I went through a period late last year that I took selfies with Snapchat and made all kinds of hideous portraits, which I shared with my wife. She was more repulsed than amused, and she took to calling the imagined people in the pictures my “unfortunates.” Steffan Mosley is one of my so-called “unfortunates,” and I have a soft spot for him.
The fake article below was supposed to be funnier, but the more I wrote, the darker and sadder the piece grew.
Steffan Mosley sits shirtless in a large, red recliner. His belly drops over his blue elastic shorts, and he periodically gazes down at his breasts, which look engorged. “It’s like I’m about to breastfeed or something,” he mutters. His voice is low and scratchy and difficult to hear over the small, battery-operated fan on the table beside him. The fan blows his dark brown hair into wild, sweaty configurations as he continues, “I’m trying to lose weight, but I love food somuch.” As it turns out, being overweight is the least of Steffan’s problems.
Steffan was born with cyclopism, a rare genetic disorder affecting less than half-a-percent of the world’s population. Some cultures, particularly indiginous tribes of the Indian subcontinent, revere cyclopses as gods. Other cultures treat cyclopses as persona non grata. The suicide rate among cyclopses is staggeringly high, especially in Europe and North America.
Steffan was born in Leeds, UK, in 1971. He has brother and sister, both older (and who did not wish to appear in this article). They’re “normal as daises and ducks,” according to Steffan.
“And then I was born,” Steffan goes on. He’s put on a shirt, which is too small and stretches over his large midsection. “My parents didn’t put me in a sack with rocks and toss me in the river, at least. My dad had the hardest time. I haven’t seen him since I was five.”
Steffan’s mother, with whom Steffan shares a small flat, sighs. “Joe just couldn’t take it,” she says, speaking of her former husband. “He comes from a very traditional family, and I think it was as much that as anything. He loves Steffan, in his own way. Maybe he’ll come back into his life at some point. He and I still talk, and he sends Steffan birthday cards. He hasn’t come around, though. I guess he’s too ashamed at this point. Maybe that’ll change one day.”
Steffan isn’t as optimistic about reuniting with his father. “He could have done the decent thing, what any father would do, and stuck around,” he says, “but he didn’t. He took the easy way out. Most days, I just say, ‘Well, fuck him.'”
At twenty-three, Steffan is considered middle-aged. Most cyclopses die in their mid-to-late forties, often not in full possession of their minds. “Dementia is common among aging cyclopses,” says Dr. Saanvi Khurana, director of Cyclopic Studies in London. “Sadly, so is Alzheimer’s. But it isn’t just dementia and Alzheimer’s that cyclopses have to worry about, though. There is a host of other neurological disorders they can fall prey to, such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy.”
Steffan goes to a doctor regularly and has participated in a number of clinical trials. Most recently, he was one of several cyclopses who volunteered for a research project on preventing vision loss, another problem facing the cyclops community. 80 percent of cyclopses lose sight, usually in their later years. The optic nerve in their eye is weaker than in other bipoic people. Retinal detachment is also common.
For now, Steffan tries to maintain a positive attitude. He could stand to lose some weight, and he’s committed to that. “I can’t join a gym because I don’t want to put up with narrow-minded folks,” he says, “so I’m going to exercise around the house. I’ll also take walks around the neighborhood at night when most people are asleep and don’t have to look at me.”
Steffan sits back in his chair and sighs. “I just wish I fit in,” he adds softly. “I wish I was normal.”