For Halloween, Matt Valdez of Petaluma is dressing up as a pirate, wearing a red and black jacket, three-cornered hat with fake feathers and tight black velvet pants on his imposing 6-foot-5, 215-pound body.
For a peg leg, Valdez is wearing, well, a peg leg.
"If you can't have fun with it, what's the point," said Valdez, 30, whose left leg was amputated below the knee following a horrific car crash 11 years ago.
A prosthetic leg restored his mobility to a degree, but Valdez's injuries — including third-degree burns on both legs, a ruptured spleen and shattered pelvis — left him in constant pain.
Some episodes of phantom pain, picked up by the nerves at the end of his amputated leg, are the most intense of all.
"I'm a mess," he said with remarkable cheer at his bachelor pad apartment in east Petaluma.
Valdez depends on Oxycontin, a narcotic painkiller, to dull but not relieve discomfort that saps his energy "like a leach on you all day long," he said.
He also continues to battle depression, anger, anxiety and insomnia, and says his 20s were pretty much a lost decade, with drug and alcohol troubles that Valdez says he has overcome.
Turning 30 on Thursday was a drag, Valdez said, but he also was determined to finally have Halloween fun with his abbreviated leg.
Petaluma prosthesis maker Drew Hittenberger modified Valdez's "water leg," used for swimming and showers, wrapping the fiberglass shaft with foam and covering it with wood-patterned contact paper.
It's hugely uncomfortable compared with the high-tech prosthesis made of aluminum and steel, but gives Valdez a peg-legged Long John Silver look few others are likely to match.
He's hitting all the Halloween costume contests he can get to and, on Monday night, will be targeting those with cash prizes. He will be accompanied by an entourage — his roommate Anthony Fox as a first mate, girlfriend Ashley Bowers as a scullery maid and brother Mark Valdez as a green parrot with huge orange feet.
"Every pirate has a parrot," Valdez said.
Hittenberger has built and maintained Valdez's prosthetic legs since his accident and has worked with thousands of amputees at his offices in Petaluma and Santa Rosa.He said he's impressed with the young man's upbeat demeanor.
"I really like his energy," he said. "He decided not to be a victim."
Valdez lives on disability, has $75,000 a year in medical costs and is working on a novel about devils and angels.
He barely remembers the accident on Oct. 8, 2000, when the car he was riding in hit a tree on Industrial Drive in Petaluma at 85 mph and burst into flames. His left leg went through the floorboard and was "cooked like a turkey in an oven," he said.
The plastic dashboard melted and dripped on both his legs.
His leg was amputated eight inches below the knee while he was in a drug-induced coma. His mother, Diana Valdez, took photos of the charred lower, leg but Matt said he has never viewed them.
"It looked like Freddy Krueger's skin," he said.
Valdez's latest prosthesis, with a shock absorber and ankle-like ball on the shaft, gives him greater comfort and more leg rotation than ever before.