Because of my cavus feet, I sat in a narrow waiting room of my ortho’s office this morning. I became anxious for the nurse to announce my name because the space embodied frowzy. The fluorescents in the ceiling cast a sickly, greenish tint onto the cheap, beadboard-panel walls. The dull, laminate floor tiles conveyed a history of abuse, marred by years of scuffs and scratches. The worn and frayed cushioning of the benches recalled a color palette from the Brady-era, indicating decades of negligence in upgrading the lobby furniture. There’s no telling how many stranger farts those passé cushions absorbed over the decades, and this troubled me.
To distract my attention, I pondered a recently-viewed episode of a documentary series about how our brain paints a picture of reality based on learned sensory clues such as shadows, light, and depth. What I found fascinating, though, is how the mind can be tricked into overlooking something right before your eyes until it is pointed out to you such as a spelling error or a stain or a series of poor life choices that result in a lengthy era of multiple cat adoptions.
A man’s voice invaded my attention by asking if I already had my “daily dose of propaganda.” I looked up and saw a pear-shaped man in gray sweat pants (that were probably pulled from his hamper for the third time this month) and dingy t-shirt holding a Time magazine in my direction. I didn’t mean to, but noticing the stained, nubby teeth inside of his self-satisfied grin made me grimace.
To convey my dissatisfaction of his insinuation, I glowered and grunted a simple, “No,” before returning to my thoughts.
He didn’t address me again; unfortunately, his attention unsettled me. Why did he think it was okay to say that to me? Did I look like the type of person that encourages the rantings of a looney conspiracy theorist? Was there something about me that this pock-faced man found relatable? The only part of my appearance that could possibly suggest “crazy person” was my slightly disheveled hair. I have a haircut scheduled for this afternoon, yet I couldn’t cover the unruly ‘do with my Union Jack cap because it’s too often mistaken for a confederate flag around here, garnering heaps of unfavorable attention from both sides of the issue.
The moment I heard the nurse call my name, I left those thoughts behind. The excitement of trying my new shoe inserts immediately erased Walmart Man’s insult from my mind. As I followed the nurse to examination room 3, presumptions of how much better life will be without constant foot discomfort and pain filled my head. Incognizant of the exam room’s appearance, I hoisted myself onto the examination chair, stripped my feet naked, and waited for the doctor’s assistant to bring my relief in the form of $300, custom-made shoe inserts, giddy as a teenager waiting for a hand job in a low-end brothel.
I’ve had cats for well over a decade, and it still amazes me how they can shit all over my joy when they’re not around. When the doctor’s assistant arrived with my new inserts, I pulled the temporary ones out of my shoes, and to my horror, I saw a large clump of white cat fur dangling from the right insert. From my shocked expression, you would have thought I unexpectedly yanked a rabbit out of a hat.
After my brain registered the white clump of fur on my shoe’s insert, I noticed long strands of fur on my shoe. Then I saw strands of fur waving in the breeze on the arm of my coat. Then my torso. My pants. My socks. The more fur I discovered intertwined in my clothes, the more my face burned, the shorter my breath became, the higher my heart rate climbed. I assume my brain blinded me from the state of my appearance to prevent a stress-induced stroke like the one I felt coming on at the time.
I assume the nurse could feel my shame because she forced a smile over her face and said, “What kind of cat do you have?”
My response made no sense, but all I could think to say as I blindly shoved the new inserts into my shoes while focusing on the unruly field of cat fur on my arms was, “Too many.”
“I have a cat, too.” I know she lied because after a quick scan of her blue scrubs, I didn’t spot a single cat hair on her body. I can’t fault her for trying to make me feel better. “So what do you think?”
Gazing down at the state of my clothes, I mumbled, “I think I need to re-evaluate my life.”
She laughed and said, “No. About the new inserts. How do they feel?”
My feet felt great, but my dignity was wrecked. I almost ignored her request to schedule a two-week follow up. How can I show my face there again knowing that after I leave, they’ll make jokes about me and ridicule my appearance? That’s what I would have done to someone looking like a cat-fur-covered Sasquatch.
On the drive home, I considered the possibility of never leaving my house again when I experienced a moment of clarity. It started with a mental image of me sitting in the waiting room looking disgruntled at life and disheveled, covered head-to-toe in five breeds of cat fur. I looked like I didn’t care about my appearance. I looked like I didn’t care what others thought of me. I looked like the type of person I would judge as mentally unstable, who would say “I’ve had my fill of propaganda from the biased, libertarded media for the rest of my LIFE! And don’t even get me started on vaccines and climate because them scientists are all being paid off by the lizard men CEOs of Big Pharma.” I looked like a Walmart Man, too.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an entire wardrobe to launder and box of cookies to shame eat as I reflect on what my life has become.