>A TIME OF TAILS

>I was born in a time of tails. Cast across the front pages were pictures of babies with strange appendages and inexplicable conditions: thick screaming headlines belying their flimsy newsprint. We weren’t a family that kept clippings or scrapbooks, but still, there they were, newspapers stacked high and wide, from kitchen to bathroom, informing our lives, our view of the world. These newspaper babies had crocodile’s eyes. They were joined together two, even three at a time. If the infant were lucky, it would force some grumbling editor to grant colour printing. I imagined early morning debates in newspaper staff rooms, weighing up a monkey’s tail against lobster claws. It was somewhere in those days I learnt that in the wee hours men with thick arms would start a printing press and a newspaper would be “put to bed”. I thought of all the babies being fed through the printing press, flattened out and copied.

I was born normal, or what was begrudgingly called normal in those times. I had all my limbs in the right places, I had the correct number of holes in my head, and they appeared just where they were supposed to be. My parents looked happy in those photos I saw years later, holding Me the Tangled Newborn Mess in their arms, but in later photos, when I was cleaned up and examined, I could sense in their eyes a disappointment, that no reporters rushed to their hospital room, that no eager photographers flashed bulbs like fireworks.

I was taken home, wrapped in a blue blanket I still have to this day, my perfect green eyes peeking out the top, and put under a lamp. My parents examined me themselves, closer and closer, making sure the doctors hadn’t missed anything. They checked bones and creases, nails and folds, but nothing could be found. I was disgustingly, symmetrically, perfect. And I supposed they still loved me—as nature compelled them to—but even then I felt a distance begin to grow. It’s ridiculous to say I remember this, but sometimes memories are more than photos snapped in a mind’s eye: they can be feelings, deep down body feelings that germinate and grow. When you know those feelings fully-grown, when their roots are buried at the very start-point of your consciousness, you can easily return to where they began, and feel them again.

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