When I was a baby, I was caught in my mother’s ribs. That was how she explained my deformed legs to me.
“There wasn’t enough room in my belly for you,” she told me while I knelt in front of the coffee table in the crappy duplex and scribbled in my coloring book. She’d removed my braces for the afternoon so I could play unencumbered. “Your legs got squished inside me.”
My mother was a leggy blond dancer, and I fantasized about growing to look just like her. I even liked her feet, which were big enough to make shoe shopping difficult. She watched TV while lying barefoot on the couch with her anxious feet swinging back and forth like a metronome, a cigarette dangling gracefully between her fingers.
When it was time for bed, she strapped me back into my braces. The pain kept me awake, but it was better than wearing them in public so kids and adults alike could stare at the white-as-bone plastic that sculpted the insides of my legs and encouraged them to grow outward instead of in.
My body still hurts. Nothing aligns the way it should. My spine is flat, my legs turn in, my knees pop like firecrackers with every motion. I can’t ride a bike. My feet hurt the most. The bones in the tops of my feet swoop upward like the backs of whales breaching the sea. I can’t run. The tendons strain and sting with the impact. My arches are high and will most likely collapse in my lifetime.
My boyfriend Jake likes to massage me, sometimes for foreplay and sometimes just out of love. I like it the most when his hands trail down to press the balls of my feet or to work lotion between my toes. When he touches my feet, electricity webs across my scalp in tiny pinpricks. Warm readiness tingles between my legs. I like his feet too, but when I grab for them, he laughs and pulls away, ticklish.
“Quentin Tarantino has a foot fetish, too,” Jake tells me. “He includes shots of women’s feet in all his films.”
I’m momentarily put off by the too in his sentence. I don’t always claim the term foot fetish. I’ll say I like feet or I think feet are sexy. It’s the fetish that I trip over, because I want to separate myself from the idea of deviance that podophilia might bring to mind — the images of serial killers like Jerry Brudos with closets full of dismembered feet in stilettos. But I know there is no difference between a guy who calls himself an ass man and one who is titillated by the sensual way a woman’s foot curves as she slips it into a black patent leather pump.
I wish I had more shoes. I tucked a couple pairs of “fuck me” heels in the back of my closet that are so staggeringly high that I physically can’t wear them but for a few steps. But still, I take them out once in a while and look at them. I sit on the bed, slip them on, and admire my feet in the mirror. Sometimes I’ll put them on and wear nothing else.
I show Jake a picture of Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman sipping champagne from her Christian Louboutin stilettos. Jake makes a disgusted face. He’s uncomfortable with dirt, grime, germs. He’s licked and kissed my feet a few times, but I could tell it gave him the willies.
“I’d never do that, but they both look like they’re having a good time.”
“Me neither.” I agree. “That’s about where I draw the line.”
But when I watch Pulp Fiction and see the long tracking shot of Uma Thurman’s feet — so long and lithe with soft lines, peach soles — I think, Yes, I would do it.
For the most part, my feet and legs look normal. My feet still curve inward, the slant a remnant of my metatarsus adductus. I have to consciously turn my feet out when I walk and stand. I do a good job of hiding it, but still, a few acquaintances have commented on my pigeon-toed gait.
Jake is the opposite, duck-footed and with flat feet, which also causes him pain.
“Look at us,” I’ll say to him. “Birds of a feather.” As a consequence of our gaits, we both naturally slouch. “If we had a baby, it’d have perfectly straight legs.”
I dream of straight legs and delicate, feminine feet. My feet are calloused and crooked with lumps and knots and thick blue veins. When Jake massages the stiffness out of them, he tells me he likes my feet, that they’re pretty. But he’s a silly man who likes everything about me.
When I was little, I hated shoe shopping and the pinch of new sneakers. But I loved when the shoe store employee measured my feet. I liked it most when the employee was a man, a young man with big hands and broad fingers that untied my laces and slipped the shoe off my foot like I was Cinderella in reverse. He grasped my ankle and slid my foot into the measuring device, the metal biting cold through my sock. Electricity pulsed through me, and I was excited in a way that I couldn’t explain. The buds of my sexuality swelled as he moved the metal bars to chart the numbers of my feet.
I didn’t have words for it yet, but it was a white-hot thrill, the feeling of another body handling my foot with control. It’s the same sensuality I feel when Jake pulls my feet onto his lap while we’re watching TV and absentmindedly rubs at the tautness in my tendons. His fingers knead and then I need, and I can’t help but sit up and press my mouth against his and drink at the love that’s there.
For a long moment, there’s an absence of pain, which is all romance really is.