Archive for February, 2019

She was born with a tail between her legs but she is the most courageous person I know. The doctor had said it was a boy. No one had realized it was a tail. It was just two inches and a half long but on a tiny baby, born almost seven weeks early, it didn’t look that short. It didn’t really look like anything. The scans and biopsies showed it was just skin and a bit of cartilage, hence the curve. They also discovered it wasn’t actually between her legs, that was just how it looked like on the sonogram. “It’s a tiny tail, just where any normal tail would be,” is what Jeanette and Paul would later tell their daughter when she came home crying that the little boys in the neighborhood made fun of her and called her ‘little crocodile’. The skin on the tail was rough, almost scaly. The doctors gently curved it backwards so it wouldn’t cause complications in future and also so in case it grew longer, it would grow outward rather than inward. They couldn’t cut it off, not just then; not until they knew for sure what it was and if it was attached to anything vital. Babies have that egg-like fragility when they are born so unless it became life threatening, the doctors decided to wait until the baby stopped being so mushy. Jeannette and Paul had planned on naming him Shaun. So she goes by Shauna now. Way too many baby-name books and debating and vetoing had gone into settling for ‘Shaun’, they weren’t about to go through all that again. She would be free to change it when she grew older.

Everything was ordinary in the basic sense of the word. They both decided to extend their leave just to be sure that Shauna was well settled in before they went back to regular routine. Plus they had to interview several potential nannies and find one who would be able to specifically care for Shauna. Jeanette worked at an office in town as a Project Manager for a film company. Paul worked in a Barber shop and salon. He cut hair full time and did sew-ins on the side. No one laid a weave like Paul did. On Fridays you’d have the whole waiting area full of women, hair dripping wet, chatting away, and waiting on Paul while several other stylists sat in their own chairs idle. Lucile, the receptionist and Administration Manager hated it. “This is not efficient at all Paul,” she would say from her desk, let out a big sigh and go on to aggressively scribble something on the guest book. She had been in the army until an unfortunate land mine accident caused her to lose her leg. She had a prosthetic on and walked with a slight limp. At only 25, she had lost a job she loved plus a whole leg. Her eldest sister, who was the owner of the salon gave her the position after her recovery and Lucile seemed to have transferred all her dreams of commanding a special ops unit in the army into commanding a team at a local barber shop and salon. There was never a strand of hair left on the ground too long, every customer was attended to within seconds of their entry, stellar attendance by all employees, not a drop of shampoo went to waste, every department ran with optimized precision. There was just one thing she would do that might mess with your whole psyche if you didn’t know it was coming. Sometimes if she got really irritated by a difficult client or an errant employee or if she was just having a really bad day when would take off her prosthetic and put it on top of the desk with a frustrated bang. “Mediocrity makes my nub flare up,” she would say, pick up her crutches and walk to the kitchen, close the door and make a whole pot of jasmine, chamomile tea that would have the whole salon smelling like a botanical garden. It relaxed her and everyone needed a relaxed Lucile.

When Jeannette was too busy at work and Paul had a long line of clients waiting, the nanny would bring Shauna to the salon when her time was up. Shauna was the only one who would have Lucile in tears from laughter. No one really knew what they talked about, just that if Shauna was around, that was the time to tell her you’d like to take a day off or that you had accidentally dropped an open tub of treatment or that one of the driers needed a new fuse. Shauna was drawn to numbers. First time Paul went with her to the toy store at age two, she had cried for the abacus, she didn’t even know what it was but later she practically slept with that thing. She had counted all the tiles in the house arranged by colour and size, the bricks in their cabro driveway and the security lights in the estate. At a few months over age 6, her favourite pass time when she came by the salon was to help Lucile take stock. You could hear her counting bottles of shampoo and packs of hair in the store room.

School was hard in the beginning, Paul and Jeanette had even considered homeschooling their little Shauna just so they could shield her from what they knew the world would do and say about their little girl. With time they realized they would only be feeding their own fears into their child and maybe preventing her from forming her own world experiences and creating her own safe space. Maybe she would be the key to starting conversations that needed to be had. Maybe because of her, there would be just a little less ignorance in the world. Shauna did go through a few more ‘Lizard tail’, ‘Rat girl’ among other even worse taunts but the girl was a fireball. It would start off with taunts but give it a few minutes and all her bullies would know how lizards can drop their tails when in danger, and how some species use tails to prop themselves up and as a spring mechanism and how if a lizard loses a tail it actually grows back and that actually every mammal has a tail at some point in the womb and how beautifully awesome it is that she got to keep hers.

Some of her clothes had to be tailored so they wouldn’t press down on the tail making it uncomfortable for her. One time they did try to make a cover so to speak that matched whatever clothe she was wearing but the friction and with the heat, it was very irritating so the tail was left to hang free, so to speak as it just a few inches long so it didn’t really hang.

At age 22, Shauna contemplated cutting it off. The doctors said it was feasible and with the advancements in reconstructive surgery, it may not even leave a mark. Truth is, she had started dating someone and they were not exactly comfortable having a girlfriend with a tail. Not that they mentioned it too many times but there was always a look. And Shauna had seen that look before all too many times and she could spot it from a mile away. So she thought if that’s the only problem and she was really deeply in love with this person then cutting it off shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Paul and Jeanette were very concerned. As parents to a child who had to overcome such adversity from the moment they were born, and seeing just how much of an amazing, evolved, world-changing person their daughter already was; they were troubled that  their little girl would want to literally cut off a whole part of her just because of someone else. They remembered their own inhibitions and fears and how they too had thought of having it removed. But they were so glad that they were advised against it and much as the decision was ultimately and fully hers, they just wanted her to think about it for a little while.

I met Shauna three years ago at a conference. She sat right next to me and I remember seeing something poke out from behind her seat and not being able to comprehend exactly what I had seen. Not until she got up and went up on stage and gave her talk, did I realize I was sitting next to the 33 year old human that would change my life.

© Awinja 2019.