Around the bend: Thumbs up for one-of-a-kind trait

What do super-hot actress Megan Fox and I have in common? Other than our shared conviction that she is much sexier than me, not much. But there is one thing: Brachydactyly type D.

This is not a type of dinosaur; it’s actually a condition, one I’d like to say is characterized by flawless skin, come-hither eyes, pouty lips and a perfect figure. But I’m afraid it just means we have unusually short, fat thumbs.

Until I did some research on the Internet this week, I didn’t know Megan Fox had Brachydactyly type D (BDD) in one of her thumbs. I also never knew that my wide, stumpy thumbs had an official name. I just knew that they were different from everyone else’s, that I was a rotten thumb wrestler, and that I have yet to find a bowling ball under 16 pounds that won’t get stuck on my freakishly wide thumb joint.

When I was younger, I kept my thumbs tucked into my fists to hide them; this made it look as I had none at all, which at the time beat the alternative: cute boys getting a glimpse of my clubby thumbs and calling to their friends, “Hey, guys, check this out. Gross!”

In my life, I’ve met just two other people with equally short, squat thumbs. The first time was in high school. I got called into an administrator’s office for some minor infraction (being an annoying little brown-noser, most likely) and as we talked the woman said, “Let me see your thumbs.”

I quickly hid them in my fists and said, “What thumbs?”

It was a disarming and clever response but she didn’t fall for it. Instead, she stuck hers out and said, “It’s OK. Look.”

I had found a thumb sister.

The purpose of the meeting was forgotten as the two of us compared thumb width and shortness and lamented on our failed potential romances and dashed hopes of bowling on the pro circuit.

It was another 25 years before I made another thumb sister.

It happened just last week. I was food shopping in town when I noticed that the woman ringing up my groceries had thumbs just as bulbous and stumpy as mine.

“Your thumbs!” I said.

She swiftly tucked them into her fists and said, “What thumbs?”

Nice try.

“It’s OK,” I said, giving her two stubby thumbs up. “I’ve got the same ones.”

Instantly, she smiled and held hers out and we commiserated. It was a beautiful moment, the two of us sharing our insecurity without shame.

But it got me thinking: There had to be more than two or three people on earth with thumbs like ours. What causes them? How many people have them? Would any of us ever be able to get our thumbs into leather driving gloves?

Enter Google.

I found out more about my thumbs in two minutes on the Internet than I had in the previous 42 years. I learned that BDD is a congenital defect that causes a deformation of the terminal phalanges on the thumbs. It is commonly known, among other things, as “clubbed thumb” and, by fortunetellers, as “murderer’s thumb.” Lovely.

The condition affects about one in every thousand people, which means statistically that there are six or seven other people in Middlebury walking around with their thumbs tucked into their fists, quietly lamenting their lack of long, slender terminal phalanges and the associated natural hitchhiking abilities.

How encouraging to see Megan Fox, voted FHM’s Sexiest Woman in the World two years running, showing off her clubbed thumb to the paparazzi. Her success proved what I had always hoped: BDD did not necessarily make a person a freak (although, let’s face it, people who look good in bikinis tend to catch more breaks than the rest of us).

Still, I felt suddenly free; my thumbs no longer seemed to matter all that much.

“Now I understand,” I said to a high school friend. “The reason boys never asked me out in high school wasn’t because they were disgusted by my ugly thumbs after all. It was because I was so worried about what they might think that I subconsciously rejected their attention.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” she said, coming to my defense the way only an old friend will. “The reason boys never asked you out is because you were such an annoying little brown-noser.”

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