Monday, September 13, 2010

Coco Higgins: Little

Remember that henchman who killed Inigo Montoya’s father in The Princess Bride? Well, he’s my parallel universe ancestor. I know this because he’s a polydactyl and so am I.

I was born on my father’s birthday, an ideal present from my mother to her husband. At a normal weight and length, the doctor proclaimed me to be a perfectly healthy baby. Until they counted my fingers. Twice. Three times. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven. Eleven. Did you say eleven? Yes. So I wasn’t perfect after all. And in that delivery room, within the first few minutes of my existence, a physical anomaly catalyzed a life vainly in pursuit of perfection.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. A small few have had the courage to ask, and most people are too embarrassed to broach the subject, but the truth is everyone wants to know. It’s on my right hand and half the size of my thumb, to which it is attached. It has a bone, a fingernail (yes, I do trim it) and nerves (yes, I can feel it if you poke it). But, no, it cannot move on its own. Oh, and yes, I used to pick my nose with it when I was a kid. Now that we have all that cleared up, I can continue with its significance.

On the first day of school, my mom warned me about the other kids and how they might perceive and treat me because of this extra finger. “Listen,” she said reassuringly. “You’re a different kid. But it’s okay, because you’re smart.”

I know she had the best of intentions, but this left an indelible psychological stain on me for years to come. I interpreted this to mean that since I had a physical imperfection, I had to compensate for it by proving that I was indeed special and smarter than the average bear.

Sure, my parents were like all the stereotypical first generation immigrant Asian-Americans who pressured their kids to succeed. So I was one of those nerdy types in the pursuit of perfection, except I was also driven by this proverbial chip on my shoulder that came in the form of an extra finger. It even had a nagging voice that tormented me whenever I achieved something noteworthy like straight A’s or a shiny spelling bee trophy.

“That’s all well and good,” it would say in its acerbic yet simultaneously dulcet tones. “But I still don’t fit in a glove, and you still don’t fit in anywhere.”

This spawned an incessant cycle of self-pity to unrelenting ambition to feigned confidence and back again. The more I achieved, the more the finger reminded me that I was still different and not quite perfect. Consequently, the increased psychological nagging just led me to be more assiduous in everything I did. If I couldn’t be physically perfect, I had to be the best at everything else, and above all I had to fit the mold of what others expected of me so I could be accepted. This meant being the perfect student and daughter, which also included being a silently miserable heterosexual. I suppressed everything that was different about myself for 20 years, including the biggest difference of all. I couldn’t hide the finger, so I concealed my latent lesbianism from everyone.

I finally shut that finger up when I came out of the closet. As soon as I recognized what it truly was that made me uncomfortable in my own skin and embraced that difference as a positive aspect of my identity, the inferiority complex dissipated. I was finally free from feeling like I had to prove myself to the world in order to reconcile everything that was “imperfect” about me. I was liberated from the shackles that the finger represented. I used to cringe whenever people asked about the finger, but now I welcome it. It’s no longer a harrowing embarrassment, but the holder of all my sarcasm, ambition, uniqueness and magical superpowers.

Yet despite all this saccharine coming-of-age self-realization triteness, my life still isn’t quite perfect. I still want that custom made glove for Christmas. You know, the kind that my long lost Princess Bride relative wore.

Jessamine Fauni is an aspiring art historian, post-hipster, obnoxious Twitterer, proud owner of delusions of grandeur, has a knack for remembering useless trivia of all kinds, all in all an extraordinary machine.


  1. Jessamine, I love this, even though it taps into my deepest parental fear: that I've already said something to my almost nine-year-old that will, inadvertantly, chart her path to the psychiatrist's office.

  2. Thank you, Lisa. If it makes you feel any better, I love my mom to pieces and I miss her terribly now that I am away for grad school. Also, I'm a functioning member of society and have not been committed to the loony bin. Yet. :)

  3. Any post referencing The Princess Bride in the first line has to be good. This definitely did not disappoint. I like the way you described your finger as "the holder of sarcasm, .....". Well done.

  4. I loved this. Beautiful, clean writing. Thank you.