I met Susan on the lip of Ft. Lauderdale beach as she stormed out of her apartment building. It was a warm May evening, which in Lauderdale might as well be deep August. Our eyes locked, and her first words to me were, “Men suck.” She had just been stood up. It was the first day of an air-and-sea show on the beach, and I invited her to sit with me to watch the military planes soar by, our tax dollars evaporating before our eyes. As night fell, I regaled Susan with stories about summer camp, and we were surprised with a fireworks show. Red, green and yellow arcs sailed overhead, and a mild evening tide whooshed lightly at our side. I put my arm around her, and we kissed. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.
Susan wore beige pants, talked of volleyball and rollerblading, and was clearly fit. When we met the next afternoon, she showed up in shorts, and it never occurred to me to look down. We were, after all, at an air show. It was half an hour before I noticed the contrast between her pale white thighs and the dull sheen of her lower right leg. It was flesh-colored — not like skin, but crayon.
Susan, who had lost her right leg from the knee down in the second grade due to a disease or ailment I do not recall, was the first person I ever met with a prosthesis. I knew nothing about prosthetics and didn’t feel comfortable asking questions about a potentially traumatic subject. Here’s what I deduced: Susan walked without a limp. She rollerbladed. She played volleyball, which meant she could jump and land without difficulty. She discussed the leg comfortably, talking about how she had nightmares shortly after its amputation but also that it rarely affected her today. When she wore pants, you couldn’t tell she wasn’t walking on two healthy legs. I concluded, therefore, that the prosthesis was surgically attached.
We went out three or four more times, long enough to realize that we had very little in common, superficially or philosophically. Susan was a Midwestern churchgoer, thrown into thrall by the Miss America Pageant. When I explained away my high-school druggie days as rebellion, she didn’t understand the concept. Sexually, we didn’t progress beyond making out. Our kisses were pedestrian, uninspired. There was little touching, and what I found oddest was that although we’d kiss throughout the night, she wouldn’t kiss me hello or goodbye.
But I was in one of those barren streaks, so I continued to tell myself I should “see how it goes,” even though I was convinced that it was going nowhere. In a last-gasp effort, I called her fairly late on a Tuesday night and offered to bring over dinner. I was surprised when she accepted. I brought over chicken and a bottle of cheap wine. We ate and barely chatted, and she asked if I wanted to watch The Lion King. Her TV and VCR sat near the foot of the bed. She put the tape in the machine, and lay down on the bed. I lay behind her in perfect spooning position.
We didn’t make it past the credits.
I put my arm around Susan and kissed her cheek, and she turned to meet my lips. We made out furiously, and our clothes came off so fast I didn’t remember removing them. Her body was hot to the touch.
She had a king-size bed and we made the best use of the space, shifting positions as we got sweatier. It seemed as if sex had been a sure thing all along.
While we rolled around on the bed, it was clear how much the prosthesis had become part of her. There was no pause in the action, no awkward maneuvering. I would occasionally feel the brush of plastic across my flesh, but in our drunken haze, as we melted into each other’s heat, it felt as natural as a lover’s knee pressing against the soft meat of your inner thigh.
I lay back on the pillow and Susan bent horizontally across the bed, her legs dangling to the floor. My fingers softly massaged her clit while her mouth took me in. She moved up to kiss me and straddled my belly. We stroked each other’s nipples, and I took both of her beautifully conical breasts in my mouth at once. At just the right moment, she laid back and spread her legs. I had completely forgotten about the prosthesis. In the heat of the moment, every inch of her was flesh.
Kneeling by her feet, I ran my finger down her belly. I was so erect I could float. Then, just as I was about to descend, she spoke.
“It’s so hot. I have to take this off.”
Susan sat up. She reached down to her leg — the one I had thought was surgically attached — and removed it casually, like she was slipping out of a sock. She placed the leg on the floor, lay back, and said, in a wet, sultry voice, “I’m ready.”
I looked at what remained of her leg, and then at my cock. Where her plastic leg had been, there was now a peg of flesh covered with clumps of hair, like the last vestiges of youth on an aging man’s scalp.
Erections can be tenuous things, and better men than I have been brought down by less than this. I looked at Susan, who was waiting silently. I stared at her leg, acclimating myself. I wiped sweat from my eyes as I thought, See? No big deal. Then I looked up at her beautiful breasts, her smooth skin and her dreamy smile. I didn’t think of this at the time, but I later realized that she must have been waiting to see how I responded.
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably just a minute or so, I passed the test. I reached down and kissed her, and was soon inside her.
Over the next month, I was consistently amazed at how little a role the leg played in our sex life, which shows what you can get used to when you’re having good sex on a regular basis. When you’re horizontal, there’s never a reason to look that far down, and legs are easily ignored when your upper bodies lie flesh against flesh, hands and mouths together. Susan never called attention to her leg, which worked in our favor.
Outside of bed, however, it was harder to place in the periphery. Once the prosthesis came off, it stayed off until morning. If she needed to get out of bed in the middle of the night, she walked without it. This, I never got used to. One night, I went to the kitchen for a drink of water, and she soon followed. We were both naked. I looked over and saw this sweaty, limping creature. Her long, dirty blond hair was matted against her face and neck, and she walked with a defining step-THUMP, step-THUMP. In bed, her nakedness was arousing. In the kitchen, she just seemed exposed.
But when it came to our relationship, this was the least of our problems. As hot and engaged as Susan was in bed, outside of it she was cool and distant. When we went out, I would drive her back to her place, and ask if she wanted me to come in. The answer was always the same: “I don’t care.” Her refusal to kiss me goodbye never abated. She said it was too intimate an act, that the only person she kissed that way was her grandmother. I wondered how kissing me hello could be too intimate when she’d had my cock in her mouth the night before. I started to realize that she might have intimacy issues that were too profound for me to crack. Within a month, calls became infrequent, messages even less frequently returned, and our last conversation found us arranging to get together soon, but soon never came.
The sex was, to this day, some of the best I’ve ever had. After we fucked, she would say things like, “Wow, we fit perfectly together,” and I would agree completely. To me, Susan had the perfect body. To this day, I’ve never found a woman whose breasts excited me more. I tend to think about her body as if it ran from the thighs up, and that the thing below her knees was just something she carried around in case of emergency.
So Susan’s leg gave me a story to tell, as a writer and as a guy. The tale of the woman who removes her leg before you fuck is one you can dine out on. But when I really sit and think about her, the story shrinks. It’s an anecdote, a quip, a punchline. In the end, Susan was one of the most complex women I’ve ever dated. She was smart, weird, successful, infuriating, and supremely sexual. If I am to speak of her honestly, I’d speak first about her passion, her paranoia and her religiosity. In the end, the most interesting thing about Susan’s missing leg was that it was the least interesting thing about her.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.