I was a short kid growing up, so I joined the Marines. I won’t say too much about it. I spent four years active duty in Kandahar in a platoon of guys with the same goddamned war stories. I saw a lot of shit. Who didn’t?
When I was twenty-eight, a piece of shrapnel from a roadside bomb lodged in my calf. The wound became infected. I was honorably discharged to America without my lower left leg. Missing a leg isn’t as bad as you’d think. I can throw on a pair of pants and people just think I have a limp.
Coming home, I was concerned about PTSD. One of my squad buddies, Garrett, lost his leg five months before me. He wasn’t home a month before he blew his brains out. Word within the base was he did it outside a Froyo World in front of a bunch of kids and soccer moms. But, you can never trust base rumors.
I got to the restaurant a half-hour early. I figured if I were sitting when she got there, she wouldn’t be immediately off-put by my limp or stature. It was a nice place, but not really my speed—mostly young people, yuppies, in suits. I put an inordinate amount of thought into the clothes I was wearing: an orange golf shirt, black slacks, and my church shoes.
She was nine minutes late. She told me she had issues finding a sitter. I asked her if I could get her a drink.
“Beer,” she answered.
“Two beers,” I told the waiter.
Her name was Tina. Her screen name was LABaby77. We’d started talking four months earlier in an online gaming forum. I’d seen her face in her avatar. It was decent—nothing repulsive, indisputably female. It just so happened she lived in Santa Monica, so we agreed to meet up at a place in West Hollywood.
She was chubby, a little chubbier than I typically like. I pictured her naked. I told myself I could make it work.
I asked her how her day went.
“Fine,” she answered.
I asked her how her commute went. She jokingly whined about L.A. traffic. The date was already a formality. I’d predicted our meeting would be awkward. I knew everything about LABaby77. With Tina, though, all I could talk about was stop-and-go on the 405.
Our beers came. We ordered salads. I never order salad. I doubted she did either. We ordered another round. The buzz took the edge off my anxiety. I began to enjoy Tina’s company a little more. She seemed to be having a good time, too.
We finished dessert—a dry cheesecake we shared—and entered an unspoken agreement that we’d be spending the night together.
“My place is only a few minutes away;” I offered, “We can walk.”
If I had to guess, I’d say Tina was 5’4″, 170. She was a bruiser with a four-beer limit. I didn’t notice how cocked she’d gotten until we got up from the table to head out. She got tripped up in her heels on the way out of the restaurant and had to steady herself on my shoulder. Her hand lingered.
I live in a second floor walk-up off Fairfax. I like to keep it tidy—a remnant tendency of my boot camp training. Tina asked to use the bathroom.
“The door on the right, down the hallway,” I told her.
I could hear her dry heaving. I turned on the television in my bedroom. It was still on CNN from when I turned it off. I flipped around awhile to find a good program to set the mood. Who was I kidding? I put on Seinfeld.
Tina came out of the bathroom. I didn’t notice just how much makeup she had on until it ran down her face. I saw she had freckles along her cheekbones. They were cute.
We started to make out. Her breath was rancid. I didn’t want to be rude, though. I looked down and started unbuttoning my slacks.
“Let me help you with those,” she said with a porn star’s inflection.
I was embarrassed for her. I could tell she was a novice. When you’re a kid you think that’s how sex sounds—an exchange of breathy innuendos followed by a whole lot of screaming. Then, you turn thirty and find it’s largely silent and mundane.
She got on her knees, grabbed onto my belt loops and slowly pulled my pants down. She paused for a moment. My heart sank.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, knowing full well what was wrong.
“You have a fake leg,” she replied soberly.
I explained what happened. She feigned sympathy. I mean, she was sympathetic, but the sentiment was diluted by her repulsion. She kept asking questions—not because she was curious. She needed an escape route. She stood up. I pulled up my pants. She grabbed her phone from her purse. The backlight illuminated her freckles.
“Trouble with the sitter,” she murmured.
I asked her if she wanted me to walk her back to her car. She told me not to trouble myself. Then, she left.
I’ve always wondered what Garrett was thinking when he killed himself in front of all those people. Was he completely out of his mind, too far gone to even realize what he was doing? Or did he, too, find himself on the wrong side of the glass between human and spectacle?