One of Us, One of Us
Milagros, the Mermaid Baby, is going to have surgery to have her legs split. I read this article and spent God only know how many hours googling Milagros and Sirenomelia in general, for the same reason that I read everything I can about conjoined twins, gigantism, and any other condition you might have seen on exhibit in a 1930s sideshow. I'm obsessed with that kind of thing, and I'm not willing to engage in the elaborate psychoanalysis necessary to figure out why. I also like photographs of horrible disfigurements and diseases. My current favorite is a book called The Dr. Ikkaku Ochi Collection, which is a collection of Japanese medical photographs from the late nineteenth century. It's got some serious doozies in it, tumors that defy the traditional fruit and vegetable taxonomy.
Another grotesque obsession I have is for photographs of dead children. I don't mean those horrifying pictures in the newspaper after the tsunami. I'm not a ghoul. Okay, I am a ghoul, but I'm not a monster. What I like are a very specific type of photograph. During the Victorian Era it was common to photograph children after they died, as a way of remembering and memorializing them. I saw my first collection of these at the Diego Rivera house in Guanajuato, Mexico and while I remember nothing about the art in the house, I can remember almost every dead child.
As I begin to write about this, I realize that I was equally obsessed with those photographs in the newspaper of the children who died in the tsunami. I stared at those photographs for far longer than I should have, allowing myself to linger in a way that felt prurient. This kind of creepy grief mongering feels much more acceptable when it takes place at a hundred to hundred and fifty year remove. Better to stop thinking about this and go back to the circus freaks...
My children would be disgusted with me. "There is no such thing as a freak," they would say. "People are just differently-abled." And I would agree, shame-facedly, while secretly programming TIVO to catch Freaks (1932). (Who can resist a movie with the tagline "Can a fully grown woman truly love a MIDGET?") It's terrible, it really is, this shameful curiosity. But don't worry. I suffer for it. I have to sit through Carnivale on HBO every week.