My skeleton moves without me, taking the rest of my body with it. It marches out of the loading dock and down the street. It marches towards the little green bridge perched atop the canal.
BY MIA REEDY HERMAN
I was sitting by myself on a Brooklyn-bound C train with my arms crossed, counting my ribs, when I made eye contact with the baby sitting across from me for a second too long. His teeny little pupils drilled right through mine. I couldn’t look away. His drool-y gaze slid up my optic nerves and rattled around my brain for a while before sliding down my spine, down the veins in my right leg, finally cutting off circulation below my ankle. So my right foot went numb, and when I stood up I forgot to bring it with me.
I didn’t notice right away. The sensation wasn’t too dissimilar to a foot that had simply fallen asleep, aside from the lack of pins and needles. I didn’t feel it (or, I guess, un-feel it) until I transferred to the G train and couldn’t get a seat. My balance was all thrown off. Every time the subway car stopped or started I’d get tossed out of orbit and the people around me would say to themselves, "Gee whiz, look at this dummy, she must be new in town. We should probably steal her wallet." But they didn’t steal my wallet. They just stared at the spot where my right foot used to be before it left.
On the night that I lost my foot, I was coming back from dinner downtown with several pairs of people and just one me. We’d gone to a very hip restaurant in a very hip neighborhood and had ordered several rounds of very hip appetizers. Deconstructed corndogs and artichoke empanadas, that type of deal. I’d ordered a small-batch IPA with a picture of an orca wearing a top hat and bowtie on the label, but I’d only had a sip. Everyone else at the table thought that the little orca was just so funny and cute and could they please try it. It got passed around and by the time it got back to me all of a drop and a half remained.
As the night moved on everyone warmed up and melted and smudged together. I hadn’t ordered an entree or anything, just the orca beer, so I tried to nibble on what was left of the appetizers. But I was feeling restless and not really in the mood for deconstructed corndogs, whatever those were. Cold by then, is what they were. I was cold by then, too. I made sure to ask everyone questions about themselves. People love being asked to talk about themselves. It’s a fact. I traced over my collarbone with an unused straw as they asked me to recite some of my anecdotes--the ones that made me seem like a free spirit, and them free spirits by association.
"That’s why we love you, Janie!" Astrid cackled, "You’re fun crazy--not scary crazy!" I didn’t have the heart to correct her.
Last year, back in December, I lost my shoe. Owen’s grandmother had died. Fell down the stairs on Christmas day, snapped her tibia clean in half. Someone else might have survived that, but not Nonni Stella. She was delicate. He had asked me to please come to the wake. No one else was in the city and he’d be the youngest person there.
I had walked twenty blocks in the snow. I probably should have called a cab, but I was feeling restless. It was that holiday purgatory between Christmas and New Year’s and there weren’t any cars on the roads or people on the sidewalks. Just me. The snow was still fresh. Pure and glittering white, yet to be streaked with the inevitable gray and black smudges that the city tends to leave on things. I was wearing the closest I had to wake appropriate, which really wasn’t very weather appropriate. My ballet flats were soaked straight through. Five minutes from the funeral home, I lost one in a snow drift.
I showed up at the wake missing a shoe and it made Owen laugh. His mom had thanked me, it was the first time he’d smiled since Nonni Stella fell down those stairs. Later, when I temporarily abandoned my post at his side, some distant aunt had pounced. She told me I didn’t look so good. She asked where my other shoe was. She asked me when I last ate, when I last slept. She told me I looked delicate, like I might snap in half. I told her I was just restless that I’d be better soon. I’d felt guilty telling a lie in such close proximity to a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, even though I don’t believe in Western religion
I hobble up the subway steps and pull my phone out of my pocket. I tap-tap-tap out a nice short text message:
I left my right foot. What do I do?
I don’t want to send it to anyone, I hate to be an inconvenience. I don’t want to send it to anyone, but I do. I’d be needing my right foot later this week, I was going to help Clementine move some stuff out of her storage unit. It takes a few minutes but the responses start rolling in:
LOL--of course you would!
Hahaha! Classic Jane!
Don’t ever change girl! xx
No one offers to help me search. They thought I was joking, that this was just me being good ol’ quirky Janie--messy and silly and fun to be around. The girl they loved to be photographed standing next to, chronically pantsless and prone to disappearing for days at a time. The girl who never brushed her hair and never asked for anything.
They’d thought I was joking last time, too. Finally, someone suggests that maybe I should try calling the MTA. So I dial the number on the back of my metro card and I tell the man on the other end that I left my right foot behind. He tells me to file a lost property complaint.
In June, I’d passed out at a music festival in Rhode Island and lost my left hand in the process. I made the mistake of telling my family about it and they sent me to the hospital. My family is a neurotic bunch, somewhat prone to hysteria. They do not handle news of lost limbs well.
Astrid had visited me there. She’d needed to borrow something, I forget what. When she visited, she had laced her fingers through the spaces where mine should have been and asked if I was okay. I’d offered her my hospital-provided muffin and Jell-O cup. She accepted them gladly.
The doctor had said dissociative episode and I had said could he please quiet down, I couldn’t hear River Monsters. He told me something was wrong. I tried to explain that I was just restless, these things happen, I’d be better soon. I made sure to ask him lots of questions about himself. He told me to take my pills. I told him I don’t believe in Western medicine.
Two days after I left my right foot, I am in the middle of watching a documentary about "the world's loneliest whale" when I get the call. They found my foot. If I wanted it back I needed to come to the official MTA lost and found inside the lower mezzanine of Penn Station, before four p.m. please.
In the documentary, the scientists in the had said that this whale, the loneliest whale, was so lonely was because he was communicating on the wrong frequency. He’d call out, over and over again, but the other whales just couldn’t hear him.
We are on the loading dock at StorageDeluxe in Gowanus and I’m telling the story of my reunion with my foot when I’m cut off mid-sentence.
"I didn’t know Penn Station had a lower mezzanine." They don’t believe me.
"I didn’t know Penn Station had a lower mezzanine until I did." I double-press the industrial elevator’s up button.
"I didn’t know a right foot could get left behind until you did." They all chuckle. I’m the only one to get in when the heavy metal doors part with a clang.
I fetch a box with winter shoes scrawled across the side from Clementine’s storage unit and get back into the elevator. Once again the opening of the doors creates a terrible metallic racket. No one seems to notice. I start heading over to where they are all gathered, but I freeze in place when I hear my name.
"I worry about Janie. I think it’s happening again." His voice is a whisper, like he's scared of the words.
"Have you talked to her?" Now it’s Astrid’s turn. The concern in her tone is a punch to the sternum.
"I’ve tried. I’ll bring it up and she’ll change the topic. She turns it back around and starts asking about me."
"That happened to me too. I think she’s relying on the fact that we’d rather talk about ourselves."
"People love being asked to talk about themselves. It’s a fact." They all nod in agreement.
My skeleton moves without me, taking the rest of my body with it. It marches out of the loading dock and down the street. It marches towards the little green bridge perched atop the canal. I’m still carrying the box from the storage unit. Without permission from my brain, my arms toss it over the railing. A dozen or so pairs of shoes come fluttering out as the box tumbles down into the cloudy waters below.