Who Are You After Trauma?

All You Know is that You’re Not the Same

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

There is a character in the manga version of Battle Royale who I really identified with. And in fact, I initially thought he was the main character. I thought he’d be the one to “win,” and I was curious as to how he would accomplish this and also keep his love interest alive. He was awkward, highly focused, and had overcome bullying not really by fighting back, but by learning martial arts to gain the confidence to defuse bullies. By the time he’s in the contest he is strong, capable, still super awkward, handsome, and driven to protect his classmates especially his love interest as best he can. He even finds her and despite her desire to just run convinces her to ally with him. It all seems like they’re going to overcome the game together.

And then a sociopath finds them and in a massive fight cuts most of the fingers off of his hands.

My favourite character is not long for this world after that moment but the amputation of his fingers was so final to me and apparently to the character himself. To me at that moment before I in my life had really lost anything, it seemed like the amputation of his fingers was something he couldn’t recover from. What life can you live after losing your fingers? You can’t play the piano or the violin, you can’t type, you may have to relearn how to write, sex is likely going to be a bit different, and what if you were a painter? How are you going to scratch a cat under the chin with no fingers?

And yet, fingers are such small little things. Thematically, it was important that he not survive after that, but one doesn’t lose all joy in life through the loss of a limb and one certainly doesn’t lose it through the loss of a couple of fingers. They’re just little things. A bit of bone, some cartilage, muscle, and ligaments. Surely the loss of such insignificant things does not impact the value of a human life. I mentally bargained with the text until it finally cruelly dispatched him.

This was years before I lost my mother.

I have never suffered an amputation and I hope I never do. In fact, I’ve never even had my tonsils or my appendix out. I never grew third molars so I didn’t have to deal with that either. It’s a bit facetious of me to make this claim, but I imagine losing someone you love dearly changes you much in the way that losing a limb would.

You have to change your life around the loss. The way you see time changes. How you move changes. How you dress changes. How you go about the everyday tasks of eating and relieving yourself changes. And sometimes its fine. Sometimes the loss makes you better at a skill or more appreciative of the people in your life. Sometimes its worse. Grief and infections both kill. There’s no guarantee that you will get through it and perhaps even if you do, it will shorten your life in some way you can’t really predict or prevent.

And after a time, after you’ve adjusted to the loss, maybe it’s just the same.

But there’s always that period of adjustment. Funerals and memorials are meant to be “closure.” Possibly there’s a few people who go to a funeral and are able to cope with all of their grief right then and there. I know one of my primary goals in planning my mother’s memorial was seeing that everyone who attended had some small thing to do and some acknowledgement that they were important to her and she to them. I was cauterizing wounds.

If you survive an amputation, and prior to antibiotics that was a rather huge “if,” then you go about putting your life back in order. And in those early days and sometimes even years later there’s just no telling if it might become infected again or if that grief will come back and pull you underwater. Without your limb or without the person you’ve lost you’re going to be different. It doesn’t make you bad or good or wise or strong or weak or anything like that.

It just means you’re different than you were before.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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