I am Hercules
They said I wouldn’t survive. Doctors and scientific experts from across the globe said my existence defied all conceived notions about the human body. Others said I was a monster and have called for my demise. I admit I am hideous. I’m like a science experiment gone wrong and even worse than it appears.
I was born without the largest body organ, my skin. Actually, I was born without my entire integumentary system, which includes my skin, hair, and nails. I assume my parents felt an initial horror when I arrived in this world – blood-red with banded ribbons of tendons wrapping around my tiny body. There were no sweet tufts of hair or cute little toes with tiny nails needing to be trimmed, only muscles with traces of bone peeking out here and there. But I will never know their first reactions.
They named me Hercules to celebrate by visible strength and the invisible endurance that allowed me to survive, winning my place amongst gods. Well, that is how they tell it.
When I was a baby, my parents and doctors thought I was plagued by epilepsy as a part of my condition. My infant body would frequently shiver and shake uncontrollably. One day during a bath, my mother noticed how when I was placed in the warm water my muscles relaxed. But as the water cooled, my body resumed its tremors. The doctors came to realize that without the layer of skin, I had no way to regulate my body temperature. Instead, my muscles attempted to keep me warm by reflexively jerking about.
Since skin is designed to protect the body against damage, infection, and drying out, I preferred to be in the water. My parents built my room like a giant pool. I learned to float and swim by the time most kids were learning to walk. A little fish in a big pond all of my own, I passed time pretending to be a shark sneaking up on the unsuspecting victims or choreographing a water ballet performed in front of an imaginary audience.
I rarely had visitors. There were my doctors, my parents, and my teachers – that’s it. I never saw another child in the flesh, only in the movies I watched on occasion. I loved to watch the movie Jack with Robin Williams. It was about a boy who had a disorder that aged him four times faster than a normal human being. I understood him and, if he was real, I think he would understand me. Once I asked my parents if they could ask Robin Williams to come visit me. They looked at each other with sad eyes and said, “we’ll see what we can do.”
For weeks, I asked them if they had heard from him, but they always said that they hadn’t found the right contact information for him yet, but they would keep trying. Deep down I know they never even tried, fearful the rejection would be devastating to my morale. Eventually I gave up asking.
Years passed and I grew. My pond was beginning to feel like a puddle with no room to grow, and my parents could sense it. One afternoon as I finished one of my dance routines, I heard ecstatic clapping coming from the corner of the room. It was a girl, not much older than me, sitting watching. I stood frozen, my arms stretched out with my chest lifted, ready to fly or fall. In that instant, I felt exposed and raw. I pulled my limbs in towards my core, trying not to let my heart take my breath away. But she smiled at me and I felt something else warming my gut. I swam closer with a slow trepidation.
Her smile appeared to waver as I approached, but I kept moving forward. I wanted to reach out to touch her to see if she was real. I knew it was wrong as my hand emerged from the water. I just could not control myself. My bony fingers found her hands resting on the edge of the pool. She let out a squeal and pulled back. I did the same, reacting in return. In that moment, as the girl ran from my room, I realized the real horror of my existence that no mirror could ever reflect. Without skin, I could not feel. I had no receptors to sense the gentle caress I wanted to give and hoped to receive someday. Although I had always known this to be true, the implications were never this real.
I am Hercules, my strength being forever tested, but I have no place amongst the gods. I am a freak of nature and I am not sure I can survive.