Once upon a time there was a woman with two arms. She used these arms to hug, carry and lift. Until one day, one of her arms went missing. Where did her arm go, you ask? Who cares. Nobody knows. What’s important is that although she missed her arm very much she learned to just use one. And she lived happily ever after. The end.
If I had kids, that’s the story I would tell them when they would inevitably ask about my great-aunt’s missing arm. Unless they’re older. At which point I would say:
You want to know how Tia lost her arm? She got a paper cut and was too busy playing on her PS2 to wash her hands and disinfect the cut. So, she got gangrene all up her arm and the doctors had no other choice, but to cut. What’s gangrene? Look it up.
Eventually, when they’re older, they will ask again. And that’s when I’ll say:
It’s a sad story that you should never talk about or mention in front of her. Why? Because she’s traumatized! She was separated from my grandmother because the communist Cuban government would not let her leave the country. So, she had no other choice but to make a raft out of household items and paddle her way to Miami Beach. Half way across the gulf she was surrounded by a pack of sharks. What? Yes, a pack of sharks. Gulf sharks travel in packs. Do you want to hear this story or not? Where was I? Right. One of the sharks bit down on her oar and yanked it under water. Instinctively she stuck her hand in the water to get it back, but the shark chomped down on her arm. Luckily, a platoon of dolphins were nearby and shooed the sharks away, not before recovering her arm and returning it to her so she could use it to paddle her way to shore.
Years later, I will hear them repeat this atrocity to someone at a family gathering and call them out on it. “That’s not funny,” I’d say. “Don’t make fun of my great aunt. She’s missing an arm!”
Seriously now. My grandmother’s sister arrived from Cuba without an arm. I was young. Young enough to stand under her and look up her half sleeve to see the nub. Young enough to wonder what happened to her arm, but not ask. And when I thought about it again, I was old enough not to care. I guess because she was still able to do everything. Everything. Peel potatoes, put on a bra, swim, annoy the crap out of everyone, be mean. Everything.
Except play guitar. It has always been her dream to join a rock band and wail on a Fender under a bright spotlight.