Once I had a class of disfigured hands. There was Sean Z. who had no thumbs. There was a young woman, whose hands weren’t fully developed and a guy who had a hook for a hand. Any one of these in a single classroom would have caught my attention, but to have these three students in one class—and a writing class at that—that was a motif! It still makes me smile to have been blessed with this staggering coincidence.

A few years ago, I would have remembered all of their names, but the synapses aren’t too swift anymore, and Sean Z. is the only one I’ve kept in touch with.

Missing thumbs ran on his mother’s side of the family. She was missing one thumb. Her father had both thumbs missing and wore gloves all his life with the thumbs stuffed with cotton. Sean’s mother was disappointed when her first three children were fully thumbed, but more than delighted when Sean appeared thumbless. It was a tradition after all.

When Sean was twelve, his mother threw him a party inviting all of his friends and taped all their thumbs into the palms of their hands, so that they had to play all the games and eat the food with only four fingers. Sean said that they were biting the tape off by the time it got around to the birthday cake.

Here’s Sean’s response to this prompt, “When I have . . .”

By Sean Ziebath

When I have thumbs, I will hitchhike everywhere
I will suck my thumbs
I will sit in the corner and stick my thumb in a plum pie
I will paint a face on my thumb and forefinger, like a
puppet and make it talk
When I have thumbs I will learn sign language
I will give everyone the “thumbs-up” OK sign
I will smash my thumb with a hammer
I will give people the bird, because I will finally have a
middle finger
When I have thumbs I will count to ten,
Play the guitar,
Thumb wrestle,
And when it’s all over and I’ve done all those neat things that only five-fingered people can do, I’ll ask God to take my thumbs away, and then once again enjoy the frustration of opening the lid of a Yoplait yogurt.

My friend Kathy W. and I used to argue whether it was better to lose a hand or a foot. She never wavered from choosing the hand. “Even your right hand?” I would ask.

I always chose the foot. They can make great looking feet. Actually, they make pretty good hands too, but all that physical therapy on learning to use it and then there are the fingernails.

It’s a macabre question for February. If you have to lose one, which would it be?