Not just Another Love Story – Huntington Library Engagement Session
Elaine is one of the most unassuming girl I’ve ever met. I fell in love with her the moment we met and I wish she came into my life earlier. After some good food and light hearted laughter, I decided to ask Elaine if she was open for a Q&A session on her life story (see below). After all, people and their story is why I got into photography and I am so honored to be part of her life journey with Kenneth. I hope everyone who read her story will feel a sense of gratitude and be inspired to find courage to see beauty in life.
- How old were you when the accident happened?
I was about 9 years old when it happened for the very first time. It was a very gradual build-up of cold/flu-like symptoms. I didn’t lose my fingers until I was about 11. I wouldn’t call it an accident, though; it was an auto-immune disease. The doctors couldn’t figure out what I had until it was too late. Even now, they can’t be sure which strain of it I have. They’re always shocked by the severity of my case.
- Does the memory still haunt you?
To be honest, I don’t get haunted by my past memories. I tend to look back on them from time to time, but it’s something I’ve come to accept and an experience that I have tried to learn and grow from.
- What were the 3 toughest things that you needed to learn to adjust to immediately after?
Well, one of the very first memories that I have happened even before I lost my fingers. I had to repeat the fourth grade for missing too much school because I was hospitalized so much. I was absolutely mortified when I saw my friends passing by me who were now in the fifth grade, while I was still in fourth. I don’t know why, but that one will always stay with me. My second tough memory was right after my fingers died. They were black from the first limb to the tips and they looked like frost-bite. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but I was adjusting. I showed some children who were supposed to be my friends, but they just freaked out. They were horrified and grossed out by it and ran straight out the door. That one definitely hurt, but it helped me become a better judge of character. When my fingers went through auto-amputation (fallen off on their own), and my body had had time to heal, it was time for me to start public school again. I was able to skip a grade and go straight into the eighth grade. That was definitely difficult for me. I kept my hands hidden under jacket sleeves throughout the rest of grade school.
- What was the most difficult thing your family had to learn to adjust to?
The most difficult thing for them to have to adjust to when I get sick is probably the pain. They can’t touch me at all. When I get a flare up, the pain is so intense that I can’t even walk to the bathroom. I can’t even press the button on a remote without ending up with a bruise.
- What do you miss the most about having fingers?
I actually don’t miss having fingers. I feel as if this has become a part of who I am and who I’ve become. I’m proud of being the person that I have turned out to be, and my fingers are my battle scars. If anything, I get frustrated that I can’t pick at a simple object, or peel off a sticker with ease, but that’s what tools and hubby’s are for, right?
- I barely noticed when I first met you; do you think people notice immediately after they meet you? What is the biggest concern that runs through your mind after they notice even today, or is there none?
Well, that’s actually one of the ways that I observe the type of people I meet or interact with. Some people can’t stop staring, some don’t notice, most notice but are polite and pleasant, others are just curious, then there are the sympathetic, the rude, nosy and obnoxious; at other times, I can see pity in people’s eyes, and every once in a while there are people who don’t notice at all until it gets mentioned. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for many years, so I’ve run into all sorts of people. Either way, it doesn’t bother me anymore. It did at first, but then I really thought about it. Why should I care or worry about what people I don’t even know or care about think about me? If someone can’t handle something like this, I obviously don’t need that person in my life.
- How do you think the incident has shaped you as a person?
I can say that it has definitely opened my eyes to social interaction, and even with how we view and treat ourselves. So I try (albeit slowly) to filter out the bad, and make a habit out of the good that I see in the world. I try to live everyday knowing that everyone has faults — because we’re only human — but we have to acknowledge these faults in order to grow. Showing kindness and compassion towards everyone all the time can get taxing, though; not everyone wants to cooperate. I’ve always preferred brutal honesty when it comes to dealing with people like that.
- Do you believe if it never happened, you would’ve been a different kind of person?
Yes, without a doubt. There’s no way that I could have learned everything that I have learned at such an early stage in my life, without going through what I have been through.
- If yes, what kind of person do you think you would’ve been?
I have no idea. I do believe that the core personality of a person never changes, so I’m sure I would still be me. But, I also believe that experience can make you grow and mature beyond your years.
- What is the one thing that you are most thankful about this experience or is there none?
There’s plenty to be thankful for in this world, as long as you don’t take anything for granted. Life changing experiences like the one that I’ve been through has helped me open my eyes to everything I have to be thankful for.
- How and when did you meet Ken?
I met Ken through a mutual friend of ours about two years ago. I met her through my best friend from college. When the mutual friend wanted to play matchmaker, I said, “sure, why not?” Yeah, that’s basically how everything got started.
- From your point of view, what are the things that made him fall in love with you and what is the success secret to your love?
I’m not really sure how to answer this one. I was just being myself. I guess we were just extremely compatible and meshed well together. In the end, we were both in the right place, at the right time of our lives. The success to our love is honesty and trust. If you can’t be open and honest with one another, it’s never going to work. To me, it sets the foundation of the relationship.
- We all grew up carrying some kind of damage. Sometimes it’s physical, most of the time it’s emotional. People go through all kinds of therapy trying to get rid of them so they can feel “normal” or “happy”. What advice would you give to women who are struggling with something that they’d have to live with for the rest of their lives?
To be a woman in society today is extremely difficult. We are not only judged by the way we act, we are also judged by the way we look and dress. On top of that, we have to deal with our hormones, which is an emotional rollercoaster in and of itself. It was definitely a struggle to get to this point in my life. But one thing I learned was that I needed to stop worrying about what everyone else was thinking about me and started thinking about what would make me happy. We really need to tune out all of the judging faces and jealous glares, and let go of all of the toxic people in our lives. We need to start accepting ourselves for who we are, and realize that we are all individuals, with our own quirks and personalities. Then, we can start being happy with who we are and find happiness in our own lives. No one else can tell us how to be happy but us. After all, who knows us better than we do?
- Anything else you’d like to add?
I just hope to be able to send a positive message to all the women out there who are worried about being judged by society. There are always going to be haters out there, but they don’t matter. “Haters gonna hate,” right?