I was four when I learned of my deformity. Before that, my left hand, different from my right, was still mine. It was part of me until, later, it defined me.
Mom had taken me to the playground. A Sunny day, the air filled with the happy squeals of children playing on the merry-go-round and zooming down slides, or swinging high enough to grab birds by their wings.
Bucket in hand, I chose the sandbox as my first stop. I knew the two girls already playing there were older. I liked playing with older girls. As an only child, my conversations with others were more advanced than my age.
“Want to share my shovel?” I asked the girl with the cinnamon colored hair.
“Okay.” Then, she stared at my left hand. She whispered something to her friend. Both stared.
The pig-tailed girl crinkled her nose. Red hair laughed and held her nose. “Let’s go before that happens to us.”
I looked at Mom sitting on the bench along side the sandbox. She had tears in eyes.
“Why don’t they like me, Mom?”
“Because they’re superficial. They only look at the surface of a person without getting to know them.”
“See how, on your right hand, all fingers can spread apart?”
“Now look at your left hand.”
“I know.” I spread the fingers I could but my middle and ring fingers are melded together as if one large digit.
“Well, both hands belong to my beautiful Gracie. Your left hand is one of the many things that make you different and special. Everybody’s different one way or the other. But we all have similarities, too.
“They don’t like me because I only have four fingers on this hand,” I say, holding it up.
Mom shrugs. “Some people are afraid of differences. But true friends, people who love you won’t even think about the difference in your left hand. Like Sissy.”
My cousin Sissy has known me her whole life. She held my left hand all the time and didn’t care.
Back then, on that playground, Mom made me feel even more loved, differences and all.
But at age four, even after the pep talk, I didn’t know I’d have to endure the stares, the gasps and ugly comments.