Upon entering any room, I map its vents, unlocked windows, and surfaces on which I might prop my feet without being asked to leave. This is an inventory completed with the perfunctory air of a criminal or conscientious moviegoer casting about for the nearest exit. I do not plop down, unaware of my surroundings.
At fifteen, some cooling function in my hypothalamus failed. I like to imagine one of those copper condensing coils melting on a sidewalk, frying an egg, underscored by an unsubtle subtitle: Sometimes you don’t do drugs and this is still your brain. Puberty came with a free sample of menopause, and now the slightest environmental provocation draws a flush. My hands and feet swell scarlet, and burn to the touch for days—individually, in strange and asymmetrical combinations, or in blazing unison.
The first August, I sobbed in the evenings, ever overheated after twelve hours standing at attention on asphalt. I froze oranges to press between my elevated arches—heard homeostasis and thought this will kill me. It was a case of heat-addled teenage angst, accompanied by a far from life threatening, but unexplained, pain.
Birkenstock clogs lost their allure, as did the thick, patterned socks worn to tell myself I am slight enough to be cold. I am grateful that something interrupted that aesthetic, but my former self felt an acute loss. What remains of her feels the old twinge when we pass black velvet or chic boots—fashions that whisper not your body.
Somehow, I am continually shocked to realize how people revile their lower extremities—consign them to fetish and phobia. After feeling so much in, with, and about mine, I have grown fond. Perhaps the proper diagnosis is Stockholm syndrome.
There are pressure points and angles of repose, ways of cooling, calming until they drain. When fluid seeps back up my legs in flutters and ripples, I hum its irregular rhythm in relief. I have few qualms about grappling with my feet in public or perching on tables, and every few weeks earn an appalled: Would you do that at your mother’s house? Despite the gasp and hurried move, I would. I am. At present I write with right hand linked under my left knee, and occasional glances to my ivory-for-the-moment muses. Whenever my computer overheats I disentangle and rehydrate until the whirring quiets, because my hands are harder to manage. When they go, I look for a casual way to clutch at collarbones.
My mother first noticed in Nordstrom, when I kicked off my metallic flats that collected and magnified the afternoon dressing room fluorescence. I shuffled ten inches a minute along the cool tile, heating the floor beneath me before edging towards a new chill. At the sight of my sluggish dance, she shrieked: What in the hell is wrong with your feet?
It wasn’t in my blood—not Lupus, not clots. Doppler tests picked up a thrumming pulse near the toes. My official diagnosis is something or its opposite—maybe hormones. Lymph? The question swells and glows each summer, at dinner parties and gas stations, tittered and hollered. In aisle four I stand and chant: one foot two foot red foot blue foot. There is no deflecting the warmth of horrified gazes, so I chortle and skip and kick my feet skyward—bastardize Seuss in the name of my limbs’ small, hot war.
*”Patience. And get the Frigidaire.” is a borrowed phrase, from Volume IV of The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin.