Usually, my bed is a retreat, somewhere to recharge. Not today.
Today it is shame that holds me behind that door, yes, my body isn’t what it once was and that yes, I am vain enough to care. I exile myself to the island of my bed, because the sickly sweet scent of these pouches of Baby Feet foot peel make my children wrinkle their noses and move to the other end of the couch, and the squish-squish of the plastic booties causes my husband turn up the volume on the TV to passive-aggressive levels. Alone, I listen to their giggles through the wall while my feet tingle and I try to itch them through the layers of chemicals and plastic, and cry.
“Self care,” I say. “I want to have pretty toes,” I say. That’s why I subject myself to this chemical penetration that causes the skin on my feet to become white and loose, and flap and dangle. Over the next two weeks I will leave a trail of my flesh in my wake, and my toes will emerge soft and pink and too tender to walk barefoot. My children will be confused that their mother who will regularly run down the driveway to the mailbox without shoes, is now in thick socks picking her way carefully across the living room lest she step on a stray Lego. “Your feet look fine,” my husband says, and I simultaneously want to hug and punch him.
“Self care,” I whisper to myself as a defense and a balm.
It’s self care if by that I mean that I’m trying to forget how when I was 9 months pregnant, and so huge that strangers commented on my size, and so huge that I couldn’t easily see my feet, let alone touch them, that I got a pedicure to feel less disgusting, and to distract myself from the heartburn, sweating, and sleeplessness. A rare and expensive pleasure for that point in our lives that I was of two minds about, when the pedicurist announced to the room that I had the worst calluses she’d ever seen (and boy, she’d been a pedicurist for a long time) while my cheeks heated to scorching, I watched eyebrows raise, and knuckles come to mouths. It’s self care, Jesus Christ, if I mean that I’m going to do whatever I can to never feel like that again.
It’s self care if what I mean is that I’m trying to get back what I once had. That even now, I remember the way his palm cupped my soft heel, and his thumb stroked the silky sky high arch of my foot, and his lips met my ankle bone, and how my smooth calves wrapped around his lower back. How now looking down at my cracked heels, and prickly shins, I don’t recognize either version of me. It’s self care if I’m going to do everything I can to feel like that wild woman again, she wouldn’t hide in her bedroom.
I am vain, but I am not stupid. I know that this crisis is not just about just skin, about the constant battle to feel okay with my body, but about the passage of time, and my place along the continuum of it. Maybe self care is simply the reminder of the ability to be reborn. That no matter where I am, no matter who I’ve become, I can still be fresh and new. I am not trapped in this wrinkled, calloused and freckled sack of flesh half way to its return to the dirt. Maybe the pink, sensitive that flesh that this stinking, itching chemical reveals is really the hope that if my asbestos soles can be transformed, I can, too.
Meagan Lucas is Pushcart nominated writer. Her short work has appeared recently in: The New Southern Fugitives, Still: The Journal, and The Blue Mountain Review. Her debut novel, Song Birds and Stray Dogs is forthcoming in August 2019 from Main Street Rag Press. She won the 2017 Scythe Prize for fiction. Meagan is an Adjunct Instructor at A-B Tech, and the Fiction Editor for Barren Magazine. She lives with her husband and children in the mountains of Western North Carolina. She tweets: @mgnlcs
Photo by Zé Zorzan.