time, too. I want to revisit the very beginning, my first word, first predicate, to see if I could take it back. Maybe if I used different words, said different things, I’d have a different fate, be a different man. It’s hard to say.
Perhaps what I need is some scenery. If my identity, my story, and my life are one and the same, I’ll need a setting. That is still up in the air, and could make all the difference. In medieval Bavaria I’d be a street beggar. In modern Uttar Pradesh I’d be a holy incarnation. That might be the key. It will take who I am to relate and engage with where I am, intersecting with when I am, that will fill out the story, and hopefully save me, redeem whatever I can manage to earn and lose. I should also want to explore how I got to be this way.
I have to wonder, Whose experiment am I?
I’m aware I probably surprised you with my perspective on The Founder Effect. You figured I would equate my tactile excess with the sort of diseases The Founder Effect often breeds. That I would put myself in the category of disfigurement. Fruit of the bad seeds.
But I wouldn’t. For as slight as my character is of yet, I know that everything is wrong but me.